The refugee issue: The clash of two worlds

Photo: flickr/Fotomovimiento

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One of the worst violations of human rights, along with one of the biggest mass killings of civilians Europe has experienced since the Second World War, is taking place as we speak.

I have spoken to hundreds of refugees and they all have the same horrible stories to share.

Multiple reports from the International Organisation for Migration and the Human Rights Watch have estimated that, only during the past two years, at least 8,000 people, mainly women and children, have drowned in their attempt to escape from the deadliest wars of the past 40 years such as in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

Just as a reminder, all of these wars were either started or fuelled through arms hand outs and training of extremist groups mainly by the U.S. and their NATO allies.

Of course these numbers do not include the thousands of refugees who die on the way before they ever reach the borders of Europe, mainly in the ragged mountains on the borders of Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey.

On the other side of this barbarism, is one of the biggest waves of solidarity and self-organized community building happening in parallel. Tens of thousands of locals, strangers from foreign lands, people from all walks of life are donating food, supplies and their time to the most noble of all causes: helping human beings in need.

From high school kids coming with their friends during their spare time, to the elderly, offsprings of refugees themselves, from California and Quebec, to Spain and Denmark people "sacrifice" their vacation, their savings, strangers amongst strangers, just to be here and contribute with all they can to this struggle of life against everything that's wrong with today's world.

No hesitation, no personal benefit, no material need drive the thousands of people who arrive here in solidarity in order to make a stance against the brutal indifference, the barbaric order the "democratic" governments of the "civilised" world are trying to impose. 

Stories of horrific struggle for freedom

On their way to Europe most refugees have to cross Turkey. There, the smugglers in admirable collaboration with the authorities, repeatedly take people hostage, threaten them and torture them in order to  extort the maximum amount of money they can from them.

I have been told about secret underground prisons where refugees are kept like animals, hungry and thirsty until they pay their 20-30€ fee in order to be set free.

Refugees have described to me how the smugglers "rent" the highways from the Turkish Gendarmerie (a branch of the Turkish Armed Forces responsible for the maintenance of the public order in areas that fall outside the jurisdiction of police forces, generally in rural areas). That means that the Turkish Gendarmerie are getting paid so that they remove their checkpoints for a few hours; if the refugees can't make it through during these time slots then they usually get arrested and asked for more money in order to be released.

Last month, the first documented killings of refugees by the Turkish armed forces as they are trying to cross from Syria into Turkey have surfaced. In 2015, the Bulgarian army shot dead an Afghan refugee as he was trying to cross the border from Turkey.

Of course, as is always the case, this is a matter of social class. Most of the rich and upper-class people who want to escape the war zones, do so by plane and European or North American passports that have been issued by the industry of human suffering within the Western embassies themselves. The cost of buying passports and a plane ticket to Europe for a family of four varies between 100.000 and 200.000 €. The transaction takes place using an ingenious system where money never changes hands directly.

It becomes obvious that the financial beneficiaries of this situation have no reason to see this situation changed. When one wants to solve a crime and find the perpetrator, one has to answer a simple question: In whose benefit?

EU agreement a flagrant violation

Almost all of the refugees I have spoken to have had a close relative or a friend killed in the wars back in their home countries; and still the "civilised and democratic" Europe, the very regimes that invade other countries using the violation of human rights as a pretext, have come to be some of the worst human rights violators themselves.

Under and agreement that the 28 countries of the EU have signed with Turkey, tens of thousands of refugees -- around 40 per cent of which are children -- are to be held in prison camps mainly in Greece, without any access to basic necessities, medical attention, legal representation, humanitarian organizations, until they are expelled back to Turkey; the same Turkey whose totalitarian regime is murdering hundreds of its own citizens in the Kurdish dominated areas of its south-east territory. The same Turkey where refugees are being extorted, imprisoned and tortured.

That is why most refugees are telling me that they prefer going back to die in their home land than being deported back to Turkey.

