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Migrants in camps and detention centres in Greece

category greece / turkey / cyprus | migration / racism | opinion / analysis author Saturday October 02, 2021 21:00author by Solidarity With Migrants Report this post to the editors

A political analysis

The Greek state has a long tradition in the racist management of refugees and migrants within it. The on going war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa (to which the Greek state actively contributes), the exclusion and exploitation policies, as well as ecological disaster, are forcing hundreds of thousands of people to seek a better future in Europe.
The planning of the European Union, however, holds a nightmarish future for them, with the Greek state being behind the expansive military interventions and at the forefront of the war against migrants on the European territories.

Migrants in camps and detention centres in Greece - A political analysis


The Greek state has a long tradition in the racist management of refugees and migrants within it. The on going war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa (to which the Greek state actively contributes), the exclusion and exploitation policies, as well as ecological disaster, are forcing hundreds of thousands of people to seek a better future in Europe.

The planning of the European Union, however, holds a nightmarish future for them, with the Greek state being behind the expansive military interventions and at the forefront of the war against migrants on the European territories.

Moving forward to a brief account of the greek state’s anti-immigration politics, we note that their focus is two-fold and includes measures both at the borders and inside the country. Starting from the war against migrants, their exclusion from the society, and their devaluation and exploitation in Greece, greek politics move towards the “externalisation” of the borders to countries away from Greece and EU (such as Libya, with the notorious collaboration between Greece, Italy and the Libyan coast guard and the reproduction of slave-trade conditions in N. Africa). Therefore, these externalized borders become the first obstacles to the movement of the migrants. Once approaching the land and sea borders of Europe and Greece, migrants are further pushed-back. Finally, if they manage to enter the country they are continuously arrested and detained for long periods in camps and even the ones that fulfil the strict criteria set by the state to become legal, have to face the aforementioned discrimination and exclusion.

From 1990 to 2008, a period including the 2004 Olympic games held in Greece, the greek state has strategically used migrants and focused on their illegalization* to increase the exploitation of their labour force, in the context of a developing greek economy (especially in the field of construction), looking for cheap workers for the fields, construction, health-care, sexwork, etc. Migrants came to Greece from the Balkans and from war-zones of the Middle East and Africa, where the greek state participated as a NATO and EU member (e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan). State violence and racist devaluation in greece completed the picture of labour-exploitation, as the migrants themselves have reported: violent push-backs at the borders, illegal extended detention and torture at the police stations, horrible work and living conditions, fascist pogroms, etc.

This strategy did not change after 2008; rather, it was developed and enriched. The 2008 financial crisis, the Arabic rebellions of 2011 and the increase of the war conflicts in the Middle East, the anti-immigration war of Greece increased and was systematized, following the systematic war-alliance of Greece-Cyprus-Israel-Egypt, which completed the already existing framework of NATO and EU.

Below we will highlight three basic and intertwined components of the anti-immigration war and the management of the population by the state and the EU: the pushbacks at the border of Evros, the administrative detention and the system of detention centers, the system of camps.

* By illegalization we refer to the intentional state-driven framing of migrants as illegal in order to strip them off their rights and to increase their exploitation.

The fortification of Evros and the pushbacks

As early as 2005, the greek police and army had been discussing the creation of a fence at Evros. Dimaschakis, who was at that period the head of the police and military official, visited the USA (G. W. Bush period) and consolidated a cross-country collaboration to transfer the knowledge and experience from the wall of Mexico. In 2008, greek police forces received training from americans. The fence begun to materialize under the supervision of Papoutsis (minister of migration) and the head of the greek army, Fragos, in 2011. In 2015, shortly after the election of Syriza and Anel, Giannis Mouzalas who was the minister of migration politics at that period, excluded any possibility to demolish the fence of Evros. “There are technical issues that currently make the idea of Evros to be opened non-viable”, he stated at his interview at the Sunday issue of the newspaper Vima.

Multiple testimonies of migrants that have been pushed back from Evros suggest an established and thorough practice of repel: arrests from the army and the police are followed by the detention in police stations or other places (storage rooms, barracks) in inhuman conditions, with no food or water. The jailers proceed to the systematic removal of personal items, even clothes, and to extreme violence that may escalate even to virtual executions. The participation of people with identifiers that cannot be classified as police or army forces in these violent acts is particularly alarming. Eventually the migrants are pushed back to Turkey with boats from the river Evros. Therefore, as several international organisations, institutions and journalists have underlined, the legal right to register and seek for asylum is omitted. According to reports published by the Guardian, EU member-states have applied illegal (and legal) methods at the borders to pushback more than 40.000 asylum seekers during the pandemic and these practices have led to the death of at least 2000 people.

