Lesvos and Chios: volunteers helping refugees arrested by police and Frontex, involvement of the International Rescue Committee

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Mark.
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Jan 14 2016 17:40
Lesvos and Chios: volunteers helping refugees arrested by police and Frontex, involvement of the International Rescue Committee

A crackdown has started on volunteers helping refugees in Greece, with arrests on the islands of Lesvos and Chios. Today volunteers on Chios were arrested directly by Frontex, the EU border force. On Lesvos a group of two Danish volunteers (from a Muslim background) and three Spanish lifeguards were arrested for towing in a stranded dinghy with 51 refugees. They have apparently been charged with people trafficking which can carry a sentence of up to three years. This follows moves to force volunteers and NGOs to register with police, and an agreement between authorities on Lesvos and the International Rescue Committee that effectively gives the IRC control over aid efforts in the north of the island. The IRC is a US based NGO for refugees which gets much of its funding from the US government and, at least in the past, had a reputation as a CIA front organisation. Henry Kissinger and Madeline Albright are IRC 'overseers', David Milliband is CEO. I'm not actually sure what to make of its involvement, or where the repression of volunteers and workers for smaller NGOs is leading. I'm starting the thread to post news as the situation develops.

Mark.
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Jan 14 2016 18:39
Quote:

Five members of foreign non-governmental organizations were taken to the prosecutor on Thursday morning facing charges of having facilitated the illegal entrance of refugees and migrants to Greece.

The 2 Danes and 3 Spaniards were arrested this morning by members of the Greek Coast Guard because they towed a boat with refugees from the Turkish territorial waters to the Greek island of Lesvos.

source, more here

photos, also here

Activist on Chios reportedly charged with spying for photographing Dutch Frontex boat - source

One Spanish and two Swiss volunteers arrested by Frontex in a separate incident on Chios - source

Seven arrested on Lesvos for taking life vests from island dump - source

Mark.
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Jan 15 2016 21:03

Video blogs from Eric Kempson on the role of the IRC on Lesvos

https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=p1zcLSTgL2I

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=X5ZxNtf-tiU&feature=youtu.be

https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=Upp19NwkLEQ

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=egxQ3gSSjbw&feature=youtu.be

Some historical background on the IRC here

IRC Board of Directors and Overseers with some interesting names

David Miliband and the IRC

Encyclopedia of Human Rights on the IRC

Mark.
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Jan 14 2016 19:18

AFP report on the arrests

Going off this Twitter thread (in Spanish) the report is clearly inaccurate and gets their nationalities and the NGO they are working with wrong.

Quote:

Hoy la policía griega ha detenido a varios voluntarios de @proemaid en Lesbos.

La policía griega acusa a bomberos sevillanos de @proemaid de "tráfico de personas" por remolcar una embarcación de refugiados. Indignante.

Los voluntarios de @proemaid están haciendo una labor increíble en Lesbos. Han salvado miles de vidas (no es una forma de hablar: miles).

Los voluntarios de @proemaid saben que no pueden entrar en aguas territoriales turcas. Sólo intervienen en aguas griegas.

Remolcar una embarcación que ha entrado en aguas de la UE NO es delito,a veces es imprescindible para evitar naufragios. @proemaid hace bien

Un responsable de @proemaid se ha puesto en contacto con la embajada española y con abogado griego, y han denunciado los hechos públicamente

La policía griega ha dicho a la prensa que los voluntarios detenidos (españoles y daneses) "remolcaban migrantes que no estaban en peligro"

La versión que ha dado la policía griega es absurda: dice que Proemaid remolcaba barcas desde Turquía en presencia de guardia costera griega

@Hibai_ Quiero decir,¿ los remolcaron en aguas griegas o desde la parte turca?

@LeticiaAtenas Las versiones difieren. Yo creo a los voluntarios.

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gram negative
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Jan 14 2016 19:15

I don't have anything to add, but thanks for bringing this up!

Mark.
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Jan 14 2016 19:34

Thanks. As I said above I'm not sure where this is leading, or quite where the IRC takeover in the north of Lesvos fits in. I think it's connected though. There are also proposals for Frontex boats to return refugees directly from Lesvos to Turkey. This would presumably apply, at least for the moment, to the refugees/migrants who don't come from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan and are currently not being allowed through the Macedonian border at Idomeni. In theory they should still be able to claim asylum in Greece but I doubt that that counts for much in practice. All this is happening under a Syriza government of course.

