Video: protests against the eviction of refugees camp at Polykastro (EKO gas station)


11.06.2016: First impressions of the pre-registration procedure in Greece

The pre-registration process by EASO, UNHCR and the Greek state has finally started. One of the announced six pre-registration hubs is located at the Regional Asylum Office in the industrial outskirts of Thessaloniki. Refugees are brought to the hub from the camps and “processed” within 30 minutes. The idea of processing human beings is reflected in the whole setting of the registration process.

Moving Europe documented the dire conditions in the camps which are located in industrial zones, remote areas and uninhabited regions. The practise of keeping refugees away from society and out of public attention is reflected throughout the pre-registration process. Refugee are moved back and forth from one industrial area to the next: from the places they are forced to live to the governmental identification and registration hubs – all of this happens shut out of any societal and human reality. The experience appears like the trading of goods that takes place in this area: being distributed and delivered within these industrial areas by dozens of trucks passing the hub.

Yet, the operating staff – from NGOs, EASO and UNHCR – seem to reflect little on the power they have over people’s lives who are treated like “caseloads”. In that manner, the operating staff is distributing bracelets to the refugees before the transfer to the hub. The bracelet shows the hour and the day of the transfer to pre-registration. One friend staying at Oreokastro camp commented on that: “I was supposed to wear that bracelet for four days. But I took it off. How can I go to the city with that bracelet? It is totally conspicuous and embarrassing.” Apparently the competent authorities and organizations do not keep in mind that the “caseloads” they “manage” are people – people that move and try to find some normality outside of the camp reality.  Our friend L. continues: “This is used to mark cattle, it’s put into their ears. Thank God that they haven’t pierced our ears!

A lot of hope is connected to the pre-registration process, but at the same time a lot of distrust towards the authorities. People have been disappointed by broken promises too many times already. It further remains questionable whether pre-registration will actually accelerate the procedures to meet the rights and the needs of those stuck. The options available for the people stuck are limited and besides family reunification, not very promising: Relocation and asylum in Greece are not viable solutions for the majority. People need to go to places where they can build their own future. This is probably why IOM offers registration for ‚voluntary returns‘ inside these hubs as well.

It appears that the pre-registration procedure has two main goals: to count the refuges to better control them and to keep people quiet by manufacturing bureaucratic procedures that raise hopes for something to change soon.


Saturday 11 of June: motor march to “relocation” centers



Death at the Serbian-Hungarian border and demonstrations in detention centers (Migszol update from Hungary, May 25 – June 9)

This is an overview of recent developments in Hungary between May 25 and June 9th, 2016.

In May the new tent camp in Kormend was opened,  and just like we thought, people keep on disappearing from there. As expected,the conditions in the camp are very problematic. Access to legal aid or proper case officers is very limited, and the biggest problem is lack of information. We are especially worried of the fact that some people who are staying in Kormend need to travel to Debrecen, a distance of nearly 500 kilometres and a 9-hour travel by public transportation, to meet their case officers and attend the court hearing regarding their asylum case. In such absurd cases, the immigration authorities does not provide them with accommodation to stay overnight in Budapest.

Conditions in Körmend are bad, much like in Bicske and Nagyfa in previous years, with the tents being simply inadequate without a proper floor or  mattresses. There is a doctor at Körmend, some people, however, have no information of where they can meet him, though others do.  One of our chief concerns is that in Körmend as well as elsewhere, the quality of food has not only went down but also become severely limited, as people are simply not served dinner anymore. This is very serious concerning the fact that according to the new legislation, people are neither entitled to weekly cash allowance. Coffee, cigarettes, dinner, utilities for small babies, etc., all have to be financed by people themselves: if someone loses all money to e.g. in a robbery, there is nothing to do. The arbitrary decision making about detention, especially in the case of Afghans,  is not only clear from this article by ABCúg that interviews previous OIN-workers, but also from the experiences of detained people.

During the week, Hungarian government representatives have confirmed their intention to close the now largest open refugee camp in the country, Bicske. There is no final date for the planned closure.

