As international attention continues to wane, refugee arrivals to the Greek islands are on the rise. On May 6, 2018, 350 refugees reached the shores of Lesvos and Chios, according to Greek news outlet Ekathimerini. According to data from the International Organization for Migration, over 7,000 people reached Greece in the first four months of 2018.
Conditions in Moria Camp, the main detention center on Lesvos, remain squalid. According to a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) statement, more than 7,000 people are residing in a facility only equipped to house 2,500, and access to healthcare is extremely limited. Delays to asylum processes are forcing refugees to continue to endure these harsh and oppressive circumstances.
Indeed, a recent legal case, which has been referred to as the “Moria 35,” highlights the repressive conditions faced by asylum seekers in Greece. On July 18, 2017, asylum seekers on Lesvos protested outside the European Asylum Support Office to draw attention to the harsh conditions on Lesvos and call for unrestricted movement to mainland Greece. Although the protest started peacefully, after arriving on the scene, Greek police used teargas and clashed with protesters, according to an op-ed from the European Council on Refugees and Exiles.
After the protest was quelled, the camp was put on lockdown. Riot police reportedly arrived on site, arresting thirty-five male asylum seekers. In interviews with Amnesty International, refugees described police using “excessive force” during these arrests; cellphone footage taken by activists corroborates these claims.
The Legal Center Lesbos (LCL), an NGO on Lesvos, has been active in providing legal aid to those trapped on the island. In July, LCL lawyer Lorraine Letee told the Intercept she believed the asylum seekers were arrested because of their race and location in the camp; all the defendants lived in the African section.
Over the ensuing nine months, thirty of the thirty-five detainees continued to be unjustly imprisoned while awaiting their court date. When they finally stood trial in April, they faced charges related to damage to property, use or threat of violence against a public official, dangerous bodily harm, and arson.
At the conclusion of the legal proceedings, which were replete with procedural flaws, thirty-two defendants were acquitted on all charges but one, injury to public officials, the LCL said in a press release. The three remaining, who had been detained by a firefighter outside Moria, were found innocent on all charges.
Given a suspended prison sentence, all thirty-five detainees should have been released from prison by now, but twenty-four remain. Seven of the defendants had their asylum claims rejected, and faced immediate deportation to Turkey, until LCL and other entities intervened on their behalf.
URGENT: 7 of the #Moria35 face deportation on Thursday, but all are elligible for humanitarian protection in Greece as victims/witnesses of police attack. Contact Asylum Service to stop deportation: +30 2251032323 or [email protected], #freethemoria35 #lesvos #refugeesgr
— Legal Centre Lesbos (@lesboslegal) May 7, 2018
The trial of the thirty-five is not the only example of asylum-seekers being punished for advocating for their rights. On May 11, ten asylum seekers living in Lesvos stood trial for crimes such as arson, related to a protest on July 10, 2017 that called attention to the rejection of asylum claims and detentions of asylum seekers.
These legal proceedings show the extent to which asylum seekers on the Greek islands have been repeatedly denied their dignity. As refugees and asylum seekers continue to be punished for demanding their basic human rights, the EU’s hypocritical treatment of this vulnerable population is on full display.