Mark.
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Jan 14 2016 22:16

Yesterday on Lesvos

Quote:

Cops and frontex shut down a spotting station run by volunteers, it used to spot the coming boats and sends signals to lifeguards

Now there is no way for lifeguards to be informed about the incoming boats, if a boat stops in the sea nobody will know about it

#Lesvos #Frontex w Grpolice put #refugees in police bus and do not allow any access to volunteers https://twitter.com/juancarlosmohr/status/687230987332263936

Reports on site: Frontex +GrPolice stop joint sea rescue operation of Greenpeace WWF on the north coast #Lesvos

source

Six activists arrested on Chios yesterday - source

Mark.
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Jan 14 2016 19:57

The Greek police on their new approach to volunteers

Mark.
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Jan 14 2016 21:06

Report on the arrests in Greek

Mark.
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Jan 15 2016 11:09

Guardian article from last week giving the spin from the Mayor of Lesvos and the UNHCR in favour of registration and control of volunteers and smaller NGOs. It also quotes praise for the IRC. This is all glossing over the conflicts between volunteers on one side and the island authorities, together with a couple of large NGOs and the UNHCR, on the other.

From the comments:

Quote:
One reason so many small NGOs are at work in Lesbos is the tardy and inadequate response of large NGOs.
Quote:
Yup - exactly. When I was there, if it weren't for the small NGOs and individual volunteers ditching their normal lives to get out to help a LOT of people would have been drowning/starving/dying through lack of medical treatment while UNHCR, STC, the EU etc. twiddled their thumbs.
Quote:
A distorted article. Big NGO self promotion machines combined with local right wing politics is toxic. Volunteers here for a few days plug some gaps but create more confusion. The reality is nevertheless a huge state failure to respond, at a Greek and EU level to basic needs and basic human rights. Volunteers cannot fix this and NGOs with their own agendas buy into their own silence. Moria is a degrading and shameful stain on all the authorities, agencies and NGOs who perpetuate the misery of refugees here by pretending to be doing 'protection' work. In reality there is no food without volunteers, no warmth without volunteers and many more hundreds if not thousands would die here if it were not for volunteers. There are many army facilities on Lesvos with all the resources needed to carry out operations to the scale needed but they are confined to barracks. Children are held in detention conditions, certain nationalities are arbitrarily excluded from registration and then detained, and vanity donors play god by putting their resources into inaccessible and dangerous places that only add to the risks not the solutions. Local residents have every cause to feel they are not being considered, but this is a global problem not a small island one and will only be fixed with international solidarity and a good measure of honest reflection by everyone about what is really happening under all our noses.
Quote:

I've worked as a volunteer (both independent and with an NGO) on Lesvos for the last 3 months and I can tell you that for this effort to be successful we need both groups of people.

I was criticized by a large NGO for rescuing 47 refugees who's boat was stuck on rocks outside my house in the middle of the night and bringing them into the warmth and giving them a place to change because it slowed their work down. It took that NGO 45 minutes to show up at my house from me raising the alarm about the boat. If those people spent that time outside they would have definitely suffered from hypothermia.

While not always following proper protocol independent volunteers can act quickly and provide support and avoid the bureaucracy that slows larger NGO's down. In our camp we work very closely with UNHCR, IRC, Red Cross & Save the Children and the evidence is there to see that when we all work together the results are incredible.

Quote:

I've been on the island for a couple weeks and I absolutely agree. A few nights ago we were flashing our lights on the beach to try to get the boat to move away from the rocks and someone from UNHCR told us to stop talking about legal liability if something goes wrong... All I could think of was the boat we rescued the week before that was stuck on the rocks we didn't want this boat to get stuck on. (It was in the middle of the night and storming which made it even more crucial)

The bigger NGO's have rules and bureaucracy to abide by... That hinders the work that needs to be done tremendously!

Quote:

In an ideal world, the Greek authorities would have deployed the army to set up temporary camps and provide transportation. it's the sort of thing armies are good at (I know, I used to be in one).

Second best would have been for the UNHCR to go in and do that, with or without the agreement of the Greek government.