Death at the border

In early June the police on the Tisza river on the border of Hungary and Serbia saw two men swimming across the river to Hungary. Upon seeing the police, they turned back, but only one of them reached the shore. On June third, the body of the second man was found. There are conflicting reports about the nationality of the man, presumably Iraqi or Syrian, 22-year old person seeking international protection in Hungary.

During the morning, the Hungarian police picked up an Iraqi family of five people from the water, where the 2-3 year old toddler was close to hypothermia. The mother and the three children were brought to a hospital, while the father was taken for criminal investigation. We are deeply disturbed by these photos and videos published by the Hngarian police, where police visits the family in the hospital giving them presents – and would like to remind that the only reason why the family was forced into this desperate solution is because of the extreme difficulty of accessing Hungarian territory to seek asylum. Also UNHCR has severely condemned the treatment of people in border areas. UNHCR and other organizations such as the Hungarian Helsinki Committee are documenting numerous stories of Hungarian police violence and push-backs at the Hungarian border.

Number of people waiting at the transit zone is rising

16 612 people have crossed the fence during 2016, and there have been 17 000 asylum requests lodged in the country  A humanitarian crisis is evolving in the transit zones, where the policy of letting in only 20-30 people per day continues. UNHCR, HCIT and MSF are present on the Serbian side. Unfortunately it was reported that MSF could not work for few days. This was very worrying when most of the people waiting on the Serbian side are part of vulnerable groups including many sick people and children. The access on the Hungarian side is very limited only to SOS Children village, UNHCR and the HHC. However the Hungarian government announced that they have has given money to the following Hun charities for working on the border:  Hungarian Maltese Charity, the Catholic Caritas, the Hungarian Reformed Church Charity, the Hungarian Ecumenical Charity and the Hungarian Red Cross. It is not clear when they will start.

At the end of the month, the chief security advisor to Viktor Orbán, György Bakondi, stated that a third zone might be set up near the village of Ásotthalom with the notoriously racist Mayor who prepared a refugee-hunting video in 2015. Bakondi also stated earlier that there might be a new legislation according to which anyone caught within 8 kilometres of the border fence will be brought back to the transit zone. A draft text of this legislation has not been circulated.

Protests in the detention centers

In the last few weeks, there have been several protests in the different detention centers in the country. In the national media, the protests were immediately branded as very dangerous and unacceptable, and a security “experts” were comparing the situation to “war, where one side is not respecting the law”. Riots happened in Kiskunhalas, of which we also wrote about at length, and in Bekescsaba in the southeastern border of Hungary. In addition, a fight between two men was stopped by pepper spray in the detention center in Nyirbator. We are in daily touch with people detained and with relatives and friends of those detained, and we are extremely worried of the situation with detention, leading to desperation and hopelessness. Many of those detained were caught on their way to Austria and detained after that. That said, more than 10 000 people have disappeared from Hungary towards the West during 2016.

End of all integration support

May 2016 was the last month of the previous asylum legislation, with substantive changes taking effect from Wednesday, 1st of June: there are substantial changes to the status of humanitarian protection, all integration support for recognized refugees has been abolished, and similarly to Austria, there will be a 3-year automatic review on the Convention refugee status and for the subsidiary protection status. Refugees are now expected to take advantage of the same social support available for Hungarians: in practice, this means becoming homeless along tens of thousands of Hungarians, and ending up in a domestic registration system that effectively bars refugees from applying for Hungarian citizenship in the future. We would like to further note that homelessness has been criminalized in the Hungarian constitution, and that for it is almost impossible for families to enter the Hungarian homeless shelter-system. We urge all other European Union member states to immediately stop all Dublin deportations to Hungary. In addition, we urge all member states to stop the deportation of people who already have a refugee status in Hungary, but are now seeking to stay in other EU countries.


Migrant boat carrying hundreds capsizes close to Crete

Greek coastguard says more than 300 people have been rescued and four bodies recovered so far in major operation

A rescue operation is under way after a migrant boat carrying hundreds of people capsized south of the Greek island of Crete.

The International Organisation for Migration said more than 700 people were believed to have been on board on the boat. The Greek coastguard said it had heard that there were 400 or 500 people on board, but that it could it not confirm the number

More than 300 people have been rescued and four bodies recovered, the coastguard said.

