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Events Come to a Head

The SAO management and the responsible persons Tereza Lyssiotis and Eleftheria Anthi of the SAO Amina Centre Athens travelled to Lesvos in the last week of February for the annual meeting of the three operational teams.

On 24 February 2020, we celebrated the 4th anniversary of SAO in Mytilene. The same night, protesters held violent demonstrations against a ferry's midnight arrival, carrying 500 police officers from a special unit and material for the government's planned internment camp for refugees in the north of the island.

A general strike was called for Wednesday. There were violent clashes between local Greeks and this special unit in the area of the expropriated land and the protected forest where the camp was planned.

The strike was not lifted on Thursday either. Further demonstrations and clashes took place. In the midst of this angry atmosphere, on the fringes of a demonstration, an angry mob suddenly attacked a rental car belonging to a friendly aid organisation in front of our eyes and demolished it with fists and feet.

On the same day, Erdogan announced the opening of Turkey's borders to refugees, and the situation came to a head. On Saturday, 29 February 2020, a storm hit the island. The waves made any crossing from Turkey impossible. Amazingly, the two SAO teams were able to take off, but they were badly shaken up.

On Sunday, with calm seas, the first boats arrived. There followed ugly scenes of locals preventing boats from landing and insulting the fugitives. Police buses were prevented from bringing new arrivals to the camp by roadblocks. Members of international Identarian movements from Germany, France, and Ireland showed up on the island and mingled with the angry citizens.

However, ANTIFA demonstrations also took place again and again in Mytilene. People chanted that the government and the EU should be held responsible instead of refugees in their distress and that they should remember the anti-fascist tradition of Lesbos.

In the open: Refugees after arrival on the north coast of Lesvos. Refugee registration is currently suspended.

On that same day, all NGOs were informed that rescue operations on the beach were forbidden with immediate effect and that anyone who helped refugees after landing would be arrested. Less than two hours before, I had helped with a landing - surrounded by suspicious Greeks in cars parked at the side of the road and the police, who made sure that none of the refugees made a run for it until the bus arrived.

In the evening, a fire was set in the small reception camp for new arrivals north of the island to prevent people from receiving first aid there.

All rescue organisations have stopped their operations - which means that wet, shivering, fear-filled people are completely on their own after landing. No water, no dry clothes, no emergency insulation sheets - nothing!

Refugees on the north coast camp under an old boat.

The 500 or so people who arrived on Lesvos in March 2020 were denied the right to apply for asylum. They were held in a warship in desolate conditions and then taken to the mainland to a closed camp. Three small groups of refugees camped out in the open for almost three weeks, right on the spot in the north of the island where they arrived. NGOs are prohibited from providing emergency assistance to these people. Only the UNHCR was allowed to bring blankets. The Greek police were delivering food. The refugees had no possibility to wash themselves.

This treatment violates international law and the European Convention on Human Rights.


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