Today a protest was organized outside the Vial hotspot in Chios. Refugees took part by clapping and shouting and then broke out to join the protest outside. As they rushed out, they chanted “FREEDOM! FREEDOM! FREEDOM!” and continued chanting against deportations, for their asylum cases to be taken and appealing to Angela Merkel to improve their lot. The dozen or so policemen present, seemingly flabbergasted at this turn of events, put on helmets and positioned themselves between us and the refugees.
This faintly ridiculous setup was only symbolic. A friend of mine, whom I’d only talked with through a fence, just walked around the officers and shook my hand. “How are you doing?” he said with a beaming smile, as if we were meeting in a public park on a weekend stroll. People talked, walked around. Refugees enjoyed looking at their prison from the outside.
However, there wasn’t much for them to do outside. They’ve had some opportunities to leave the prison by climbing over the fence and walking the several kilomteres to town, but they can’t leave the island and are easily identifiable here. This is the genius of keeping them on the islands, which were cleared of refugees before they arrived. This also exposes how ludicrous their imprisonment is. If they can break out and still have no place to go, why lock them up in the first place?
As it turned out, most went inside again. A committee of local people visited the facility to check out conditions there. Police split off the more vociferous protesters, presumably to bring the protest to an early close, and because they had absolutely no capacity for a greater action.
Refugees mostly reacted with bemused indifference. They slowly went inside again at their leisure, underlining what an absurdity the locked door policy is.
At the end of the protest many interviews were given. People inside still haven’t got hot water, so they can’t clean themselves or their clothes. They’ve been there for 11 days, by and large, are still unhappy about the food, tensions inside are still running high and people seem more and more to reply “I’m not doing good” when asked how they feel. Asylum processing has finally started, with numerous problems and delays, but people are desparate. They didn’t come to Greece to remain in this country of economic disaster. They know people in the north of Europe. They want to go there. And the fact is that even if they apply for asylum here, they probably won’t get it.
But they have been through plenty, and this will not break them. There are other ways into Europe, other ways to get by. The walls may seem impregnable, the authorities unbeatable, but most of the time this is all an illusion. Sometimes all it takes is just shaking open the fence and walking around the policeman, and freedom is yours.