“The number of people in distress could be counted in the hundreds,” a Greek coastguard spokeswoman told Agence France-Presse. “People are in the water, boats crossing the area have thrown lifebuoys and are moving to save the migrants.”

She said a passing ship spotted the sinking vessel about 75 nautical miles south of Crete in the southern Aegean Sea. The coastguard rushed two patrol boats, a plane and a helicopter to the scene while at least four ships in the area joined the rescue. About half of the roughly 82ft boat was underwater.

At least 1,000 people have died or are missing and presumed dead after a string of deadly incidents in the Mediterranean over the past week, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

The IOM said on Tuesday estimated deaths until the end of May rose to 2,443 on all Mediterranean routes after a surge in reported shipwrecks and other incidents in recent days. The number of estimated deaths has risen by 34% over the first five months of 2015. The spate of deaths has caused the IOM to revise its previous assessment.

“For the first three weeks of May 2016, IOM estimated just 13 fatalities in three incidents,” said IOM. “None of them occurred on the eastern Mediterranean route between Turkey and Greece, where through the first four months of the year nearly 400 migrants and refugees drowned. We saw this as a hopeful trend. The events of this past week – with at least 1,000 deaths – have obviously changed our assessment. The past eight days marks one of the deadliest periods yet in the migration crisis, which is now in its fourth year.”


Changing Escape Routes: Alarm Phone experiences in the Mediterranean Sea

Changing Escape Routes: Alarm Phone experiences in the Mediterranean Sea

Alarm Phone Five-Week Report, 25th April to 29th May 2016


For most of the past five weeks, the Alarm Phone remained largely silent. Whereas a few weeks ago we received dozens of calls from the Aegean region per week, sometimes even per day, the new deterrence measures between Greece and Turkey have resulted in fewer attempted sea crossings and the Alarm Phone was not involved in any emergency situations in this region. In the Western Mediterranean Sea, the Alarm Phone was involved in three instances of successful sea-crossings from Morocco to Spain. In the five weeks that this report covers, we witnessed a remarkable increase of crossings from Libya to Italy and were alerted to 7 cases of boats in distress at sea in the Central Mediterranean. For the first time in months, Syrians and Iraqis were amongst these cross-border travellers trying to reach Italy and in several harrowing shipwrecks hundreds of people lost their lives.

While European politicians and institutions regard the decrease in border crossings in the Aegean Sea as well as the violent expulsions of migrants and refugees back to Turkey a success, it is clear that border violence has merely been displaced, further externalised, and thereby increasingly invisibilised. On the one hand, the Turkish government, its police, military and coastguard forces now enact European border control by deterring people from escaping and by disallowing those exposed to the cruelty of the Syrian war to enter Turkey. This, as we had to witness, has direct and deadly consequences. Unable to flee Syria, dozens of refugees were murdered in a refugee camp in Northern Syria through air strikes, presumably launched by the Syrian dictatorial regime ( On the other hand, these deterrence measures have led to yet another shift of migration routes, forcing Syrians and others to move to war-torn Libya and onto the perilous sea journey to Italy. In the past weeks, the numbers of people trying to reach Italy have increased steadily, with more than 13.000 people arriving in the last week alone ( In several shipwrecks, more than 1.100 travellers have drowned in May (

Last week, on three consecutive days, boats with hundreds of travellers on board capsized north of the Libyan coast. On Thursday the 26th of May, the Alarm Phone was directly called from one of these boats and witnessed the capsizing of a boat with presumably more than 500 travellers on board. When the survivors reached Italy and were interviewed, they stated how their vessel was towing a second vessel that then capsized after no rescue was in sight for several hours. Some people of the sinking boat seemed to have been able to swim to the first boat and survive. Others were able to stay alive until rescue services arrived. However, many more seem to have lost their lives (

We have already published several statements on this incident, which clearly showed the fatal consequences both of the EU-Turkey deal and of the unwillingness to provide sufficient rescue capabilities in the Central Mediterranean Sea:

Although the need for expanded rescue operations is obvious, European and other Western governments are instead reinforcing their deterrence regime in Northern Africa and in the Central Mediterranean Sea, for example by expanding Eunavfor Med and NATO operations into Libyan territorial waters – without efficiently using these assets for rescue operations – and through intensified collaboration with the Libyan ‘unity government’ ( While they employ humanitarian rhetoric to justify these measures, supposedly part of a war on human smuggling, they either further prevent people from fleeing, in fact arresting them in places where they continue to face severe human rights violations, or refrain from rescuing them in cases of distress at sea.

