The July 7th elections marked a change of government in Greece, as the right-wing New Democracy took power from the previous government, SYRIZA. International media sources that hail the change of government as a “return to stability” and “rationalism”, marking the end of so-called “populist” (anti-austerity) politics in Greece, neglect the degree to which New Democracy’s election victory rested on a staunch anti-migrant policy. While we hail the collapse of the extreme-right party Golden Dawn, it is wise to remember that the party declined in part because its voters believed their interests to be best represented by New Democracy. Within a week of assuming power, New Democracy has already begun waging war against refugees and migrants in Greece. Its new brand of “rationalism” and “stability” provides for the following:
Within 48 hours of their election, New Democracy dissolved the Ministry of Migration and passed the administration of migration (including issues pertaining to the granting of asylum, authority over hot stops and deportation centers etc.) to the Ministry of Citizen Protection (the police). The New Government seems to regard refugees not as bearers of human rights in need of international protection but rather as suspected criminals to be policed as a potential threat to public safety. On the islands and on the mainland, a policy of racial profiling has led the police to conduct sweeps of urban centers in search of deportable migrants. It is evident that New Democracy’s notion “stability” is better understood as outright repression and exclusion.
New Democracy promises “stability” by transforming the island hot-spots into closed detention centers and their residents into inmates. As a result of the EU-Turkey statement, asylum seekers trapped on the island have for the past three years been subjected to daily physical and psychological deprivation and abuse in overcrowded and inadequate island camps. Today, an estimate of 7,000 people resides there. The mass incarceration of asylum seekers in those same hot-spots will deprive them of the little freedom of movement that is left to them, will transform women, children and men in need of protection into prisoners, and deny them all opportunities to access the support structures, organizations and solidarity initiatives that currently make their lives bearable. On Lesvos, far-right members of the Mytilini Town Council who face charges for assaulting refugees, demand the immediate closure of all independent and municipal accommodation structures (PIKPA, Kara Tepe).
Meanwhile, the government promises “expedited asylum procedures”, adding pressure to an asylum process that has already been compromised and compressed. The decision prioritizes the speedy deportation of asylum-seekers over the guarantee of a fair and thorough hearing of their case. New Democracy’s “stability” can only be achieved through a policy that goes to horrific lengths to trample international human rights law in an effort to maintain Fortress Europe.
Finally, last week, the newly instated Minister of Labour and Social Affairs passed a decision to stop issuing social security numbers (AMKA) to third-country nationals, effectively throwing refugees, migrants, asylum seekers and non-EU nationals out of Greece’s welfare net and stalling their prospects of integration. Without a social security number, asylum seekers will be unable to access lawful employment, exposing them to greater deprivation and exploitation. Moreover, they will not be able to access basic public services such as healthcare, psychological and psychiatric aid as well as vital medications for chronic and life-threatening conditions. Meanwhile, notice has been issued that the children of asylum-seekers are no longer admitted to public education, in violation of the Greek Constitution which ensures the right to education for all children. Such is New Democracy’s “stability”: an attempt to enforce a welfare apartheid, in which some of the weakest members of the population are differentially exposed to exploitation, injury and neglect.
After years of watching Greek and European Union authorities impose evermore inhumane and unlawful policies in their efforts to “manage” asylum-seekers, with catastrophic effects, we solidarity activists on Lesvos sympathize with the new government’s desire for “stability”. But we have our own “rational measures” to propose for the sake of “stability”.
Ending the criminalization and persecution of asylum-seekers. Asylum seekers are not criminals but bearers of human rights.
Recognizing that the inhumane conditions created by the EU-Turkey statement cannot be addressed by imprisoning and deporting its victims, but by dissolving the EU-Turkey statement altogether, granting asylum-seekers the freedom of movement that is theirs by right.
Granting asylum-seekers decent housing and the opportunity to live with dignity. This means shutting down the hot-spots where they have been forced to live in squalor.
Ending deportations to Turkey. Turkey is not a “safe third country” or a “safe first country of asylum”; deportees cannot fully access their right to apply for international protection in Turkey.
Examining all asylum claims on their merits in a full and fair asylum process with all procedural and substantial safeguards.
Ending arbitrary detention and the current practice of generalized detention of asylum-seekers based on nationality with the intention of returning them to Turkey. Children must never be detained.
For the rest of the European Union that has lauded New Democracy’s election as a “return to stability”, we say that no “stability” is possible as long as the EU continues to use Greece as a buffer against refugees and asylum-seekers. Ensuring “stability” in Greece requires:
Ending all returns to Greece from other European States of refugees and asylum seekers under EU Regulation No. 604/2013 (Dublin III), due to the inhumane conditions in Greece.
Increasing the number of available relocation places by allowing access to the scheme for those who have arrived after the conclusion of the EU-Turkey deal, and swiftly match relocation requests in order to ensure that the minimum reception conditions to safeguard human dignity can be met, as required by EU Directive 2013/33/EU.
Expediting the Dublin III reunification of families, many of whom have been forcibly separated by war and persecution and have been waiting years to be reunited.
Supporting Greece in cancelling the inhuman EU-Turkey deal.