Since Sunday, refugees who arrive on the Greek islands are by and large brought into prisons with the aim of deporting them. The places are officially called “hotspots”, but both police, visitors and inmates call them prisons. The prisoners have a legal right to apply for asylum, but have so far had great difficulty in lodging their requests. They have to pay to go to prison and they are fed through a fence.
Today, five days after imprisonment of refugees started, these instructions were finally put up. They aim to lessen the monumental confusion inside the Vial hotspot. Notice that the sign instructs inmates to “ask the authorities”, the institution that is imprisoning them, for information about their rights. We have talked to several refugees inside who want to apply for asylum but can’t. Procedures, staff or facilities seem to be lacking.
This is the inevitable and foreseeable result of the EU-Turkey agreement, which only gave the Greek authorities a few dozen hours to completely revamp their reception process, an impossible task. And the Greek state has acquiesced to the EU’s plans by imprisoning refugees, even though facilities are incapable of providing for them properly.
This official statement blatantly contradicts the claims of a police officer who visited activists at Soli Cafe, Chios town, in the afternoon of March 23. He identified himself as Costas and said that everyone in Vial could apply for asylum but that nobody wanted to.
While refugees stay in Vial, volunteers provide them with food – but are forbidden from entering the camp. (Independent volunteers have been harrassed when visiting the hotspot to bring food, and have been forbidden from talking with inmates.)
As a result of this awkward distribution method and the degrading conditions where they take place, conflicts inside the camp can result. After a food distribution on March 23, fights broke out. “There’s no police here to clear the fight,” a refugee told us as it happened. People fought with stones and five refugees – one woman – got hurt. Police left them to it for half an hour. It seems that everybody ran for it; the NGOs and the camp management. But the refugees, men, women and children, remained locked inside.
And it doesn’t end there. The refugees were brought into the prison by bus, which they had to pay for.
These buses have been in operation for a while, and offer not just a joyride to jail, but also wildly inconsistent prices, depending on currency. We have talked with a refugee brought into the prison after the agreement with Turkey went into effect, who had to pay for his bus ride, so the practice wasn’t stopped after the policy of imprisonment began.
All the foreseeable confusion and harshness of the EU-Turkey deal have come to pass. We are now witnessing the ugly result of prioritizing border control over humanity, xenophobia over compassion. These prison camps brutalize everyone, the inmates and our own society. They are explicitly built to grind to dust the hope and aspirations of foreigners, some of whom are running for their lives, or desparate to be reunited with their families. Europe’s hotspots are a disgusting blot on its conscience, they are a culmination of its vilest fears and hatred. They have to be destroyed.