Until European navies, NATO, Frontex vessels and coastguards can officially enter Libyan waters to push people back to Libya, they seem to employ their assets only for selective and media-effective rescue operations. On the 30th of April, a boat left from Sabratah/Libya with about 100 people on board. About 7 nautical miles off the coast, they entered into a situation of distress ( None of the European military assets were nearby. Only a cargo vessel was in the vicinity and when it arrived at the scene of distress, at least 70 people had already drowned. This shipwreck, one amongst uncountable others, was completely silenced in the mainstream media. Migrant deaths at sea have become so normalised and routine that the deaths of dozens of people trying to find freedom and escape violence does not even make the news anymore. Only when several hundred people drown, they make the headlines.

Even those people who have made it to Europe, are not safe: tens of thousands are still stuck in Greece as the neighbouring countries keep their borders closed. Moreover, those who have arrived in Greece after the 20th of March 2016 face the threat of being deported back to Turkey under the EU-Turkey readmission deal. In several camps across Greece, refugees have protested against the appalling living conditions, against the EU-Turkey readmission agreement, and for the right to continue the journey to Europe.

On the 24th of May, Greek police forces began to forcefully mass-evict refugees from the large Idomeni camp by the Greek-Macedonian border. Over several days, those who had been stuck in Greece for a long time and who had protested uncountable times right in front of the borders to Macedonia were removed from the camp. Now the Idomeni camp is officially closed and its former inhabitants were brought to military camps which, according to our allies from Moving-Europe ( do in no way fulfil minimum standards: adequate supply of food is not given, sleeping places are rare as is medical care, and having access to asylum procedures and registration remains for most people impossible. Moving-Europe and Medico International ( have denounced the eviction. It is clear that it offers no solution but only displaces and invisibilises the plight of thousands of refugees.

It is high time for the public to join these struggles of refugees, and to confront and protest Europe’s deadly policies of deterrence. In the days to come, and as we have seen after every previous large-scale sea tragedy, EU politicians and institutions will publicly express their sorrow about the many fatalities. They will call for policy-changes and the further militarisation of the sea. They will again blame the smugglers and seek to reinforce deals with authoritarian regime. However, every shipwreck and every death of the past years is a consequence of exactly these European actions and inactions. Not the smugglers are to blame. While they often cynically contribute to the unbearable suffering of migrants and refugees, they simply profit from the illegality industry that Europe maintains and keeps subsidising. We will continue with our struggle to counter Europe’s policies of deterrence, leaving-to-die and abandonment: Ferries not Frontex!


Summary of Alarm Phone cases

In the past 5 weeks, the Alarm Phone was alerted to 10 emergency situations, of which 3 occurred in the Western Mediterranean Sea and 7 in the Central Mediterranean Sea. Summaries and links to the individual reports can be found below.


Western Mediterranean Sea

On Friday the 6th of May 2016, at 11.08am, the Alarm Phone was alerted to a boat in distress on the way from Morocco to Almería with about 34 persons on board, including 3 children and 10 women. We could not establish direct contact with the travellers, as the phone connection did not work, even though we had two contact numbers from people on the boat. We contacted the Spanish maritime rescue agency Salvamento Maritimo (S.M.) in Almería about the case. At 6pm S.M. informed us that they had found the boat one hour earlier about 17 miles off the Spanish island of Alborán, mid-way between Morocco and Spain. On Saturday, at 11.20am, we came across a message of S.M. on Twitter stating that they had rescued 37 persons from a boat East of Alborán and that they had transferred them to Almería. A local newspaper in Almería also mentioned the case and the successful rescue operation. See:


