13. Dezember 2017 · Kommentare deaktiviert für „Europe’s Plan to End Its Migrant Crisis Is Failing“ · Kategorien: EU, Griechenland, Türkei · Tags: , ,

The New Yorker | 08.12.2017

By Jake Halpern

Two years ago, the Greek island of Lesvos was often in the news, as thousands of refugees arrived on its shores—nearly daily—in small rubber boats. They came from Turkey, just a few miles away. Some made it, while others drowned. At the time, Lesvos was essentially a pit stop. Virtually all of these migrants continued on to the Greek mainland, and then headed north—following an overland route that took them to Germany or points beyond. Since then, European nations have pressured Greece to block the sea route via Lesvos, and other islands, in order to stanch the flow of refugees. The number of refugees streaming into Lesvos has diminished, but in the last few months it has started to rise again. In August, a thousand and fifty-three refugees arrived on the shores of Lesvos, according to Oxfam. In October, there were twenty-two hundred and sixty. The island is now a bottleneck in Europe’s unresolved migrant crisis in which human misery is being contained and forgotten.

In October, I visited Lesvos and saw how the crisis continues to unfold in plain view on one of the most idyllic islands on Earth. After flying into Mytilene, the island’s largest town, I drove north into the rolling hills that abut the city. After twenty minutes, I reached Moria, the island’s largest refugee camp. Barbed-wire fences surrounded it, as if it were a prison. The camp’s gates remained open, but some residents complained that they were harassed by the local police if they ventured outside. Moria currently holds more than six thousand migrants—triple its capacity, according to the Greek government.

Outside the gates of Moria, I met a young man from Syria, in his twenties, named Abed. He was handsome, with a shock of jet-black hair and jade-green eyes. Abed told me that he used to study economy and finance at Damascus University, until the civil war disrupted his education. As the fighting escalated, a bomb fell on the house where his sister lived. Abed rushed to her residence and discovered her and her husband in the rubble. Abed eventually fled to Turkey. He worked odd jobs there until just three months ago, when he had finally saved enough money to pay smugglers for passage to Lesvos.

Abed invited me back to his tent, in the so-called forest camp, just outside the walls of Moria. This was an overflow camp, a makeshift bivouac, where as many as a thousand men lived in squalor. Abed, like virtually everyone else at Moria, was waiting. He had applied for asylum in Greece, but the process is so convoluted and drawn out that he had little hope of receiving a verdict anytime soon. Meanwhile, his tent leaked, and the nights grew colder. Camp residents and a number of N.G.O.s feared that, with winter approaching, people would soon freeze to death. The situation was stressful, he told me.

At one point, Abed reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet, and removed a neatly folded piece of paper, which he treated with care. On it was a date, three weeks away, when he would get an appointment with the “psychological doctor.” He was lucky to have this, Abed insisted. Rumor had it that you could only see a psychiatrist right away if you had already tried to kill yourself. Suicide is a recurrent problem at Moria and other camps like it. On the Greek island of Chios, one in three refugees has witnessed a suicide, according to a report by the Refugee Rights Data Project.

As we walked together, one of Abed’s friends—a gaunt Syrian man named Ammar—invited us into his tent. Several men sat cross-legged inside, staring into space. Ammar said that people in this tent discussed books and ideas. Posted above the entrance to the tent, in scrawled Arabic, was a sign that read, in part, “This tent is not exclusively for one person. It is a home for every person in need, and would you please not use filthy words, and don’t live without manners. You have to be a real person even in the most difficult of situations.”

In March, 2016, the European Union unveiled a plan that it said would control the influx of refugees in a humane and orderly fashion. This was the basis for the so-called E.U.-Turkey deal. Under its terms, Turkey agreed to stop asylum seekers from crossing, by sea, to Lesvos. In return, Turkey got six billion euros, or 6.7 billion dollars, in aid. The money was to help cover the cost of the three million Syrian refugees who are living on Turkish soil. Finally, a limited number of Syrian refugees, in Turkey, were targeted for resettlement in Europe.

The agreement was hailed as a victory—a breakthrough in the migrant crisis and a way for E.U. nations to regain some control over who settled within their borders. The problem is that it hasn’t worked. The E.U. hasn’t taken many refugees from Turkey; the Turks have reduced but failed to stop the flow of refugees to Greece; and rubber boats, filled with desperate people, are still arriving in Lesvos almost every day. Some of these new arrivals are incarcerated at Moria. A recent report, by the Council of Europe, noted that, during a visit in April, 2016, observers found a hundred and seven adults (mostly Pakistanis) and fifty-seven unaccompanied children detained in a special “closed” compound within Moria. The report said that there was no access to drinking water for the adults and only limited access for the children.