But neither of those things happened, so individuals, loose groups, foundations and NGOs are filling the gap.

Coordination is certainly required. I was working with Starfish back in October, and things were sometimes a bit chaotic on the beaches, with us and other groups sometimes overlapping. Rather more ordered at "Oxy," the transit camp we were running just outside Molyvos where, to be fair to them, we were using tents and blankets supplied by the UNHCR.

But the problem is not "too many NGOs." It's "too little action by those who should be acting."

Mark.
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Jan 15 2016 11:59

Declaration from the volunteers arrested on Chios

Mark.
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Jan 15 2016 16:46

Report on the three Spanish lifeguards arrested on Lesvos (in Spanish)

Quote:

La organización PROEM-AID ha comunicado este jueves que la Guardia Costera Griega ha detenido a uno de sus equipos de voluntarios en la isla de Lesbos, tres bomberos de Sevilla que participan en las tareas de rescate de los refugiados que llegan en embarcaciones al archipiélago griego desde Turquía. Según han confirmado a Europa Press en la Embajada de España en Grecia, los españoles fueron detenidos en la mañana de este jueves por la Guardia Costera Griega y se encuentran en las dependencias de la Autoridad Portuaria en espera de que “se materialicen” los cargos y pasen a disposición judicial, algo para lo que “es prematuro”. Tienen asistencia letrada.

Uno de los fundadores de esta organización, José Pastor, señala en declaraciones a Europa Press que los detenidos son tres bomberos funcionarios de carrera, dos del Ayuntamiento de Sevilla y otro de la Diputación Provincial. Llegaron a la isla de Lesbos hace dos semanas integrados en un equipo de seis personas con la previsión de ser relevados el próximo domingo.

“Lo que más nos sorprende es que tenemos buena relación con la Guardia Costera. A veces nos llaman y trabajamos coordinadamente, como el pasado martes, ellos se encargan de una embarcación y nosotros de otra. Y esta mañana van y nos detienen. Esto ha sido un palo tremendo porque estamos haciendo una labor importante allí”, lamenta Pastor.

PROEM-AID nació tras la difusión de la fotografía de la muerte del niño sirio Aylan Kurdi ahogado camino de Grecia. Está compuesta por doce personas, en su mayoría bomberos y patrones de embarcación y se dedica a rescatar a botes en problemas y a acompañar a otros en la recta final hasta la costa, para darles, en palabras de Pastor, “un mínimo de seguridad”.

Empezaron su labor en Lesbos el 3 de diciembre de 2015 organizándose en dos equipos de seis personas que rotan cada quince días. En la isla trabajan en grupos de tres: mientras uno sale al mar en la barca de rescate que consiguieron llevar hasta Grecia, el otro proporciona soporte en tierra y ayuda a los refugiados rescatados a desembarcar.

“En el mes de diciembre, nuestra barca ha acompañado dando soporte de seguridad a botes en los que viajaban casi 15.000 personas. En los rescates directos que hemos hecho de botes que iban a la deriva, que se han quedado sin gasolina o que se han desorientado durante la noche, había casi 3.200 personas”, destaca Pastor.

Incide en que lo que ve en Lesbos “es la migración de un pueblo entero, como si España tuviera que irse a Marruecos en barca”. “Hay familias enteras, muchos niños, varios bebés en cada barca, barcas sobresaturadas con sesenta y setenta personas…”, señala.

Por eso, aunque sólo tenían intención de quedarse “un mes porque no había recursos para más”, recaudaron fondos para poder seguir trabajando en Lesbos también en enero. Se apoyan en donaciones particulares y en sus propios bolsillos y para desplazarse hasta allí, tiran de días de vacaciones y cambian guardias a sus compañeros.

“Estamos allí costándonos dinero por la situación, porque yo ya no pienso en lo que me falta o en lo que necesito sino en las caras de las personas que hemos ayudado allí y yo lo que ha visto allí son familias, niños, personas con estudios universitarios, ancianos. Familias enteras”, ha declarado.