On Saturday the 7th of May 2016, at 4.12pm, the Alarm Phone was alerted to a boat, carrying 35 persons, including 10 children and 6 women, who had left from Al Hoceima in the direction ofAlmería. We could not establish a direct connection with the boat, but informed the Spanish rescue agency Salvamento Maritimo about the case at 4.30 pm. They told us that they were searching for another boat with 44 travellers about 10 miles from coast of Melilla. At 5.30pm, we called Salvamento Maritimo again. They told us about one boat with about 50 persons who had been rescued by the Moroccans navy, but they assumed that another boat was in the area, so they continued the search with a helicopter. At 6.50pm Salvamento Maritimo informed us that the helicopter had spotted a boat with about 30-40 persons and that a rescue boat was underway. At 9.25pm, Salvamento Maritimo confirmed to us that a boat with 35 persons had been rescued and brought to Almería. See:


On Saturday the 28th of May 2016, at 7.27am, the Alarm Phone was directly called from a boat that had left from Tangier/Morocco 3 hours earlier. There were 11 travellers on board, amongst them one child. They asked us to call the Spanish rescue organization Salvamento Marítimo, but as they were not in immediate distress, we agreed that they would continue their journey and call us back later. 30 minutes later, we talked again to the travellers. They were still rather calm and told us that they had continued their journey. At 9am, we decided to alert the Spanish rescue organization Salvamento Marítimo (S.M.). We called their office in Tarifa/Spain and forwarded all the information we had. We were told that S.M. had just started a rescue operation in the region, probably of the boat that had called us. At 9.11am, we called the travellers again and they confirmed to us that they had been rescued by S.M. We forwarded a link to the Welcome to Europe guide for Spain to them. See:



Central Mediterranean Sea

On Wednesday the 4th of May 2016, we were alerted to one distress case in the Central Mediterranean Sea.‪ At 7.14am, Father Mussie Zerai sent us an e-mail about a boat, carrying about 430 persons. They were in distress, because of a strongly agitated sea. They had left from Zuwara, Libya at about 6 pm local time. Father Zerai had already contacted the Italian Coastguard about the case, but their answer was that there were no military ships in the area and that a rescue operation would be difficult given the high waves. They suggested that the migrants return to Libya. At 8am we called the Coastguard of Malta. They knew about the case, but told us to ask the Italian Coastguard. We could not reach the travellers, but called the Italian Coastguard again. This time, they told us that they had launched a rescue operation. At 12.32 the Italian Coastguard confirmed to us that they had rescued all 430 persons to Italy. See:


On Thursday the 5th of May 2016, at 5am, Father Mussie Zerai alerted the Alarm Phone to a rubber-boat in distress with 150 person on board. The boat had started the day before between 8 and 9pm from Libya, near Sabratah. We checked and later uploaded the credit of the travellers’ satellite phone. At 7.28am we could establish a direct contact with the travellers: They explained that their rubber-boat was leaking. They could not give us an exact GPS-position, because their phone was in Arabic and none of the travellers could read Arabic. We informed the Italian and the Maltese Coastguards about the case. At 7.28am in a call with the Italian Coastguard, the officer on duty asserted that the boat in distress had already been detected and that a warship was underway to carry out the rescue operation. At 12pm the Italian Coastguard told us that the boat had very probably been rescued. They emphasized that they were working on several cases of distress in the area. This was later confirmed by media reports. An article on Friday stated that many boats had left Libya the day before and that about 1800 people were rescued within 24 hours. See:


On Monday the 16th of May, at 9.33am, Father Mussie Zerai informed our shift team about two boats in distress in the Central Mediterranean Sea. Boat 1 carried about 150 people, including pregnant women and children on a rubber boat that had left from Sabratah/Libya and boat 2 carried about 65 people, including one pregnant and sick woman on a rubber boat that had left from Tripoli. While we had their satellite phone numbers and tried repeatedly to contact them, we were unable to reach them. Shortly afterwards, we informed the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) Rome as well as the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) Malta about both boats. They took note of the information and confirmed that they would engage. We continued to call both boats but were unable to get through. At 4.15pm, MRCC Rome informed us that boat 1 had been rescued by Dignity I, the humanitarian vessel operated by Doctors without Borders. They also stated that the rescue of boat 2 was very likely as there were 3 rescuers in the area, as well as an airplane that was scanning the water. See:


