Last night, two groups of independent activists got apprehended and interrogated for hours by police for standing on a public street outside the Vial hotspot in Chios. They have been visiting the hotspot to keep an independent eye on what is happening there. Inmates told us the food and water there were insufficient, so we have tried bringing them some.
While the activists enjoyed their five-hour police station hangout, the cops pleaded with them to just register, go by protocol, and work under the camp command. They refused.
Refusing to work in a refugee prison under the command of the prison guards is a principled and practical decision. It’s the official line of Doctors without borders, it’s the line the UN refugee agency is taking in the Greek hotspots. “We refuse to facilitate this cruelty,” MSF said. It’s a way to prevent your work being perverted. It’s also a way to put pressure on the authorities to stop mass incarceration.
What follows is a description of what independent and unregistered people must go through these days in Chios in order to talk with refugees. In this case we also tried to bring them some bare necessities, but not on the terms of the hotspot managers, to avoid becoming their volunteer suppliers.
The first group, Tuesday afternoon
We went up with 200kg of apples in our van to hand out, because we were told the refugees didn’t have enough food. When we came we saw there was a demonstration at the front gate, with quite a lot of people outside.
That wouldn’t have been a good time to give out apples.
We were standing in a public street, keeping the apples in our van, thinking about how to hand them out and what was going on. We split up, three went up to the upper part of the camp to see what was going on there. Then police officers came and asked us for identification.
We asked why they wanted them. They didn’t give a reason. Later I showed the ID but they had already said they’d take us to the police station. There was a small shed in front of the gates where they did a full body check on us.
They also searched our car. After that they brought us to the police station in Chios town where they asked us one at a time for name, date of birth, names of parents and so on. We stayed in total about five hours but they leveled no charges against us.
They took me into another room for three hours and started to ask questions about how I came to the island. I came from Izmir via Cesme. They asked me many times about this, about the date, they repeated my answer wrong so I had to correct them. They asked me again and again and again while they were filming me with a mobile phone. At least it seems they did, one policeman pointed his phone at me while I was talking, stopped when we took a break and began again when they started again with the questions. They were smoking inside all the time.
After four hours we met the second group.
The second group, Tuesday night
We bought water for about 100 euro and went to the camp. We saw the first group had been caught, saw Philipp in the car, and saw the protest. One refugee had climbed onto the fence and trying to get the attention of people inside, to cheer them on.
We decided to go back to town and I went with a different group to Vial. The police was putting on riot gear and we wanted to observe.
We walked to the camp, decided to go to a place with a good view. We couldn’t see much going on inside the camp, except we heard a woman screaming and crying. As things got more calm, and only five to six refugees were left at the gate, we went back to the car.
We recognized when we arrived that someone saw and followed us. When we came back and sat in the car, before we’d managed to start it, the police came and screamed in Greek. We just sat there and they kept screaming. Then we thought maybe they were saying we should leave the car, so we did.
One of them went to the other side of our van, where F. was sitting, and I saw he had a gun in his hand.
It was crazy, one policeman even had a gun in his hand. Then they asked us for IDs, we gave them. We had specifically taken them so we’d not have this kind of problem. The police searched our car without permission, searched all of us, which I’m sure is not allowed either. One of the young dudes pulled out handcuffs but the other cops calmed him down.
They separated us and forbade us from talking together. I did not want to show my ID. Then the policemen started searching my pockets and I didn’t know if it was legal. They found honeyflower seeds and all of them sniffed at it. The most shocking thing is that they just went through my things, found my ID and took it. They also searched everywhere in the car, even inside a juice bottle. They asked what we were doing here and said: “You are not supposed to be here, this is a prison now.”
We met the first group in the station. The last one was still being questioned. The others left after about maybe 40 minutes. Then they asked us how long we’d been in Greece, where we’d come from, what we were doing here, what we were doing at home, where we lived, where we stayed in Greece, who paid for the place and so on. Then I had a few questions. I asked them why I had to be there. I had just been sitting in a car on a public road. I asked them if there were other public roads which I could not stay on, did they maybe have a list for me? They said it was just because there were refugees there, they had to protect them from strangers.
The third group, Wednesday afternoon
We arrived at Vial to talk to the people there again about the conditions inside. We were talking with them for 15-20 minutes while the police passed by several times. Then they stopped and asked us for ID. We asked them why, and they said we weren’t allowed to be there, that it was a restricted area. We showed them our passports. They asked us where our car was and why we were there. We said it was because we were passing by and because we didn’t understand why kids were in prison. They called someone and wrote all our info down, also the licence plate and our IDs, and told us we’d have to leave now, that we were allowed to pass by, but not talk to the people. They said that several times. Then we went into the car and drove to the main gates. There we talked to an NRC worker. He said they were not inside the prison anymore. He also said there is nobody inside Vial, apart from the refugees. Police had also left. The refugees are fighting inside and there are protests and the police is afraid of the violence. He also said that now it’s just a matter of time until people inside start to kill each other.