AYS Daily Digest 6/11/17: Italian-funded Libyan Coast Guard Causes 5 Deaths in the Mediterranean
//MSF reports 4 additional deaths//Traffickers investigated in Italy//Toxic food On Samos//Fights and Protests on Lesvos//Open Letter to EU demands action on Chios//Abuse in Greek detention centers//Hunger strike continues in Athens//Near-daily hate crimes in Germany//Urgent needs in France/New initiative from Amsterdam
The Sea-Watch rescue organization reported this morning that the Libyan Coast Guard (LCG) interfered in one of their operations, forcing a number of refugees aboard Libyan ships while Sea-Watch was attempting a rescue. The LCG’s violent intervention caused a number of refugees to fall off their boat in a panic, and some drowned in the water. The actions of the LCG resulted in the deaths of five refugees, including one infant who Sea-Watch volunteers were unable to revive in their vessel. Sea-Watch reports:
The reckless and violent behavior of Libyan Coast Guards has caused at least five deaths on the Central Mediterranean Sea this morning, as the crew of the Sea-Watch 3 was called to their first rescue mission by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center. A helicopter of the Italian Navy had to intervene to prevent more fatalities. 58 people are now safe aboard the Sea-Watch 3, despite all efforts, our medical team was not able to revive an infant in our clinic. The Libyan Coast Guards forced a few of the passengers on their vessel and took them back in the direction of Libya. By interfering in the rescue operation, the Libyans clearly violated international law: The incident took place at 30 nm off the coast, in international waters far outside of Libyan territorial waters.
While the Sea-Watch team was taking people from a boat aboard their vessel, the LCG pulled up to the boat carrying refugees and began to grab people out of the water and onto their ship, all the while threatening and beating them. Sea-Watch also described the LCG vessel speeding off at a dangerous speed after their reckless intervention, endangering a number of people clinging to the side of the LCG ship.
The head of the Sea-Watch operation, Johannes Bayer, made a powerful statement today condemning not only the outrageous behavior of the LCG, but also the EU authorities who fund this criminal Coast Guard. According to Bayer,
Nobody would have had to die today if only we had the possibility to operate reasonably in a calm environment. Instead of coordinating the rescue operation with the vessels present such as a ship of the French Navy, the Libyans tried to take as many people as possible back to Libya — and accepted the loss of several lives. These deaths have to be blamed on the Libyan Coast Guards who have obstructed a safe rescue with their brutal behavior. The responsibility is on the side of the European Union, however, who trains and finances these militias.
They act in the EU’s will.
The European governments finally have to draw conclusions from this incident and stop the collaboration with the Libyan Coast Guards.
Not only has Italy signed an agreement with Libya to stem refugees arriving from the country and continued to fund the LCG despite their ongoing violations of international law, but the Italian Navy has even been documented collaborating with the LCG on illegal deportations on multiple occasions.
Today the Libya Observer published an absurd accusation from the Libyan Navy that the Sea-Watch organization acted illegally, rather than the LCG, and also falsely described the LCG’s assault as a “rescue”.
Other organizations that have looked into today’s incident, including Watch the Med, have agreed with Sea-Watch that the LCG was outside of their territorial waters, and clearly acting in a reckless and illegal manner.
MSF reported another tragedy at sea today, as they took in four dead people when a group of refugees were transferred from a French warship that had rescued them in the Mediterranean. We are awaiting further information on this incident.
As AYS reported in a special earlier this week, refugees living in Pordenone, Italy, have been living in an extremely precarious situation for over three years now, living in makeshift camps and sleeping rough on the street. AYS documented how the local mayor authorized harsher treatment of refugees, including the confiscation of their possessions and eviction from their campsites. AYS reported, “Refugees are continually evicted — both day and night; even a simple backpack on the lawn is a synonym of a “bivouac” situation. Following this logic, blankets and sleeping bags donated by MSF are confiscated and, despite pursuing all the bureaucratic routes, it is impossible to having them returned.”
The Italian TV station Tg3 released a segment this week describing the deteriorating situation for refugees living in the Pordenone area. One section showed a group of refugees who were sleeping on the side of the road under a tunnel, only a white line and a few meters separating them from passing cars.
A spokeswoman for the city of Salerno has announced that there will be an investigation into the deaths of 26 Nigerian women who landed in Italy on 5 November. While it is not unusual for people to die of dehydration or other causes on the journey to Italy, investigators have declared the death of the women suspicious, and are looking into human trafficking connections. The deaths are currently being treated as murders by the authorities. Two suspected human traffickers have been taken into custody.
According to IOM statistics, 2,839 people have died this year while attempting the crossing to Italy. How many of these deaths can also be considered murders, and how many of the killers have their offices in Brussels and Rome? Are the Italian authorities who sign treaties and knowingly cooperate with murderous regimes not just as guilty as those that do the killing?