The fence of Evros has been reinforced and further expanded recently. Moreover, the greek police has placed a sound canon (LRAD) at the borders to be used against migrants and local disobedient groups, a practice that has been applied in developed capitalist states with experience in suppressing the people (USA, Israel).

The recent history of Amygdaleza and other detention centres

Another example of the developments concerning the greek state’s war on migration and the collaboration between New Democracy and SYRIZA is Amygdaleza. The detention centre is located at the police school and was founded in 2012, when Chrysohoidis asked the different municipalities to suggest locations for the establishment of the 30 camps he was committed to create. Amygdaleza started with 90 double containers.

Zeus Xenios, the police programme ironically named after greek mythology, initiated in August 2012 with state-organised pogroms in the centre of Athens, filling up Amigdaleza and Petrou Ralli with migrants (namely from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and a few from Albania, Georgia, Morocco, Somalia, etc.). The implementation of mass internments in order to prevent migrants from coming (and so much focused not deportations) was clear.

In March 2014, the state’s legal council allows the detention for periods exceeding 18 months, calling the detention now a “restraining order of freedom”, a legal wordplay, since any detention exceeding 18 months without a conviction is illegal. From then on, detention could exceed the 18-month limit and people could be imprisoned for 22, 24, or 26 months, while others are already in their second 18-month period.

It is important to note here that when Amygdaleza was created, the Asylum service was not yet founded. Thus, detainees in Amydgaleza could not succeed in applying for asylum. During that period, 2000 people would gather at Petrou Ralli to apply for asylum, but only 20 would succeed. In 2013, with the foundation of the Asylum Service, a special unit for Amygdaleza was created. The unit would register the applications from the camp, but there were huge delays in the process, reaching up to 6 months only until the registration. Further delays are documented until the final interview at Katechaki. In the meantime, the Asylum Service requested the reinforcement of the detention until the final decision of the application.

From its foundation until today, Amygdaleza is nothing but a prison with no services for the migrants, which has been expanding since 2016. Despite their declarations and the temporary decluttering of the camp, on the 20th of September 2016, the government of SYRIZA, with the then minister Toskas, announced the continuation of Amygdaleza as a closed detention camp. In 2018, according to a ministerial decision, the government of SYRIZANEL decides the prolongation of all the camps (Tauros, Amygdaleza, Corinth) until the 31 of December 2022.

From 2015 to the generalization of the concentration camps

From 2015 to 2016, the government of SYRIZANEL takes an “antiracist position” in the constant state-war against the migrants. The antiracist politics of SYRIZA, combined with the militarization of the treatment of migrants, were the state’s answer to the struggle of migrants for free movement and the antiracist solidarity movement. In 2015, EU and Greece talk about an “explosion of immigration” that calls for a new system of “management”. The initial “openness” of the greek government and Eu is quickly replaced by a new agreement between EU and Turkey for the “control of the migration flows”. A document of the European Committee of that period characteristically closes with the proposal of the “hot-spot” system in Greece and Italy.

The agreement between EU and Turkey (and, consequently, Greece-Turkey) that materialized with the law N. 4375/2016 was a milestone for the development of the new system of camp-hot-spots, which is largely the same until today. Based on this agreement, the migrants could be detained in hot-spots (closed camps) on Lesvos, Chios, and Samos, until their case has been examined and for a period up to one month. If their case has not been examined in the course of a month, the migrants would be transferred in camps located at the inlands of Greece, without specifying if these would be “open” or “closed”. Finally, if the migrant is not granted asylum, he or she would be transferred to a closed centre before being deported to their country of origin. The agreement included further measures concerning the role of Turkey in preventing migration to EU.

4375/2016, and especially articles 14 and 15, clarify that the “open centres” of the inlands require the presence of the closed camps on the east Aegean greek islands (Lesvos, Chios, Samos and more). Therefore, the hot spots should be seen as part of the antimigration politics. They are a contemporary version of concentration camps, the desired product of the material needs of capitalist states and a weapon for the capitalist, national and biopolitical control of the enemy. As such, hot spots are part of the current international class war that was initiated by the 2008 financial crisis and found its peak in the Middle East.
2020: From the fascist turn at the borders to the lockdowns

The assassination of Muhammad Al-Arab and Muhammad Gulzar at Evros by the greek police in February 2020, as part of the competition/collaboration between Greece and Turkey to block the “massive immigration flows”, combined with the fascist pogroms on the East Aegean islands during the same period (which clashed with the rather limited local antiracist/antifascist movement), contributed to the development of the war against migrants.

