Πέμπτη, 3 Σεπτεμβρίου 2009

Pagani, Mytilini - a warehouse for souls

By Afrodite Al Salech
The translation belongs to Teacher Dude

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The special hosting areas for aliens - (EXPA Pagani Mytilini)
Once it was food warehouse – Today: a warehouse for foreign souls.

The children are hanging from the blue bars of the windows, holding pieces of paper with the words, "freedom" on them. Behind the blue barred windows the men are shouting "photo", hoping that a photograph will move someone, somewhere, somehow. The women cry behind the blue barred windows, holding their newly born babies who are barely conscious. The other children with dummies in their mouths sit staring at the blue windows – where they have learned to hold the jail’s rails like this? As infamous criminals?

EXPA Pagani

EXPA Pagani consists of six sections. Two for unaccompanied minors, three for men and one for women and their children. Also there are six containers for inmates with infectious diseases and pregnant women.

It is estimated that EXPA Pagani can hold 250 people, however, no matter what the official may say these are not suitable for human habitation. No construction has ever taken place in this warehouse so to be transformed to a place for people. Even pigs would have more adequate facilities than these.

Today Pagani holds between 900 and 1000 inmates, of every each and both sexes. Roughly 160-200 in each section.

Inside the rooms the heat is unbearable and the smell overwhelming. Next to the walls are piled the beds, 30 - 40 on each side on the room. The less lucky sleep on the filthy ripped mattresses they cover most of the concrete floor. They are soaking wet due to the water that leaks constantly from the two nearby toilets. The inmates are allowed into the yard for just a few minutes every two, three days. The rest of the time they remain locked inside their communal room. The more limber are able to climb up and look out of the barred windows to get a glimpse, to let their eyes wander freely outside.

In the women's section are children ranging in age from two to four years old. In the entrance I remember a girl 7 or 8 years old who said, "Welcome" to me; and afterwards the women tugged my arm and asked me to photograph the conditions inside constantly saying, "Thank you, madame". Their joy at my presense is the hardest to bear. Not because they haven't seen tens of others visit, take pictures and disappear afterward, but because their desperation is so great that they have no other choice but to believe that perhaps this time someone will show interest in what is happening here.

Laying on the filthy mattresses strewn on the floor the babies do not react, they sleep all the time, if their mothers feed them they eat, otherwise they keep on sleeping.

Detention centres : Reasons for their exisitence.

According to amendment 37772/2009 foreigners who do not enter Greece legally can be kept in detention centres (EXPA) for up to 6 months. The problem is real and no easy solution exists. In Mytilini alone during the summer months 100 people per week reach the islands from the Turkish shores just opposite. The situation is the same in other Greek islands such as Chios, Samos and Leros which lay just off the Turkish coast. The majority of people come from Afghanistan and Somalia. Even if Greece wanted to welcome all these people with dignity it does not have the facilities to do so.

However, the reason for the existence of detention centers is not at all obvious. People are stacked one on top of the other there for one or two months and then released. No procedure is taking place during their detention. Moreover, the cost of keeping these people locked up is extremely high.

Once they have been released the refugees cannot be deported as they are from countries that are considered high risk. After "serving their sentence" they are given a deportation order which, as the police themselves admit, cannot be implemented; and, they are encouraged to go to Omonia, in the centre of Athens. Often the local authorities cover the cost of the ticket. However, what awaits them is in the best case work on the black market, otherwise a life of crime.

If this is our goal as a nation then it could be achieved without the need for the expensive detention of these people and the smearing of the country's reputation abroad. The video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lP2yT6EjBX) which was taken by the Pagani inmates themselves has been seen around the world as have the photographs of the three year old child with the dummy in her mouth behind the barred windows. Is this our country? No.

Local communities have reacted and many of them have tried to help with what little they have both the newcomers and those held in the Pagani centre. Even when they heard that such charitable efforts could get them into trouble with the law. Employees in the Pagani centre count the days till they can leave and the police has admitted that they cannot enforce the law. "As soon as I retire I'm going to go out into the streets and call for Pagaini to be shut down", confided in me one of the island's police officers.

The question remains the same. Why do we have these detention centres ? Indeed more are being planned: No answer.

Thoughts - suggestions

First of all, Pagani and other such centres have to be closed down immediately. They offer nothing, the costs of runing them are very high and the smear the name of the country internationally.