On Tuesday the 17th of May 2016, at 11.35am, our shift team was called by a contact person who passed on the phone number of a group of 191 Syrians who were on a boat that had left from Libya about 5 hours earlier and were moving toward Malta. The phone was not reachable anymore and the contact person also did not have information about the location of their departure. Our shift team then tried to call the boat but without success. We checked their phone credit online and they had sufficient credit to make calls. At 12.40pm, we contacted the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Rome and informed them about the case. At 2.46pm MRCC Rome confirmed that they were working on the case. Later in the afternoon, the Italian coastguards tweeted about the rescue of 200 people, including 45 women and 11 children. At 5.45pm we contacted MRCC Rome and they confirmed the rescue of the boat in question. See:


On Thursday the 26th of May 2016, at 5.25am, the Alarm Phone was directly called from a boat in distress between Libya and Italy, which was accompanied by another boat, each carrying 500 people. We alerted the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) at 6.10am and passed on the number of the travellers’ satellite phone. At 6.21am, we received their GPS coordinates and immediately forwarded them to the MRCC. In the following hours, we stayed in contact with both, the travellers in distress and several involved coastguard agencies, private shipping companies and civilian rescue organizations. We regularly forwarded updated coordinates and observed that several rescue vessels were approaching the location of distress.At 7.10am, we learned from the travellers that they had met a third boat, with 35 people on board. At 8.45am, the travellers called us again and told us that one of the boats just sank, that 500 people went overboard and many of them had already drowned. At 10.30am, we were able to talk to the travellers again, who told us that an Italian commercial vessel had rescued the travellers on the small boat, about 30 people. In the following hours, we were not able to reach the travellers again. However, we continued to observe the ongoing rescue operation and tried to get updates from the Italian and Maltese coastguard and from private rescue organizations like SEA-WATCH. In the afternoon, at 5.50pm, the MRCC Rome told us that the boats we had been in contact with, had been rescued. But we still feared that this information only included the first big boat (with a satellite phone on board) and the very small one. It remained an open question, what happened to all the people on the second big boat, after it obviously sank. Although MRCC did not mention any fatalities in their daily statement, we know about many deaths by other sources. In contact with SEA WATCH we learned that they recovered several bodies very close to the GPS location of the estimated accident. On the following days, we received the sad confirmation by survivors of this shipwreck, that probably more than 400 people drowned and disappeared with the second boat and that only about 100 people were able to swim to the other boats or had been rescued after the boat sank. See:


On Saturday the 28th of May 2016, at 10pm, a contact person informed the Alarm Phone about a boat in distress 60 miles south of the Italian island of Pantelleria, with about 12 people on board. We called the Italian coastguard at 10.20pm and forwarded the GPS position of the boat in distress. We were told that the coastguard was already performing a rescue operation in this area, with respect to a boat with 40 people on board. At 11.25pm, the contact person called us again and informed us that the boat had safely arrived on the Italian island of Pantelleria. We forwarded this information to the Italian coastguard, who was still searching for the boat, and also provided them with the phone number of the contact person. See:

Alarm Phone 5 Week Report, 25 April to 29 May 2016


Hundreds of deaths in the Mediterranean

Our biggest fears seem to become confirmed. A few days ago we were in
direct contact with a refugee-boat carrying altogether about 500
travellers. They were towing a second refugee-boat, also with about 500
travellers on board. Rescue was not in sight and over many hours, the
situation grew more and more desperate until, eventually, the towed boat
capsized. Our contact to the boat later broke off (for our log book
entries, see:

Now the survivors have reached Italy and through their witness accounts,
it seems confirmed that hundreds died, maybe up 550 people. Some people
off the sinking boat seemed to have been able to swim to the first boat
and survive. Others were able to stay alive until rescue services
arrived. However, many more seem to have lost their lives. Some news
sources speak of 700 deaths over the past few days, others of 900

Europe, these are your deaths. Once again you have turned the sea into a
deadly deterrent. You will again blame the smugglers for these
fatalities but we know that they are only a direct effect of your
policies, an industry that you keep subsidizing. We will struggle on to
counter your policies of deterrence, leaving-to-die and abandonment:

Ferries not Frontex!