According to a recent report from the orginzation Watch The Med, Tunisians are beginning to be directly deported from the island of Lampedusa for the first time. The deportations are the result of an agreement between Italy and Tunisia which was signed in February of this year.
There were two landings on Lesvos, with 55 people landing on the North Coast and another 55 on the south coast of the island.
45 people arrived to Samos today. Bad weather conditions made for especially unsafe crossings to both islands today.
A refugee on the island of Samos recently posted a photograph of the food the Greek authorities are giving to people in the camp there. The photograph shows a moldy piece of bread topped with moldy cheese. Like the food served in many of the Greek hotspots, the food served on Samos is frequently unsafe to eat and undernourishing. The authorities on the island have been known to serve stewed potatoes for all three meals on many days. One volunteer on the island commented, “Would you give this to your child to eat? Or eat it yourself? Presenting Sunday dinner for the refugees in Samos. Bread with cheese and tomato covered with mould. No wonder so many go to the hospital with food poisoning.”
The group Refugees 4 Refugees operating on Lesvos has put out a call for donations and assistance. They assist new arrivals on the island and do distributions of food and other necessities. The situation on the island is increasingly dire, with the official number of refugees living in camps on the island — 7,968 — being almost three times over capacity.
A video was released tonight of refugees throwing stones at containers inside the Moria camp on Lesvos.
Those on the ground have reported fighting among various nationalities in the camp. With the conditions on Lesvos driving more people to acts of desperation, volunteers on the island worry for the safety of all of those living in the camp.
Today is the eleventh day of the hunger strike, and the eighteenth day of protest for refugees who have been occupying Sappho Square on Lesvos. The respected refugee activist Arash Hampay has announced that he will begin a hunger strike tomorrow in solidarity with the protestors there.
It has been reported tonight by activists on the ground that an ambulance called into Sappho Square to aid three hunger striking women denied them medical care. The police were unwilling to assist, and the women were only given care after refugees and volunteers demanded that a second ambulance be called.
The NGO Refugee Rescue, which operates boat rescue operations off Lesvos, report rescuing 533 people in October, 226 of whom were children. They need funds to continue their work as it costs over $2,000 a month to keep their boat running. Click here to donate.
11 volunteer groups and NGO’s have written an open letter to the European Commission demanding immediate action to relieve the inhumane conditions on the island. The letter describes escalating problems that refugees have been dealing with for years: a lack of shelter, little access to medical care, inadequate and unsafe food, and extreme delays in the asylum procedure.
The situation on Chios is critical and, with weather rapidly conditions deteriorating and severe rain forecast this week, demands an immediate response from local, national and European authorities. We hereby add our voice to a recent call by more than 100 grassroots civil society organisations and leading international NGOs to promptly close the hotspots and decongest the islands by ending restrictions on the freedom of movement of asylum-seekers arriving on the Greek islands and provide them with adequate reception on the mainland outside of detention facilities… We are not willing to tolerate the sight of thousands of refugees freezing in tents along the EU’s borders.
Given these conditions, the organizations are demanding that the EU accept it’s shared responsibility for the disaster on the Aegean islands, and to guarantee that the human rights of refugees are respected. The letter also calls upon the EU to end the atrocious EU-Turkey deal, which has resulted in thousands of refugees trapped in Greece and thousands of unnecessary deaths in the Mediterranean.
The Greek NGO Aitima released a report this week detailing inadequate conditions for asylum seekers in Greece, the illegal detention of unaccompanied minors, and the lack of access to medical care for refugees. Their findings were largely based on research from detention centers in Attica and Korinthos. Aitima has also detailed “a number of credible allegations of physical ill-treatment of foreign national detainees by police officers during its visits to the aforementioned detention centers.” The organization is calling upon the European Commission to insure that these claims are fully investigated, and to punish those involved in the abuse.
The report describes a trend of Greece’s non-adherence to EU laws and regulations concerning the treatment of migrants, and of widespread practices of abuse and illegal detention. The report includes multiple stories of unaccompanied minors, people suffering from physical and psychological illness, and victims of torture being placed in detention without cause.
From the report:
In light of [these abuses], we urge once more the competent authorities to use the findings and recommendations of the European Committee and of other civil society organisations as guiding tools for the harmonization of the detention conditions with the relevant legislation and international standards.
Our country has absolutely no reason and no justification not to do so!
The NoBorders network reported a suicide attempt by an asylum seeker in the Korinthos detention center today. Those on the ground reported that the police did not assist the man for 40 minutes after the attempt. This story underscores the need for immediate oversight and change in these mainland detention facilities, as demanded by Aitima.
Today is the sixth day of hunger strike for refugees protesting in Syntagma Square, Athens. There are currently seven women and seven men who have been fasting to call attention to the illegal delay of their family reunification decisions. While thousands of refugees in Greece have been approved for reunification with family members in Germany, many of them are being forced to wait far longer than the six month maximum period prescribed by EU law. One protestor on the ground explained the reasons for his action: “we go to asylum as beggars, they treat us like slaves and many times they throw us out like dogs. My son is 10 years old, and he doesn’t know how to write his name. They’re pushing us into despair and traffickers.”
Today the medical team overseeing the hunger strikers in Syntagma Square put out a statement expressing their concern for the protestors, and calling upon the authorities to give their demands a fair hearing. From the statement:
On the sixth day of hunger strike, all refugees show some or all of the following symptoms: hypothermia, cold hands and feet, hypoglycemia, slow heart rate, severe fatigue, decreased reflexes, and intense stomach pain.
Taking account of the weather, the ages of the hunger strikers, and the fact that there are among them mothers with young children (who therefore cannot rest for long), their lives are in danger.
The doctors are calling on the Greek and German governments to consider their demands, and avoid mourning victims once more.
The AP has reported a 30 year old man was arrested in the Greek-Turkish land border while attempting to smuggle 50 refugees into the country. The refugees reportedly paid 1,500 euros each for the journey, where they had to stand tightyl pressed against one another in the back of the van.
The Refugee Info Bus team has published a video answering questions and debunking ruors on the topic of family reunification for refugees living in Greece.
The video is in Arabic, but Farsi and Urdu versions will be available soon.
Refugee Support Greece is seeking assistance for their work in the Katsikas camp in Ionnia. They have recently set up a mini market to help the 450 refugees living in the camp get food and fresh produce daily. You can support their efforts here.
The Rigardu team will be moving on from their operations in Šid to focus on the Subotica and Sombor areas in Serbia. They will be running shower facilities, mobile charging stations, and distributing water in these areas. In Šid the No Name Kitchen will be continuing their work.
According to statistics from the Federal Criminal Police Office in Germany, there have been attacks against refugees’ homes almost every single day of this year throughout the country. By October of this year, there had been 226 attacks, 213 of which the police have connected to right-wing motives. Of these attacks, many were related to vandalism, with 74 instances of property damage and 71 of graffiti vandalism. However, there have also been a number of physical attacks, including 31 cases of assault, 12 of arson, and two explosives.
In 2015 there were approximately 1,000 attacks on refugee shelters in Germany, and 1,031 in 2016. While the number of attacks has gone down since 2015, this hardly seems cause for celebration with fascistic violence remaining such a widespread problem in Germany.
The Federal Statistical Office of Germany has recently released data showing that 1.6 million people were seeking asylum in Germany at the end of 2016, which is 2% of the country’s population. At this time, there were also 573,000 people mired in a state of limbo in the asylum procedures. This delay in processing asylum applications has been criticized by many in Germany, including Robert Seegmüller, who is chairman of Germany’s association of administrative judges. Seegmüller predicted that the courts would have to deal with 200,000 cases in 2017, however, this number has already been surpassed.
Given this massive backlog, it is especially concerning that the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has been getting rid of their staff. The Nürnberger Nachrichten reported earlier this week that BAMF had approximately 7,800 employees in September of this year, down from 10,000 at the beginning of the year. Citing an internal document, the newspaper reported that BAMF had only 7,800 employees in September, down from about 10,000 at the beginning of the year. About half of BAMF’s current staffers are on temporary contracts.
According to sources in Germany, the number of family reunifications being granted each month in the country will be raised to about 300, up from around 100 in previous months. While this is a positive development, it is still not enough to relieve the more than 4,500 refugees who have been granted family reunificaton but are still waititng for their flights to Germany.
It will be another difficult night for refugees sleeping on the streets of Paris as the temperature took a sudden drop today. Volunteers on the ground are reporting increasingly desperate conditions, with not enough volunteers, a scarcity of donations, and continued neglect by civil authorities and harassment by the police. When will people open their eyes to the suffering of their fellow humans in the “city of love”?
In Calais, volunteers are struggling to help the 700 refugees still living in the region prepare for winter. The group L‘Auberge des Migrants is looking for people who are willing to drive supply trucks to the region, as well as material and money donations. You can find out more here.
The Network of Asylum Support, based in Amsterdam, is a recently founded organization that is working to connect asylum seekers with locals in Holland and beyond. One of their recent initiatives is to build networks for refugees living in Belgium, and set up activities and support services there. You can learn more about this and other projects through their website, and by subscribing to the newsletter at the bottom. NAS recently posted a video of a music practice they held with Europeans and refugees, which served as a reminder of the work ordinary people are doing to support and build connections with asylum seekers in their countries.
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