The refugees on Lesbos are to be accommodated in a new camp. Possibly a pilot project for a new EU migration policy.
LESBOS / HEIDELBERG taz | As if they had come straight from a war, hundreds of refugees move to the gate of the new camp on Friday morning on Lesbos, which is a few kilometers outside the island’s capital. They have bundles with them, bags, blankets and sleeping mats, some drag their belongings in garbage cans behind them, others have tied them onto old fruit pallets that they push across the asphalt. Some can only walk with crutches or sticks, others sit in wheelchairs.
Special units of the Greek police had already started on Thursday to round up the people on the streets where they had been waiting since the fire in the Moria camp. The police officers shout “move”, they wear white protective suits and sunglasses.
After over a week with far too little water, food and sleep, many of the refugees are completely exhausted and dehydrated, they lean on their bundles while they wait to be admitted in front of the camp. In the surrounding fields they wash themselves on pipes that transport sewage towards the sea.
The riot and protests of the past few days have given way to an exhausted calm.
According to the latest information from the authorities, there should now be space for 5,000 people in the camp, in tents that the military has set up. 5,000, however, had already moved into the camp on an old shooting range by Thursday evening. 1,000 were waiting in front of the entrance on Friday morning. There are still around 12,000 refugees on the island. Many of them will have to sleep on the floor for a while in the new camp.
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The press is banned from the site, as are lawyers, and it is still unclear whether the people who enter the camp will be allowed out. Journalists who are in the vicinity are repeatedly scared away by the police. From the surrounding slopes you can watch people standing in long lines. Water is distributed rationed in bottles. Excavators level the parched bushland, white tents with a blue UN logo are set up. It’s still hotter than 30 degrees, but there’s no cooling. There are no showers and the sea, which is only a few meters away, is inaccessible: the access is blocked with barbed wire.
What is there: A new police station in the camp. 300 officers were transferred there, the police leadership in Athens sent a high-ranking officer as commanding officer.
Everyone who comes to the new warehouse is tested for corona. 150 Covid 19 cases had been discovered by Friday morning. There should be more: As in Moria, it is completely impossible to keep your distance in the new tent camp. The infected are placed in a quarantine area. They received medical help, said UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo.
Refusal of entry
Around 4,000 refugees are still in the hills around the burned down camp or at a roadblock near the island’s capital. They do not want to go to the new camp and fear that they will be locked up there permanently. And the residents are also dissatisfied with the development: The regional council of the North Aegean is considering calling a general strike against the new camp. He demands that all former inmates of Moria be removed from the island. But that’s not what it looks like. In Germany, the government coalition has only agreed to accept 1,553 more refugees from the Greek islands, and “100 to 150” unaccompanied minors from Moria are to be accepted here.
The fire in the Moria camp could, however, have cleared the way for a profound change in the European asylum system, which the German government in particular has been trying to push for some time.
In Berlin, Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) called for a new European asylum system on Wednesday. In future, it should be decided at the external border who is in need of protection, and those in need of protection should then be distributed, said Seehofer in the Bundestag. Two thirds of asylum seekers would not be able to enter the country in the first place. “And it makes a difference whether I have a million to distribute in Europe or two or three hundred thousand,” he said. When asked whether he wanted “the asylum procedures no longer to take place in Germany, but rather all in the hotspots themselves, so that only those who are recognized are distributed”, Seehofer said: “The latter is our goal.”
The new camp on Lesbos could become a pilot project for this.
Seehofer had this suggestion scattered last November. The European asylum system should be “reoriented”, it said in a paper by his ministry, which is a kind of timetable for the German EU Council Presidency, which runs until the end of the year. The core of the concept is “binding preliminary reviews” of asylum applications at the external borders in “closed centers”, ie internment facilities. Anyone who submits an unfounded asylum application – for example because of entry from a safe third country, incorrect information about their identity or for other reasons – should not be allowed to enter the country at all, according to the paper.
The camps would thus have a kind of extraterritorial character. “Refusal of entry means return,” it continues. “Frontex has to help with this.” In other words: Anyone who is screened out during the preliminary examination should be deported directly. An EU asylum authority, which has yet to be established, called the “Europan Union Agency for Asylum”, is to decide in which EU country the actual asylum procedure for the rest of the population will be carried out.
“We are abolishing Dublin”
This authority is likely to emerge from an upgrading of the existing European Asylum Support Office EASO, based in Malta. Its spokesman knows about the plans, he doesn’t want to say anything about it. “That is all decided by politics,” he says. But if there are to be “preliminary checks” of asylum applications in the future, “then we would of course be involved”.
The whole thing raises a number of completely unanswered questions, on which the Federal Ministry of the Interior has kept a low profile, even in discussions with NGOs. Because EASO is not allowed – at least on the basis of its current mandate – to make any decisions about who is granted asylum or who is admitted to a procedure. Nor is it clear how refugees can legally defend themselves against a rejection in such a preliminary examination. And what about those who can be rejected but not deported at all? “None of this can be done with previous EU law,” says Franziska Vilmar, asylum expert at Amnesty International.
It is unclear how refugees can defend themselves against rejection
“Castles in the air”, says the lawyer Robert Nestler from the NGO Equal Rights Beyond Borders about the plans for the preliminary checks in camps at the external borders. “Without changing an extremely large number of laws, you will not be able to avoid a regular Greek asylum procedure in such centers in the future either.”
But the EU could not let that stop it. On Wednesday and Thursday, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented her migration agenda. The reform package that was actually announced for May is intended to harmonize EU asylum policy more closely – and also to abolish the biggest conflict factor: the Dublin regulation. This stipulates that the states at the external borders are essentially responsible for the incoming refugees. This had repeatedly led to violent disputes within the Union. For years the EU has been working unsuccessfully on a possible reform. Last Wednesday, von der Leyen made a surprisingly clear statement: “We are abolishing Dublin.” Seehofer’s model of preliminary tests would fit into this. Because those who pass these should be distributed to other states. That would relieve the external border states.
“Yes, this is impossible with current EU law. But they will change the law to make it possible, ”says Amandine Bach, migration expert from the Left Group in the EU Parliament. She sees preliminary checks at the external borders as a “central element” of von der Leyen’s migration agenda. A draft of the agenda was punctured in April. “This makes it clear that the Schengen Borders Code, the EASO Regulation and other laws should be changed in order to be able to introduce the model,” says Bach. Entry should only be completed when the examination has shown that an asylum application has a chance of success.
All other refugees are treated as if they had never been there and are deported again before they have even officially entered the EU.