Last Wednesday (18 April), refugees and migrants marched from Greece’s Moria camp to Sappho Square, Mytilini, where they gathered to protest delays in processing times, poor conditions in the camp, and neglect by Greek authorities. The protests were fueled by reports that an Afghan refugee, Ali Khoshi, died after the camp authorities failed to provide him with adequate medical care. According to camp residents, Ali had a chronic kidney disease that was not properly monitored by camp authorities until it was too late. Greece’s official news agency denied this, saying that he had a chronic heart condition and in intensive care, but alive. However, protest organizers and refugees at Moria deny this account. Ali’s widow has also confirmed his death. The fact that there is even a question of whether or not a refugee died under the government’s watch is enough to indicate the disorganization and lack of transparency that plagues Moria and other camps on the Greek islands.
The refugee’s protest also coincided with the decision by the Greek Council of State that people who cross by boat from Turkey into Greece could no longer be held on the Greek islands. However, the ruling did not apply retroactively, meaning that the 11,500 refugees and migrants already trapped on the islands could not leave until their cases were processed. Despite migrant rights advocates’ hailing the decision as a victory, it was reversed only three days later. After a new Director of Asylum Services was appointed, he reinstated the previous decision to keep refugees and asylum seekers on the islands.
A group of approximately 200 far-right hooligans attacked the refugees on Sunday evening, throwing flares, bottles, stones, and other projectiles while shouting violent slogans such as “Burn them alive!”. Although the refugee men formed a circle to protect the women and children at the protest, City Plaza Squat, an alternative housing organization for migrants in Greece, says that children were among the injured, and Ekathimerini reports that the attackers appeared to be targeting women and children in particular. One Afghan refugee who attended the protest says that the attackers were “throwing stones the size of fists”.
Police who were there to protect the migrants, as well as left-wing activists who arrived as reinforcements, were also attacked. Many of the attackers appear to have come after a right-wing Facebook group called the “Mytilene Patriotic Movement II” invited people to the square for a flag ceremony, as well as to protest the imprisonment of two Greek soldiers in Turkey. After the situation calmed down in the early morning hours, police forced the refugees onto buses to take them back to the Moria camp.
It has been reported that 120 Afghan refugees and two members of a Greek migrant solidarity group were detained following the protests, despite none of the attackers being arrested. In a case of history repeating itself, the events on Lesvos occurred at the same time as the trial of the Moria 35, a group of 35 Africans who were arbitrarily arrested on July 18, 2017, in a violent raid following two days of refugees and migrants peacefully protesting in Moria.
On Monday morning, I received a text message from one of the refugees at Moria camp, saying “Wanna hear a joke?” He continues “The EASO has been calling for Ali Khoshi over the loudspeaker. They don’t even know he’s dead.”
Main Image Credit: Ariel Ricker, Advocates Abroad