Also this statement

Quote:

CEAR condena la detención de tres bomberos voluntarios españoles en Lesbos

La Guardia Costera griega detuvo ayer a tres bomberos voluntarios españoles de la organización PROEMAID, una organización que lleva desde el 3 de diciembre del pasado año colaborando en las tareas de rescate en la isla de Lesbos. Les acusan de un delito de “tráfico ilegal de personas” y está previsto que la vista se celebre mañana sábado. Se enfrentan a penas de hasta 4 años de cárcel.

Desde PROEMAID niegan que hayan intervenido en aguas territoriales turcas, motivo en el cual se basa la acusación, y argumentan que ni siquiera la embarcación donde navegaban los detenidos tiene capacidad para alejarse tanto de la costa griega. Además, añaden que vienen colaborando precisamente con la Guardia Costera griega que ayer les detuvo.

CEAR quiere mostrar su rechazo ante una detención que califica de inadmisible a estas personas, cuyo único objetivo era salvar vidas y cubrir una tarea que las autoridades europeas no están asumiendo debidamente. Además, CEAR quiere expresar su apoyo a PROEMAID que está realizando una labor humanitaria fundamental dadas las numerosas muertes que se producen en esa costa.

“Resulta particularmente grave que las autoridades griegas detengan a bomberos que colaboran con sus equipos en el rescate de personas en una de las zonas con más llegadas de personas refugiadas del continente, en vez de seguir centrando sus esfuerzos en coordinarse con ellos para salvar el máximo número de vidas”, lamentó Estrella Galán, secretaria general de CEAR.

PROEMAID on Twitter: https://mobile.twitter.com/proemaid

Report on this in Greek

Mark.
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Jan 15 2016 17:55
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Activist on Chios reportedly charged with spying for photographing Dutch Frontex boat - source

Report on this in Spanish - the activist is a Spanish citizen living in Holland.

Mark.
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Jan 20 2016 22:30

https://www.facebook.com/yiannisbaboulias/posts/10207726570338360

Yiannis Baboulias wrote:

This is a very difficult message to write, but here we go:

Greece came under considerable pressure last autumn to "secure Europe's borders", threatened even with exclusion from Schengen, accused that it wasn't doing enough to control the EU's borders and it wouldn't accept help from other European countries.

Let me say outright here that the EU's help was piffle. Even the fingerprint registration equipment they promised hasn't arrived yet, let alone financial aid and personnel. The EU opted to give away 3 billion euros to Turkey to convince them to stop letting people board boats essentially. With 4000 people arriving almost daily still, that didn't work out.

In the end, Syriza backed down (again) and is accepting European "help". The first actions are to arrest volunteers in Chios and Lesvos with ridiculous charges (some were charged with trafficking, others with carrying small amounts of weed), close down infrastructure like soup kitchens and observatories for approaching boats to help those arriving and establish fast deportation routes back to Turkey, where a recent BBC report showed that refugees have been tortured.

This breaks two promises: the first is that under Syriza, solidarity networks that essentially fill in the gaps for a semi-collapsed central government, would be allowed to operate unabated.The experiment was successful, but now it's being curtailed.

The second promise broken is that of the promotion of human rights and humane treatment of refugees. By agreeing to allow Frontex to operate as border police and with the tactical police cracking down on activists, Syriza is succumbing to turning Greece to an open air detention centre for refugees, and the country as a whole to a European borderland where a quasi-autonomous force (Frontex) operates with a hazy mandate.

The final straw is the extension of the operation of detention camps in Greece, all of which have come under heavy criticism for the squalid conditions under which detainees live, until at least 2018. The government has vowed time and time again that they would be shut down. Now they won't be.

Unfortunately these are the facts. I would normally reserve all this for an article, but my disappointment and disillusionment are too urgent. What's happening in Greece is the inevitable outcome of a Europe that doesn't know what to do with itself. It's just part of the wave of reactionary politics engulfing the continent. Unwilling to act in Syria, bitter against Greece, divided, shocked by eastern european countries turning ever rightwards and with a heap of economic troubles on the way.

I have no idea how all this might play out and I'm not even sure there's anything we can do about it. But I felt these things needed saying. So here you go.

Edit: video on the Amygdaleza detention camp

Mark.
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Jan 15 2016 20:32

The latest on the Spanish lifeguards

Demo in Seville tomorrow

Greek coast guards arrest Spanish, Danish volunteers

Quote:

Greek coastguards have arrested three Spanish and two Danish volunteers off the coast of Greek island of Lesvos for allegedly moving towards a refugee boat without authorization, according to Greek officials.