Of course this agreement is in flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention, the New York Protocol and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union which clearly states in the two clauses of Article 19:

1. Collective expulsions are prohibited.

2. No one may be removed, expelled or extradited to a State where there is a serious risk that he or she would be subjected to the death penalty, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

Another outrageous part of the agreement is the fact that it does not recognize the right of Afghanis or Pakistanis to apply for asylum as these countries are "not considered at war." The fact that in Afghanistan where the civilian casualties of the war, almost equally split between Talibans, ISIS, Afghan Forces and NATO-led forces, rose to record levels for the seventh year in row in 2015, especially amongst women and children, doesn't seem to mean anything to the EU governments.

In Pakistan hundreds of civilians have been killed in bomb blasts and battles between extremists and the army while hundreds more have been killed by U.S. drone strikes and bombardments during the past two years. These are the countries the EU is considering "not at war" and wants to deport thousands of civilians back to.

Since the implementation of the agreement started at the end of March, thousands of refugee are in limbo in Greece. Children, travelling without their parents, are held in immigration detention centres and police stations prisons. In Ellinikon concentration camp 47 women have gone on a hunger strike because in violation to every basic right, they have been detained separating them from their children, for several months now (see attachment for their letter).

I believe every single refugee death is a direct consequence of the policies of the EU. Turkey and Greece share a land border. If this border had been opened, we would not have a single drowned toddler, we wouldn't have a single extorted or tortured refugee. Since Austria, Germany and most Balkan countries closed their borders to refugees the only thing they have achieved is to throw these vulnerable people in the hands of armed gangs.

We must act now, and act through solidarity

The other day, a family of Afghani refugees I had met here in Athens a couple of weeks ago, contacted me from Hungary describing me their ordeal as they fell in the hands of criminals in the FYROM-Greece border where they were taken hostages at gun-point until ransom was paid.

The same day a Syrian refugee contacted me from Italy, where he had just arrived through Albania giving the last bit of money he had left to Albanian and Italian smugglers.

Borders, guns and authoritarian regimes might kill, extort or drown some, but eventually some people who are desperate will find a way to get to a safe space. It's not a mere matter of a "better future" for them and their children; it is a matter of life and death.

The only two things closed borders policies achieve are

1. The deaths of thousands of innocent people running away from wars we have started and extremist groups we have armed or financed 

2. Handing out more than 6€ billion so far, to criminal gangs of smugglers

When mass media and governments are not just silent but accomplices to these crimes, the people in solidarity are the only ones left to tell the truth. That is why during the past few weeks they have gone from heroes to villains.

Back in January almost a million people signed a petition that ended up being promoted by the government as well as the mass media, to nominate the refugee solidarity movement for a Nobel Peace Prize. Since the Turkey-EU agreement though, the same people have been relentlessly persecuted. Hundreds of us have been detained, searched almost daily, had charges laid upon us merely for handing out pamphlets to the refugees letting them know what their rights are. Several solidarity structures, from hospitality centres, to community kitchens and independent solidarity medical facilities have been raided and sealed off by the police.

Every single refugee I came across, when asked whether they would like to go back to their home country if things get better in the future answered "home is home; of course we would go back."

These wars will continue being necessary as long as they are profitable for big corporations and serve as generators of endless crowds of desperate people who are willing to work for peanuts. The Western imperialism, the arms industry, the totalitarian "representative democracies" and most of all the blinded masses who numbly watch human rights violated, other humans being imprisoned without a judicial process and thousands of them killed and extorted, are all responsible.

If we don't act now, very soon, the time will come when in the place of these imprisoned, tortured and desperate people will be us; and then there will be no one left to save us.

 

Nikolaos Gryspolakis has been a radio producer in community radios for more than 12 years and has been travelling and writing for Greek and Canadian non-corporate media about social, economic, environmental and political issues, in South and North America, Europe and Africa. During his PhD in Engineering at McGill University, he realised that he could only truly comprehend the world not inside sterilised labs and scientific conferences, but by living and experiencing the agents of life in all shapes and cultures.

 

Photo: flickr/Fotomovimiento

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