The development of the war escalated during the pandemic and especially with the lockdowns enforced since March 2020. The “open camps” closed even more with ridiculous arguments of health-concerns that in reality enforced a much-critised racist lockdown. The greek state used the tests, the fines, and the threat of the pandemic to increase state control of the migrants’ movement. Covid-19 was an opportunity for all camps could to be turned into closed structures.

A few covid-19 cases in Ritsona, Elaionas, Malakasa, and other camps, became the excuse to forbid the right of entry and exit of the migrants and the solidarians at the camps, regardless of whether they would use masks of not. In the meantime, the “national plan for crisis management: Agnodiki”, involving the greek police and army, came to light. According to the plan, “This scenario will be applied in cases of extended uprisings, large natural disasters, and cases concerning health threat with high risk of dispersion. The whole camp is characterized as a “critical area” and there is an effort to clearly define its limits. The perimeter of the camp will have only two entry-exit points, a primary and an alternative one. In practice, the camp will become a “red zone” with two predefined entry and exit points. Access to the “critical” and the “hot” zones are under the complete control of the police”.

The government had already announced through the minister Notis Mitarakis the transition from the 93 camps and other structures active in greece to 38 closed camps, i.e. the demolishment of 55 structures, including the hotels. Therefore, the pandemic was a great opportunity to enforce this preexisting decision. Moreover, as the minister had announced in a radio show: “the speed-up of the asylum process (editor’s note: the acceleration of the mass rejections of the applications) is key to not create new camps, to prevent an increase of the residents and finally, to say something really important, it contributes to stopping the flows. To know that our country is no longer open to migration for those that are not eligible for international protection. And this is a clear political choice of the government”. According to his statement, ND reduced the migration flows 90% during the first year of the pandemic. In his new-year wishes, the minister of civil protection, Michalis Chrysochoidis, included the covid-vaccine and the fence of Evros among the things that will make Greece a safe country for greeks and Europeans.

In this way, the greek-state’s management of the restless migrant population and the unruly locals took well-defined forms during the pandemic. The controlling mechanisms of the state become a common strategy for the increasingly oppressed multi-national population. A characteristic example is that the ministry of migration and asylum will soon develop and enforce and automatized surveillance system in the new establishments at the islands and the borders, according to an official document written by the organisation AlgorithmWatch. The system is described as “a completed digital system of management of electronic and physical security placed in and around the facilities, using cameras and an algorithm that analyses movements (AI Behavioral Analytics)”.

The migrants do not stay uninvolved against the above developments. Their actual movement, in the state of illegalness or semi-illegalness, is in conflict with the entire international system of management and exclusions. At the same time, dozens of less or more visible fights in the cities and in the camps are developed, forcing the state to change its anti-migration politics and to close, or open, the camps and the borders. The lockdowns at the camps, similarly to those at the cities, “loosened” only when the struggles and the disapproval of the oppressed reached a boiling point, before the “tourist season” started for the capital.

From the fire at Moria to today’s restructuring of the camp-system

In September 2020 (8.9.2020) a fire broke out at the migrant concentration camp of Moria, leading to the complete destruction of the camp within two days. Manos Logothetis, the general secretariat of migration politics at the time, stated: “Greece is under attack. If we step back now, we will give the impression that Greece has been defeated. For this reason and since the migrants did what they did (editor’s note: implying that they burnt down Moria), they will stay on the streets, in tents under olive trees, for as long as it takes”. Mitarakis stated: “Moria cannot continue as it had during the last years. Once more, such incidents point to the need to speed-up the creation of a closed controlled facility. A facility that can be characterized as controlled, safe, and humane. A facility that will primarily create a sense of security both to its residents as well as to the local communities. A facility that will secure humane and decent living conditions to its guests”.

A week later, 6 people (2 of which minors) were arrested and accused of arson with non-existent evidence. The arrests are based on the testimony of only one witness who later disappears. They are eventually convicted without giving any publicity to the trial, in contrast to the publicity that the fire at Moria had gained. At the same time, several similar trials are carried out, such as those for the migrants of VIAL in Chios. While the selection of the accused migrants is random and without any basis, the racist demonization and criminalization of the migrants, who are framed as not “recognizing greek hospitality”, is actually an intentional and planned method for the devaluation of their lives. Even though the destruction of Moria and the violent relocation of 13000 people in the new detention camp at Kara Tepe (where curfew is still enforced) found publicity, the pandemic and the “national unity” against the virus gradually led the state-war on migrants to oblivion.