Secondly, issues concerning Turkey have to be dealt with. It seems that Turkey is using the flow of people through its territory as leverage in its bid to join the European Union. People smuggling is extremely profitable . As they told us, "on the shores opposite the people smuggling business brings in almost 8 billion a year. There are even shops selling equipment needed to smuggle immigrants". It's unrealistic to believe that Turkey will apply repatriation protocols. The issue with Turkey is not one of Greek-Tukish relations or borders but one of European - Turkish relations and borders. The EU should be negotiating.

Of course the country is not winning any arguments when asylum applications are granted to so few (0.04%). There is no logical explanation for this, especially then the majority of these people wish to move to other EU countries where they have friends and family. To be exact, political asylum as set down by the 1951 Geneva Convention applies to very few asylum seekers. The countries which grant asylum usually interpret the Convention broadly. Greece could seek arbitration by the UN over the matter of Afghan and Somali asylum seekers. If the UN decided that refugees from these countries are political refugees (prima facie recognition) then Greece would be obliged to recognize their claims and so would share responsibility and cost with other western governments.

Naturally, every effort should be made to re-negotiate the terms of the Dublin II Regulation. Most of them hesitate to apply for asylum as they know about the Regulation as so do not wish to be trapped in Greece for years. What they are not aware of is the wider interpretation of Dublin II. Despite the fact that Dublin II states, theoretically, that whoever applies for asylum in the first country they reach they are obliged to remain there until a final decision has been made concerning their application, in reality foreigners are stuck in Greece once they have their fingerprints taken by the authorities.

The reasons why the authorities showed Zan Baro the Samos detention centre, which is
in reasonably good condition but not the Pagani centre are not at all clear as Pagani is the logical outcome of Dublin II.

Greece is carrying out EU decisions and so would benefit from not having to be defending itself as if on trial in international debates. Pagani is not just the result of Greek policies but mainly those of the EU. The flow of immigrants is not a rootless phenomenon but rather the result of political and economic causes.

In the international game of power and influence over the flee of people, Greece needs to carve out a strategy and act according to its interests. Till then someone most give an answer to the child with the dummy in its mouth held behind the barred blue windows and to our own children when they ask us why we permitted the existence of concentration camps (again)

Τρίτη, 1 Σεπτεμβρίου 2009

New humanitarian crisis with the government’s blessings

With its persistent efforts the NO BORDER CAMPING team managed to do what the appropriate authorities should have already done: release 500 prisoners from the immigrants’ detention center in Pagani.

On Saturday, August 29th, a team of NO BORDER lawyers managed to extract a decision from the police and the local authorities for the immediate release of children, women and their husbands, 150 adolescents who were not accompanied by their parents as well as prisoners that should have been released last week. This came following the rebellion of prisoners inside the detention center. As immigrants were being released, 40 activists organised a protest in the port of Mytilini and even managed to open up a banner at sea reading “FRONTEX KILLS”. At the same time other protesters were marching through the city. As the day came to an end, prisoners were transferred to a hospital in Neapoli, Mytilini where they will remain temporarily and protesters clashed with special police forces.

So far so good.

But problems have only just begun. Any group of activists, no matter how well organised, cannot substitute the work that should be done by authorities.

All released prisoners received a document for their deportation (non-executable) and a ferry ticket to Piraeus and therefore to Athens. The Ministry of Health has promised to transfer unaccompanied adolescents to a special facility but no provision has been made for other prisoners - or for those that continue to arrive at the Pagani Special Detention Center for Immigrants.

The 500 prisoners that have been released from Pagani – families, women with babies, children and elderly – are condemned to even worse living conditions than those they experienced in Pagani. Without food, shelter or medical care. The roads to Europe are closed and returning to their own countries is not an option. 500 more people are simply pushed into the black market and a life as outlaws. The humanitarian crisis of Pagani is simply carried to the streets of Athens and managing that responsibility is passed on from the authorities to the citizens of Athens.
This never-ending cycle is to continue and new souls come to take the place of those already residing in parks and squares in Athens. Police patrols organising operations to pick up illegal immigrants fail to provide a sustainable solution both for the immigrants as well as for locals.
Transferring the problem from the islands to the capital and from one square to another certainly doesn’t indicate the existence of any immigration policy.

Within days the center of Athens will face yet another humanitarian crisis and any notion of social integration or coherence will vanish in thin air thanks to the decisions of the government.