The volunteers belonged to the nongovernmental organization PROMAID and Danish Team Humanity.

Greek coast guard claimed they found three knives, daggers and two digital binoculars from the volunteers’ seized boat. After their arrest, the volunteers were charged with attempting to help foreigners gain illegal entry into Greek territory and possession of weapons.

A lawyer for the detained volunteers denied all charges.

"My clients are professional firefighters in Spain and their organization has submitted the necessary accreditations to authorities. They have voluntarily come to Lesvos to help those in danger and have cooperated with authorities in the past trying to do so” Haralabos Petsikos, lawyer for the three Spanish volunteers, told Anadolu Agency.

Team Humanity urged the Greek government "to release all illegally detained volunteers because they were only trying to save human lives".

Greek police claim action against certain groups and volunteers was necessary to stop those "pretending to be volunteers" from stealing objects from refugees or boats and not deter the work of other accredited volunteers.

The five defendants are expected to apologize formally to the public prosecutor on Saturday.

.

https://www.facebook.com/solidarityplatanos/posts/1105502386156827

Quote:

After the arrest of 3 volunteers in Chios, the greek state is trying to block the refugee solidarity movement on the island of Lesvos. Yesterday, 3 people of ProemAaid and 2 members of Team Humanity have been arrested by the greek security forces for "attempting to facilitate the entry of illegal migrants." The truth is that the rescuers were towing with their boat a refugee dinghy with engine problems when the greek coast guard ship showed up and arrested them. The 5 people will be judged on Saturday. Until then, they are deprived of their liberty and remain under arrest in the dungeons of the port. We will keep you updated.

FREE NOW ALL PROEM-AID AND TEAM HUMANITY MEMBERS

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Khawaga
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Jan 15 2016 21:14

Thanks for these updates Mark. Pretty disgusting stuff, but what else to expect...

Mark.
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Jan 15 2016 21:50

Thanks. I think as much as anything I'm trying to get a picture myself of how the changing approach to refugees in Greece fits together, along with the role of NGOs, Frontex, the Syriza government, local interests on the islands etc. The big stories are really about the refugees themselves, the risks they're taking, their reasons for leaving and the way they're treated. This can overshadow the issues around aid, NGOs, volunteers and the politics around immigration. Hence a thread on this rather than the refugees themselves.

Mark.
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Jan 15 2016 22:20

An old post from No Border Serbia with some thoughts on the role of the big NGOs

Quote:

(Non)governmental organisations, such as the UNHCR, the Red Cross, Praxis, and other collaborators of the repressive system that supports the illegalisation, criminalisation, segregation and rasism will today, on December 18th, mark the International Migrants Day. They will do so ignoring and covering up the fact that they are in the most direct way responsible for the suffering and terror that migrants across the EU and the world are enduring.

Every day we hear and watch the propaganda aimed at recruiting the largest possible number of volunteers, who will soon be transformed into an army of obedients, blindly and without objection executing orders in a vertical hierarchy and distribution of power. More than once we wrote about the ways of financing of organisations who “deal” with migrants, and it is clear that their “work” and their sources of financing are in a great mutual conflict, given that their main financier is the EU — the same EU that invests great resources into militarising borders and building prisons they call “camps” and “centers”.

In the field we are witnesses of monopolies these organisations have and the deals they make assisted by the repressive and restrictive state apparatus, in the attempt to stop and completely close the door to the work of self-organised groups of individuals, while in crisis situations (and they are all such) they locked their containers and fled, abandoning people.

You will hear and read nothing in mainstream media or on websites of NGOs about the everyday violence and brutality of “border management” (the police, the army, Frontex), nor of the people who organise protests on the borders and end up in prisons, committing suicides or going through hunger strikes, fighting with all their strength for dignity and freedom of movement. This is precisely because these organisations are a part of the repressive, manipulative and ignorant machinery that aims to censor and negate the existence of resistance, of direct actions, of solidarity and support that isn’t there only one day in a year, but is present every day, and yet gets sabotaged at every step.
....