The situation on Lesvos, in all its misery, isn’t quite as random and chaotic as it may seem. There is a larger strategy at play, not simply neglect or indifference, Dimitris Christopoulos, the head of the International Federation for Human Rights, told me. The E.U.’s intention is to create a “buffer zone”—of Greek islands—that will absorb the masses bound for Germany, Sweden, and France, he said. “This is deliberately a message of deterrence on the part of the E.U.—‘if you come here, this is what you are going to face,’ ” Christopoulos told me. “This is why the E.U. turns a blind eye. This is why the situation is so bad. There is complicity here. The goal is to prevent people from coming to Europe. This mess is not an accident.”

Tensions on Lesvos are rising. The following day, I returned to the Moria camp and saw a steady stream of aid workers walking out. They were being evacuated after a riot had erupted inside. The camp’s Afghan and Arab residents were fighting—kicking, punching, and throwing stones at one another. Women and families fled the camp as well.

Outside the front gate, I spoke with an Afghan couple. The husband, Jasam, stood protectively next to his wife, Zahra, who was eight months pregnant. According to Greek and E.U. law, Zahra, as a pregnant mother, is a “vulnerable person” who should be sent to the mainland, where she can access improved accommodations and services. And yet she showed me her paperwork rejecting her vulnerable status. Renata Rendón, a policy expert at Oxfam, said that this wasn’t surprising. According to Rendón, the screening process often doesn’t work properly. Instead, people are simply “shuffled through the system” so they can be sent back to Turkey, she said.

For her part, Zahra said that she refused to stay at Moria any longer. “We have decided to go sleep somewhere out there in the jungle tonight,” she told me, pointing to the forest surrounding the camp. Another woman, nearby, was nursing a head wound on her three-year-old. He had been hit with a rock. “It’s not secure inside,” she told me. “If they can’t help us, I’ll jump into the sea.”

That evening, hundreds of Afghan families who had fled the fighting gathered outside the entrance to Moria and refused to reënter the compound. Several other young children had been wounded in the fighting, including a six-year-old with a gash across his skull. Together, the families chanted, in English, “Moria is not safe!”

The next morning, Jasam, Zahra, and a hundred or so other, mostly Afghan, refugees decided that the only way to draw attention to their plight was to leave Moria and protest in the town of Mytilene. They set out on foot, walking along the highway. A deployment of Greek riot police, armed with shields and batons, stopped them halfway to town. And there they remained, in the hot midday sun, for the next several hours. When I approached some of the Afghans, to interview them, they recognized me and surged forward. The police pushed them back. A shoving match ensued. When more of the Afghans heaved forward, the police relented, allowing the men, women, and children to pass and continue down the highway to Mytilene.

Later that night, the Afghans assembled in a square at the center of the town. Children slept under blankets with their mothers beside them. In nearby cafés, tourists sipped ouzo and ate calamari. “We will spend the night here,” Zahra told me. “And we will be here until we get our demands. We want the Greek authorities to let us leave Lesvos.” I asked Zahra if she was worried about her unborn child, who was due in just twenty days. She shrugged and whispered, “Germany.”

So far, the E.U.-Turkey deal has failed. The flow of refugees into Europe is neither orderly nor safe. At the same time, E.U. countries like Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic are declining to take refugees, like those on Lesvos, who are seeking safety. All the while, Greeks see a double standard. Though other E.U. countries largely refuse to accept migrants, they have accepted refugees and also adopted E.U.-backed austerity measures in the wake of the financial crisis. The European Commission announced on Thursday that it was suing Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in the European Court of Justice for not accepting refugees.

All of the refugees who I met on Lesvos were hoping to get asylum so that they could escape the island and continue onto the mainland. Alternatively, they may be deported. If and when a deportation order comes through, they will be out of options. On my last day in Lesvos, I met with a Pakistani refugee named Atif, who had been living on a mountaintop for the last year in a glade, partially concealed by trees and bushes. Atif told me that he had no hope of getting asylum, so he, and a dozen others, had holed up here. The view from his hideaway was stunning—arid cliffs, gleaming black-stone beaches, and a wine-dark sea. I asked Atif how long he could really last, up here, on the cliffs. He looked at me as if I fundamentally misunderstood the nature of his predicament. “I don’t know,” he said. “One year . . . six months . . . one day. I don’t know.”

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