Pro Asyl Report: Greece – Vulnerable lives on Hold

Report of the PRO ASYL project “Refugee Support Program in the Aegean” (RSPA):

On March 8, 2016, following a gradual restriction since February 2016 of
access to the Balkan route based on ethnic origin criteria, the  border
between  Greece  and FYROM  (Macedonia)  was  closed  for  all
third-country  nationals.  In  the  aftermath of this closure, over
54,000 refugees – about 60% of who are women and children – have
suddenly become trapped in Greece. There are  hundreds  of  disabled and
elderly people, cancer patients and persons suffering from other severe
chronic or incurable  diseases, as well as psychologically traumatized
persons, pregnant women, families with new-borns and unaccompanied
minors. A very high percentage of them is estimated to be admissible for
family reunification or relocation. All these people are barely
surviving the inhumane and devastating conditions in the reception
centres, while at the same time the dirty deal agreed by Turkey and
Europe turned the hot spots on the islands  of the Aegean into
detention- and deportation centres, keeping out those who were planning
to follow.


Boat with 500 Syrian and Iraqi refugees sank about 70 km North East of Zuwara, Libya

While Idomeni camp is evicted and the Aegean route is blocked: Another mass dying as direct consequence of EU migration politics?

Today early morning at 5:25 am CET the WatchTheMed Alarm Phone received a distress call coming from a satellite phone: two big wooden boats, carrying approximately 1000 refugees had started from Libya and their calls to MRCC Rome remained unanswered. Since then the activists of the Alarm Phone stayed in direct contact with the boat communicating with them in Arabic and regularly updating the MRCC Rome about the situation and especially their GPS-position. The first position was passed to MRCC Rome at 6:21 am CET.
At 8.45 we received another desperate call from one of the boats informing us, that the second boat sank and that hundreds of people are in the water and drowning.  Again the Alarm Phone alerted all authorities as well as cargo ships in vicinity about this dramatic SOS.
In the meanwhile obviously rescue operations started, but we fear, that this help will come too late for hundreds of refugees.

On the two big boats mainly refugees from Syria and Iraq were on their way to find safety. Until middle of March they came mainly via the Aegean Sea, a way that is now blocked by the EU and their new Turkish partners. Another time it is proved that to block refugees leads only to more dangerous trips and to more death.

To be more clear: We don’t claim that there is unwillingness or delaying from MRCC part. But we believe that there is still lack of rescue capacities. Already in the last two days more then 5000 refugees had been rescued when they desperately tried to escape from Libya towards Italy. Some of the rescue boats are still on their way to bring those rescued to Italy. A lot of private and commercial ships are ready to help in the rescue operations, but often they are not able to reach sinking boats quick enough. The only solution would be safe passages and ferries for all.

Ferries not Frontex!

WatchTheMed Alarm Phone


Keep quiet and eat soup

On 24th of May 2016, the Greek authorities at last started what they had long threatened: an eviction of the camp at Idomeni.

Greece’s migration spokesman said that everyone knew that “conditions would be much better” in the camps they’re being moved to. He promised “no violence would be used”, but also that he expected the 8000 people, who’ve been there for months, to be gone in “no more than a week.” To ensure that nobody sees just how peacefully Idomeni will be evacuated, all journalists and activists have been removed from the area.

An explanation as to how this paradox of nonviolently moving thousands who don’t want to go might be resolved was given by an MSF representative, who said the police siege of the camp “complicates food handout efforts and sanitation maintenance”.

It is a move similar to the one reported by refugees in Vial, Chios, when they were being told they had to go to the hotspot in Kos: “We don’t have water for using bathrooms or taking showers,” a refugee said. “We just have water for drinking. The police cut the water because, he told us, you must go to another island.”

These tactics would usually be called siege warfare, intimidation, abuse or, at the very least, antihumanitarian. But in the last months a school of thought has established itself that claims this is not fundamentally wrong, but merely a matter of procedure. Humanitarian work consists in finding a “good place”, as identified by volunteers or the authorities, and then moving refugees there. The wishes of refugees are simply ignored. This approach grows naturally in the context of European border politics, and we would do well to resist it.

