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A Week of Hell: Refugees Evacuated from Lesvos After the EU Agrees to a Dirty Deal

This is a depressing post.  It can’t be helped.

On March 18th, the EU made a deal with the devil, in this case Turkey, a country that hasn’t been allowed to join the EU because of its horrible track record on human rights. But now, conveniently, the EU has decided that Turkey is an excellent place for refugees!  According to the EU-Turkey deal, Turkey will get 6-billion euros to keep those pesky refugees out of Europe.  Under the agreement, refugees arriving on the shores of Greece, are to be returned to Turkey.

The European Union has now made it clear that it does not value human rights or respect international law.

Now, Turkey has the EU by the metaphorical gonads.  If Turkey becomes unhappy with the EU?  Watch and see.  Turkey will open its border.  Three-million desperate refugees will be waiting to leave.  Very. Poor. Decision.

This EU-Turkey deal blindsided everyone on Lesvos, including the very officials who were meant to institute its requirements, namely the Greek army and government.  Chaos ensued.  Nobody knew what the f*&^ was going on.  Read here for a volunteer’s perspective on this insane period.

Police in Moria

Police in Moria. Photo by Paul Carr

Overnight, police and the Greek army moved in and hundreds of refugees were taken from Moria, which was previously an open registration center, and brought to the port where they were instructed to purchase a mandatory ferry ticket to go to an unknown place for unknown reasons leading to an unknown fate — kind of like making the Jews buy their own ticket to Auschwitz.  Some of those who couldn’t pay were helped by charities or volunteers.  I don’t know the fate of the others.

The ferry was guarded and with the exception of a few deliveries of water and food, neither volunteers nor press were allowed beyond the gates.  The ferry waited there for 30 hours until 2,500 refugees were on board.

Where did it go?  It went to Athens.  This 10-hour ferry trip somehow took 23 hours.  So, now for some poor people this was 53 hours of waiting plus travel.  But that wasn’t the end.

From Athens, refugees were put on buses for 20-hour trips without food or water to new closed detention camps which were not ready and lacked supplies, staff and services.  In total, this was a 73-hour odyssey endured by men, children, pregnant women, disabled and elderly refugees.  To arrive in the middle of nowhere.  With nothing.  To be locked behind gates.  The welcoming committees included the police and the army.

Given that the Greek army is broke, not even the basics are being covered — not enough food or water in some camps, no access to clothing, severely limited toilets and showers (as in 1 per 250 people), not enough bedding or blankets, no information about their legal rights or options, and limited to no wifi or ability to communicate with the outside world or contact their families.  These people have been given no information.  This is not humane treatment, even for criminals. 

Police in Moria. Photo by Paul Carr

Police in Moria. Photo by Paul Carr

On Lesvos, Moria, became a prison overnight.  Now, refugees are detained until further notice.  Massive confusion abounds.  All volunteers were kicked out.  The beautiful example of charity and humanity where I volunteered, Better Days for Moria, was emptied of it’s 500 residents and volunteers told to leave.

No press nor volunteers have access to the inside of the detention facility.  Large reputable aid groups like the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Rescue Committee, Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children have drawn a red line, pulling partially or completely out of their cooperation with the EU and withdrawing their services.  Please click the links above for their statements.  There is speculation that this EU-Turkey deal violates international law at worst and is inhumane at best — no aid groups want to cooperate with this disgusting “deal”.

In the last 24 hours, photos have shown that refugees are sleeping outside, in the open and the cold, because the tents in the Moria detention facility are filled beyond capacity.  Beside the detention facility, Better Days for Moria, now empty of volunteers and refugees, has unused housing and supplies for hundreds of people.  Criminal.

More than fifty-thousand refugees are now stuck in Greece.  Supposedly, they will be given the opportunity to apply for asylum or family reunification while in detention.  Given the lack of resources to process such applications one can imagine how long these people will be in prison without adequate aid or legal counsel.  Those who are not eligible for asylum will be sent back to Turkey.  

The very day this deal took force, Turkey violated international law, putting 30 Afghan men, women and children asylum seekers on a plane and returning them to Afghanistan although they claimed they were in danger and would be killed by the Taliban.

Lawyers, humanitarian groups, and volunteers are working around the clock to determine the legality of this deal and figure out how they can help now.  My hope is that this “deal” collapses as quickly as possible so another, more humane solution can be found.  In the meantime, the suffering of refugees continues.  I didn’t think it was possible for things to get worse, but they have.

I watch this from afar, in helpless disbelief, hoping for better news tomorrow.  Today, Europe and all first-world countries are complicit in allowing this horror to continue.  Where is our humanity?  Have we learned anything from the past?  

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