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Statement to Press – Idomeni 15th April 2016

In response to the current situation in the Idomeni camp – the police are arresting volunteers and preventing work being done – we have decided to publish a press release, detailing our intentions only to help the refugee community on a humanitarian level and not to involve ourselves or our group in any political or anarchistic behaviour.

We are also intending on approaching the police directly and seeking permission to work, detailing our projects and our intentions. We have also written to a member of the EU inviting him to visit the camp and observe the humanitarian crisis that has evolved following the border closure and the accumulation of so many people in Idomeni. We are publishing this statement here and on our Facebook page.

Press Statement – 15th April 2016 – Idomeni

Idomeni: in targeting the volunteers, the Greek state puts the refugees at risk.

Since the end of February 2016 more than 14,000 refugees have been blocked at the border between Greece and FYROM in inhumane conditions, the result of consecutive closures of multiple borders across Europe. For several days now, volunteers and small NGOs working on the ground have been facing repression and demonisation at the hands of the Greek police. In pointing at volunteers as those responsible for the situation at Idomeni camp, the authorities put the lives of refugees at risk, as access to basic services such as food, water and shelter is made extremely difficult.

On February 21st 2016, FYROM unilaterally decided to close its border with Greece. This decision shut down the only European “humanitarian corridor” carved out by thousands of refugees principally fleeing Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan; thus preventing them working towards any future in Europe and leaving thousands of human lives resigned to an unchanging circumstance with neither support nor humanitarian aid from the Greek or European states.

Refusing to accept this miserable state of being for the refugees stuck in Greece, thousands of citizens have come together throughout the previous months with the intention of offering a minimum of dignity to these people, by responding to their basic needs in cooperation with the major humanitarian actors on the ground. These abundant and diverse tasks range from massive food and clothing distributions to ensuring that each family has a place to sleep, and yet further, for example, attempting to offer children the basics of education, and so on.

However, the refugee crisis becomes only more deeply entrenched as time passes, whether it be with regards to the shameful agreement between Turkey and Europe or to the passive acceptance of Idomeni camp’s deterioration.  The politics driving this situation seek to neutralise it by transforming it from one of exceptional crisis to a continuous, normalised misery, and are now looking for answers and responsible parties in order to detach themselves from their state obligations.

On Sunday 10th April 2016, in a despairing move, a thousand refugees tried to cross the FYROM border, seeking to escape the conditions of the camp, whatever the cost. The response was brutal: more than 300 people had to be treated following tear gas and rubber bullets shot by the FYROM police – onto Greek territory – and hundreds of others had to be aided on site by volunteers in order to avoid women, children and vulnerable people becoming once again the victims of European politics and violence.

The next day, Monday April 11th, the media accused volunteers of being responsible for this violence. On April 12th, following this defamation by the media, police carried out several arbitrary arrests of volunteers, in doing so lending greater weight to these unfounded accusations.

From Wednesday April 13th, the systematic repression and stigmatisation of volunteers by the police has become an ongoing state of affairs. Since this date, 14 people have been detained for doubtful reasons.  Of these 14, four have been taken to court. This group belongs to a small Greek NGO that has been active on the ground since long before Idomeni camp took its current form.

Volunteers’ work conditions have become extremely difficult to this day. Access to camp has been compromised.  Consequently, also compromised are the services offered to refugees. The fallout of the stigmatisation of those acting on the ground to fill in the states’ role thus falls upon the refugees: it is they who pay the price.

It is our DUTY AS CITIZENS to recall that states have a responsibility of care towards the thousands of people seeking refuge in their territory, with regards to the various international conventions of which we are signatories (the Geneva Convention, Rights of Man). Through their failure of responsibility, their inaction and the absence of options offered to those blocked in Greece, the states become the sole source of the violence and the actions carried out in the heart of Idomeni camp by the refugees. It is therefore unacceptable that the states today accuse their citizens of bearing responsibility for their own politics. This represents a complete and absurd reversal of responsibilities.

Consequently:

  • We ask for the immediate cessation of the stigmatisation and criminalisation of volunteers and independent organisations  as well as the liberation and acquittal of those who have been arrested up to this date;
  • We re-emphasise our willingness to cooperate with the Greek authorities in order to improve together the living conditions of refugees;
  • We ask for the setting in place of infrastructures offering a dignified welcome to refugees; and of efficient and concrete procedures which ensure humane living conditions to those people seeking refuge in our countries, as is engraved in the history and identity of the European continent;
  • We re-declare our solidarity with the Greek people once again abandoned by European institutions and celebrate their renowned hospitality.

Luck of Birth (luckofbirth@gmail.com)

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