The IOM - the International Organization for Migration - may be a case in point

Mark.
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Jan 16 2016 10:36

Medical tent at Moria camp closed, another volunteer arrested

Twitter thread in Greek about the IRC on Lesvos

Court hearing in Mytilene now for PROEMAID and Team Humanity volunteers

Facebook thread on the arrests (see the comments)

Mark.
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Jan 16 2016 09:47

Heroes Held Hostage: Arrest of Volunteer Refugee Rescue Team

Quote:

In Lesvos, I had the opportunity to volunteer alongside people from all over the world, working to save the lives of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, as they made the dangerous journey across the water from Turkey to Greece in an attempt to escape the horrific violence in their homelands. There were always whispers that those who worked out on the water were at risk of arrest, but the Greek police seemed to look the other way — a collective understanding that politics should not get in the way of saving human lives.

Yesterday, January 14th, this changed. Five volunteers working open-water rescue went out on an emergency call to locate a refugee boat in distress, adrift at sea between Greece and Turkey. Three of them, Kike, Manolo and Julio are firefighters from Spain and two are Danish rescuers working with the volunteer organization Team Humanity. While on their rescue vessel, they were arrested by the Greek coast guard and are now being detained on charges of “aiding illegal entry of foreigners into the country,” essentially human trafficking.

I personally witnessed the rescuers from these teams and others like them put their own lives at risk countless times to pull drowning people from the turbulent winter seas. If they are prevented from doing their work, we will continue to see those heartbreaking photos of the bodies of drowned children on the beach and have absolutely no one to blame but ourselves for turning a blind eye.

These volunteers will go in front of a judge at 10am (midnight, PT) tomorrow, January 16th. Per reports from their teams, they are being held in deplorable conditions -confined cells, no beds — and required to pay 1200 euros each for defense.

They should not be in jail. To be quite frank, their services shouldn’t even be required. As I have written before, the same path traveled by the refugees can be made by anyone with an American or EU passport for about $30. These rescuers are there to support the refugees who are not so lucky and are forced to make the terrible choice to risk their lives for the chance to live.
....
Changes in the human condition can frequently outpace the changes in government and policy needed to serve them. In the case of the current refugee crisis, there has been a catastrophic failure of government to act in the best interest of humanity. If this attempt at stopping the humanitarian efforts succeeds, it will likely be a slippery slope that could impact the overall volunteer efforts and cause massive suffering within a population that has already survived more atrocities than any of us can imagine.
....

Mark.
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Jan 16 2016 12:40

A Syriza MP has given evidence in support of the volunteers - source

Also here

Edit: Two Greek MPs make public apology for the arrests

It does leave the question of where the decisions are coming from and who authorised the crackdown. I wouldn't necessarily assume that the Syriza government is the same thing as the Greek state.

Mark.
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Jan 16 2016 14:09

Report from Rojo y Negro (in Spanish)

Photos from Seville

Photos from Mytilene

Photos from Mytilene

Photos from Mytilene

Video clip from Seville

Video clip from Mytilene

Mark.
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Jan 16 2016 13:58

Report on the refugees from the Turkish side, across from Lesvos

Mark.
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Jan 16 2016 18:46

Written question from Izquierda Unida MEPs to European Commission

In Spanish obviously

Mark.
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Jan 16 2016 20:40

Report from El País (in English)

Danish press report (in English)

Mark.
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Jan 16 2016 22:49
Quote:
All 5 arrested rescuers have just been released after being questioned by both the prosecutor and the investigator. Restrictive measures and bail of 10.000 euros was imposed on the owner of the rescue boat. A bail of 5.000 euros was set for the other four rescuers. A trial date was set with charges of facilitation of illegal entry into the country of refugees and immigrants, and illegal possession of a weapon for one knife that was found on the boat(!).

source

Video clip leaving court

Video clip leaving court

Mark.
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Jan 16 2016 22:03

AJE report

Quote:

Police accusations carrying prison sentences of up to ten years in jail against volunteer lifeguards who rescue refugees have angered the NGO community in the Greek island of Lesbos, with some reporting a growing crackdown on their activities.

On Thursday, the Greek coast guard arrested two Danish and three Spanish volunteers from the Team Humanity and Proem Aid groups, respectively.

They are accused of people smuggling, the Danish citizens' lawyer Themistoklis Kefalas confirmed to Al Jazeera.

The Danish volunteers are 26-year-old Mohammed Abbassi and 33-year-old Salam Aldeen. The three Spanish volunteers are Manuel Blanco, Jose Enrique and Julio Latorre.

Late on Saturday, the five volunteers were released on bail.

All except Aldeen made to pay a 5,000-euro fee.

Aldeen's bail was higher, at 10,000 euros, and he is also the only defendant who must stay in Greece and report to a police station every week.

The group will appear in court soon, though a date is not yet set.

"The only thing I can tell you is that they are good guys," Kefalas told Al Jazeera. "If found guilty, according to Greek law, they face between five and ten years in jail."

Video footage on Team Humanity's Facebook page showed volunteers from around the world protesting the detentions outside the courthouse in the island's capital city of Mytilene, calling for the charges to be dropped.

Petitions have also been set up. One in support of the Spanish volunteers gathered some 35,000 signatories in two days.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Saturday, Ayman Elghiouane, a 21-year-old volunteer from Team Humanity, said: "Everybody is happy for us being there; I'm wondering why the coast guard did this."

He added that in recent weeks, police have started slapping parking fines on volunteers, where before they had not, signalling a shift in treatment towards the community.

"Their [the Greek authorities'] attitudes have changed," said Elghiouane, one of 40 or so volunteers who has worked for Team Humanity, which launched in September.

There are around 80 NGOs working on the island, and thousands of volunteers.

Volunteer rescue teams are required to communicate with the coast guard when they go to rescue refugees by sea.

"We always call [the coastguard] for permission before we head out to the water," Elghiouane said.

"Right now, we can still do our work, but I don't know what the court will say. I think there is a crackdown on volunteers; maybe they want to scare us."

The mayor of Lesbos has before complained that the influx of volunteers who do not cooperate with the municipality is "disruptive rather than useful".

But Elisabeth Dimitras, an individual volunteer who has before collaborated with groups including Team Humanity, told Al Jazeera that the detained group was communicative and dedicated.

"I worked with Salam Aldeen [of Team Humanity] for one month," said Dimitras, who has made three trips to the island to volunteer. "He has no bad intentions. For sure, he's not a smuggler."

She added that Greek officials quoted in local media say that they wish the volunteer community was more controlled, in terms of registering properly with authorities and working with the local governments.

"I also think NGOs should be controlled, but you cannot go around arresting volunteers.

"I'm really worried that the authorities think that as long as we're there, the refugees will keep coming. And if we're not, they will not come - which is not true."

Dimitras cited examples of increased pressure on volunteers, such as the arrest of an unrelated volunteer who took a photo with a Frontex patrol boat in the background.

"The Greek coast guard in Lesbos only has around three or four boats," she added, justifying the volunteers' work. "Even some captains at the coast guard are completely burned out."

According to the UNHCR, of the at least 660,000 refugees and migrants who reached Greece in 2015, more than half landed at Lesbos.

Team Humanity's Elghiouane estimated that while numbers are down from September highs, when some 10,000 refugees would arrive in one day, around 1,000 refugees now reach the Greek island per day now.

The number has fallen due to poor weather.

"People are still drowning," Elghiouane said. "Before, we used to like to party. We don't think about that kind of stuff now. We just want to go back to Lesbos and help."

At least 59 refugees have died or gone missing while making journeys to Europe this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.

"These volunteers and aid workers are trying to ensure their [refugees'] safe passage ...the state should be assisting them, rather than arresting them," Nada Homsi, a Lebanon-based volunteer who worked on the island last year, told Al Jazeera.

"I've never seen anyone from the group do anything inappropriate or wrong, or anything that could constitute the gross charges that are being held against them."

Mark.
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Joined: 11-02-07
Jan 16 2016 22:50

Report from El País

Quote:

....
El juez ha decretado su puesta en libertad pasadas las nueve de la noche, según ha informado la ONG Proem-Aid, a la que pertenecen los tres voluntarios. El magistrado ha tomado esta decisión después de escuchar el relato de los españoles y el de otros dos activistas daneses, también arrestados. José Amor, uno de los compañeros de los andaluces, ha apostillado que estos han tenido que pagar 5.000 euros cada uno en concepto de fianza. "Este dinero es para que, en el caso de que se reanude la investigación, las autoridades griegas se aseguren la presencia de ellos", ha añadido.