Stand in line

It is not just the customary European feeling of superiority that nourishes this attitude. When I worked in soup kitchens this winter, it struck me how quickly a paternal, or even authoritarian, mindset could develop among volunteers. We, mostly white twenty-somethings, were the givers and they the receivers. We had things, they mostly didn’t. We could travel, rent places and drive cars, they mostly couldn’t. It was us who made them stand in line, who decided on their portions, who could decide if someone got one, two, or no cups of soup, who told them to line up single file, who ordered people that jumped queue to go all the way back and so forth. This superior position can easily progress into straight out bossiness, and I repeatedly, and in various places, saw volunteers screaming at refugees who were waiting in line to get a pair of underpants or a registration paper. It is a sight I’d like not to see again.

This denigration was sometimes systematized when NGOs and food distributors marked the fingernails or tagged bracelets of refugees to be able to give each person their fair share. The motive is pure, the practice is repellent. But when conditions are as they have been in Greece this winter, the dignity of refugees has to be weighed against the practicalities of humanitarian work. The conditions they’ve been thrown in by war at home and closing borders in Europe leaves us little room to maneuver.

The unfortunate result of this structure is that “humanitarianism” has become a very flexible word. When refugees were moved from Vial to the hotspot in Kos, it could be portrayed as having had a “humanitarian” aim, because they got more space in Kos. The fact that they were locked up, while in Vial they had been free to go out, has been explained to me by a volunteer as a minor and temporary inconvenience – not a fundamental abuse of the inmates’ rights and a denial of their autonomy. The fact that refugees in hotspots say they’re treated as “animals” is to many a matter of giving them more soup, more space, more blankets, rather than more dignity.


It is this redefinition of the word “humanitarian” as merely “comfort-provider” that allows the Greek authorities to present the evacuation of Idomeni’s residents to “more humanitarian” camps as helping the poor scared ignorant refugees make the wiser choice. (This is called acting as a “white savior”.) But it’s simply irrelevant how great the military camps are. The point is that refugees are not allowed a choice. What is missing here is what should be a fundamental principle of humanitarianism: not to oppose the will and desires of those subjected to it. Dragging adults as if they were beasts from one place to another is never helping them, no matter how great the place where they’re to be put.

When refugees occupied the port in Chios, it engendered a similar discussion. They had found a place where they could not be ignored, where the media talked with them, where their protests were seen. But volunteers and NGOs pleaded with them to go to “better” camps because there they’d have showers and warmer beds. As if that mattered! They chose to sleep on concrete, not because they were stupid or senseless, but because they wanted to make a political statement. But that fell on deaf ears of those volunteers who worked “nonpolitically”; who wanted to create comfort, not change society.

The roots of nonpolitical volunteering merit a discussion of their own, which I won’t go into here, but it roughly seems to mean working within the system, registering when you’re told to and not going where you’re not allowed. Sometimes people honestly just follow this simple idea, to find people in need and provide them with whatever makes them feel better.

Keep calm and eat soup

The risk nonpolitical volunteers run is to become handy implements of inhumane state policy, to end up working working under terms and conditions which in the long run destroy the hopes of refugees – and which will eventually remove any vestige of humanitarianism in the treatment they get.

The most obvious case of this is when volunteers tell refugees to keep calm. It is a typically nonpolitical strategy: if you keep calm, we’ll be better able to bring you soup. It completely misses the bigger picture: that refugees are being violently screwed over by the EU, and want to make their case to the European public. They can’t do it without media attention, and the media doesn’t show up without there being “an incident”. Refugees have to be crying, starving, shouting or drowning for there to be a story. As soon as “humanitarianism” has enveloped them in its suffocating embrace, they’re off the front page – and can wait silently for deportation. (It’s also worth mentioning that refugees in Vial greatly improved their conditions by literally breaking out of prison, after volunteers told them they’d be better of by “keeping quiet”.)

And thus, nonpolitical humanitarianism ends up achieving its opposite. By removing refugees from the political and media scene at the Chios port, by evicting them from Idomeni, from the squares and from the parks, by giving them just enough food to stave off starvation, the authorities have managed to shut them up.

Article by Benjamin Julian published first on 24. May 2016 in: