Petros Constantinou reports on how EU moves to isolate and confine migrants in buffer zones along the Greek/Turkey border are being resisted
Black lives matter, refugee lives matter! This is the cry from thousands in Greece, outraged by the escalation of racism by the neoliberal government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, with mass evictions of 11,000 recognised refugees, among them pregnant women and babies. Government measures have also taken away food allowances previously provided.
This barbaric action goes hand-inhand with the demonisation of refugees trying to escape from Turkey and enter Europe, who the government and media describe as “pawns of Erdogan”. This has prompted fascists and nationalists to organise attacks against refugees and carry out paramilitary patrols in Deportations proved an expensive and ineffective way for the EU to stop refugees and migrants the areas where they live.
The president of the EU Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, approved Greece’s military operation to halt the passage of refugees at the Evros River border with Turkey by extending the existing 12km wall to 26km. She also approved the illegal sending back, at both the Evros River and the Aegean sea, of refugee boats reaching the coast of Greece at islands such as Lesvos.
In addition, Von der Leyden rewarded the Greek government with an additional €770 million to stop refugees entering Europe, violating any legal process for asylum seekers. The plan is to impose a vast buffer zone extending from Greece and Turkey, where refugees from the Middle East and Asia (mainly Syria and Afghanistan), and recently from Africa, will find themselves trapped in huge detention centres and camps.
This process of militarisation in guarding the borders closes the door of Fortress Europe on an unprecedented scale. Deportations proved an expensive and ineffective way for the EU to stop refugees and migrants and now it is trying the make-their-lives-hell method by keeping them in isolation on the islands. This is a well-trodden path.
The Greek state used this method in the past in order to attempt to isolate communists and left dissidents, or the mentally ill. However, defiance is growing as workers’ resistance to attacks by the government on jobs, health and the public education system returns. A mass movement of solidarity with refugees is developing.
In May, KEERFA (Movement against the Threat of Racism and Fascism) organised demonstrations outside the camps where the government had announced large numbers of evictions — including one camp in the very heart of Athens administered by the Athens municipality.
Refugees organised committees of action inside the camps with the slogan: “No one to be removed from the camps without getting a home in the city!” They won the support of trade unions. The government retreated and postponed the mass eviction for one month.
Also in May, 20 families appeared at Place Victoria in Athens after they had received tickets forcing them to leave the Moria camp on the island of Lesvos, effectively abandoning them to live on the streets. KEERFA organised a demonstration with the families at the Athens municipality council meeting, at which a refugee spoke.
At the meeting the left won the vote stating: “The municipality is asking for an urgent state subsidy for the refugees to be given shelter in houses and closed hotels.” There will now be a mass mobilisation on 26-27 June, with buses coming from the camps organised by the refugees themselves.
This coordination with migrants is inspired by the anger of the Black Lives Matter movement. We are part of an international movement that is building the alternative to the crisis of a system that breeds racism and opens the space for fascists.
Our great hope is that revolutionary socialists in Greece who as part of this movement and are organising the struggle, can win a new generation of workers and refugees from Africa, Asia and the Middle East to the struggle against capitalism.
(Petros Constantinou is KEERFA coordinator, Athens municipality councillor and member of SEK)