The massive antiracist demonstrations of thousands of people and the development of political relationships between locals and migrants in the cities and on the islands, faced the further development of the anti-migration politics of the Greek state and EU. A new, stricter system of camps (concentration and rehabilitation camps) is built on the islands and the inlands. New concrete walls are built around the “open” camps of Ritsona, Diavata, Malakassa, Nea Kavala, and more, through a collaborative project of IOM, Greece and EU. Five new camps are built on the islands and at the same time the fence of Evros is reinforced. The camps in Greece will eventually become fewer, stricter and even more overpopulated and the excessive role of the state on issues considering migration demonstrates an turn towards an international totalitarian approach on migration.

This is how the Greek State and EU respond to the issue of “uncontrolled migrant flows” and the problem of housing for asylum seekers. Over 10.000 evictions of families that were previously being housed with subsidy from the state, EU and various NGOs (the main housing programs being ESTIA I & II and HELIOS) were programmed to happen during 2021, and this will keep intensifying in the next months. Finally, the Ministry of Migration announced that from 1.7.2021 no financial aid will be granted to asylum seekers who do not live in structures provided by the state or by its collaborating/sponsored NGOs.

Αttack against the right to seek asylum during the pandemic

The Greek government, by a Legislative Content Act (PNP) of March 2, 2020, deprived the right to apply for asylum to those who entered the country, which is contrary to international law, which was implemented for a month. This law suspended the registration of asylum applications for a month, while it provided for the immediate deportation of those who entered Greek territory, without registration, in their countries of origin or in Turkey. According to this act, people who arrived in Greece to seek international protection in March 2020 were automatically and indiscriminately detained for their return, while being denied access to the asylum process and rights deriving from national, European and international law.

The following year, the Asylum Service was closed, with the result that anyone wishing to apply for asylum had as their only option a long wait for open Skype appointments, which practically did not work, since in most languages, almost all year round it was impossible for someone from the Asylum Service to answer the call.

In addition, by a joint ministerial decision on June 7, the Greek state makes Turkey a safe country, in addition to asylum seekers from Syria, for an additional four countries of origin: Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

On the one hand, Greece rejects or does not consider asylum applications on the grounds that Turkey is a safe country and imprisons asylum seekers, on the other hand, since March 2020, Turkey has not accepted to operate as a country for the readmission of immigrants from Greece. Essentially people are thus trapped in a limbo situation between two states, where their asylum application is not considered anywhere and they end up in detention or trapped in a camp on the islands.

Migration NGOs as the “other war”

The humanistic side of the reconstruction of war zones in the Middle East has often been presented with the code-name “other war”. This how we perceive the role of NGOs in the management of migration at the eastern borders of Europe (Greece). NGOs are commercial businesses that function with private or state capital and their role has been that of a mediator between migrants and governments. Being part of the war/humanistic industry, they receive funding to fill in the gaps of the state-management of migration. The methodology in the case of Greece is the following: the state declares a “humanitarian crisis” and the NGOs provide the know-how on the management of migration, often incorporating antiracist elements.

At a certain point, the movement in solidarity with migrants turned to the NGOs (NGOisation). With the creation of several new NGOs many “humanists” chose to incorporate their solidarity either by working or turning to the NGOs and by doing this, they contribute to the reproduction of the state management of the migrants. Moreover, the individuals working at the camps are a crucial part of the successful implementation of the hot-spot system. We were thus not surprised to hear migrants complain about the role and functions of NGOs. From miserable services to low quality food and from indifference to openly racist behaviour, taking even the repressive role of cops. If we take into account the multiple cases of labour exploitation reported by the workers at NGOs themselves, we can complete the picture of a mechanism that conserves and reproduces the system.

A de-NGOisation followed the first wave of state management of the “humanitarian crisis”, during which the state regains its roles with a totalitarian manner. The process is still under development alongside the reconstruction of the system of camps-borders-exlusions-exoloitations against migrants.

Our position against NGOs is the following: a) we are critically opposed to NGOs that participate in the core of the business and state-based management of the anti-migrant exclusions and we aim at the self-organisation of locals and migrants without such mediators. This position is not related to the nature of these organisations as non-governmental. Rather, it related to their activities and we would have exactly the same position if they were governmental. b) we are critically opposed against the workers at NGOs, in the same way we are critical towards their work. For those with antiracist and solidarian motives, we call them to choose the side of the oppressed, and not the oppressors, in this social war. Unfortunately however and for structural reasons, NGO workers are usually integrated and their antiracist actions are only an exception.

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