El letrado defensor, Jaris Pétsikos, ha indicado a Efe que los españoles tienen un mes para depositar el dinero, que sirve como garantía de que volverán a Grecia en caso de que las autoridades helenas les reclamen. La razón, ha remachado el letrado, es que la liberación de los cooperantes es una "decisión temporal", ya que la investigación continúa y tras su finalización un consejo de jueces determinará si se mantienen los cargos. "En los casos en que los delitos son tan graves y el juez decide que te puedes marchar es porque no hay pruebas de que los has cometido, además tratándose de ciudadanos extranjeros...", aseguró Pétsikos.
....

The Spanish activist accused of spying on Chios was sentenced to six months but released on condition he doesn't return to Greece for three years.

Mark.
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Joined: 11-02-07
Jan 17 2016 00:48

PROEMAID statement

Quote:
....
Manuel , Julio and Kike have been released without charges, interim measures are not imposed and they will return home very soon. However, the Greek authorities continue to investigate the case and demand to PROEM -AID paying a guarantee of 15,000 euros, and they will request to return their appearance if necessary.
....

(I can't see that 'released without charges' is correct here, if the case is still being investigated)

.
Team Humanity statement

Quote:
Everyone was released on a €5,000 bail each. But Salam on a €10,000 bail and he is the only one who cannot leave Greece until next trial which might take 18 months. He has to show up at the Police Station once a week. We don't know if Mos bail has to be payed before he can leave the country or not.
Mark.
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Joined: 11-02-07
Jan 17 2016 09:07

Report from a volunteer on Lesvos, written yesterday before the hearing.

Quote:

These are interesting times, there seems to be a shift in atmosphere.

Reports of boats being paddled for five hours, with the two emergency paddles and hands, to the Greek shore, because the Turkish coast guard cut the fuel lines.

Just this morning I hear a boat came in at 5am, packed with exhausted, shivering people and crying children. Some of the petrol from cut pipes flowed into the boat. All breathed in the petrol fumes, and a five month pregnant women was sick and vomiting on shore.

While here in Greece, three Spanish lifeguards have been arrested for towing in a stranded dinghy with 51 refugees, and charged with human trafficking.

Well-regarded back in Spain as Firefighters, and well known here for tireless humanitarian work as Basque lifeguard group Proem Aid, they are one of dozens of non-government aid groups helping thousands of refugees and migrants on the beaches saving lives. They are now in prison pending sentencing.

This follows moves to require volunteers and NGOs to register with police, and an agreement between authorities on Lesvos and the International Rescue Committee that effectively gives the IRC control over aid efforts in the north of the island.

Frontex has shut down a spotting station run by volunteers. Used to spot the boats from Turkey, it sent signals to the beach crews alerting them where boats were landing.

Greece came under pressure to "secure Europe's borders", threatened even with exclusion from Schengen, accused that it wasn't doing enough to control the refugee exodus.

Now I believe the reports are that European "help" has been accepted, and there is this strange deal with the American IRC. The first actions are to close down infrastructure like soup kitchens and the watchtower, and establish fast deportation routes back to Turkey, without the option to claim asylum here, and arrest volunteers.

Independent volunteers can act quickly and provide support and avoid the bureaucracy that slows larger NGO's down. The evidence is here for all to see that when we all work together the results are incredible.

Every day I can see if it weren't for the small NGOs and individual volunteers stepping up to help a lot of people would have drowned, starved or died of hypothermia and lack of medical treatment.

What's happening in Greece is the inevitable outcome of a Europe that doesn't know what to do with itself.

The problem is not "too many NGOs." It's "too little action, too late, by those who should be acting."

The atmosphere seems to have turned as cold as the winter storms threatening the horizon.

source

Mark.
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Joined: 11-02-07
Jan 17 2016 11:44

At Idomeni on the Macedonian border yesterday

Quote:

Just got threatened by Greek police at border. Suddenly, decided photography forbidden. These clowns make up laws at will.

Couple of cops here are on a real power trip, more like bouncers than law enforcement officers.

'I know who you are, I know who you are' screamed female cop, notorious for aggressive attitude here at #Idomeni

Standard cop BS for intimidating people.

'So, who am I? No reply.

source

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