More than 7,000 refugees are now locked in detention camps on the Greek islands, following a European Union (EU) deal with Turkey last month.
They face prison-like conditions and uncertain futures. But they are also fighting back.
Karim Toryalai from Afghanistan is a spokesperson for migrants in the Vial A camp on the island of Chios.
He told Socialist Worker, “People who come from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan do it because they have nothing left in their countries. They expect a better life in Europe—instead they’ve been put in prison for more than a month now. It’s really shocking.”
People who reached the islands before 20 March have been transferred to mainline Greece. But those who arrived after have been detained for deportation. By law they should be allowed to apply for asylum in Greece before being kicked out.
But Karim said, “There are no interviews, nowhere to get papers to make applications for asylum. People are really concerned about their futures. They don’t know what will happen to them, if they are deported back to Turkey or even to Afghanistan.”
People often traumatised by war or the dangerous journeys to escape it are crammed into containers full of bunkbeds. Karim said, “We don’t get enough food, and what we get doesn’t taste good. Recently people saw worms inside the food they’d been given, and we made a protest and all said we wouldn’t eat it.
“Now the people who have money get out illegally to go to the island’s shops—but we are in a prison and most people have no money, so there isn’t a choice.”
Migrants defied Fortress Europe’s border blockade to even get to Greece, and continue to organise against its clampdown. There have been several breakouts from the Chios camps. So far it has been hard for the EU authorities to fully repress them.
Karim said, “This morning a group of people broke out of the Vial B prison because they wanted freedom. They were breaking the gate, so the police said don’t break it, we will open it.
“Now the police say we might get papers that will let us walk around the island but not go to Athens. But no-one really knows, everyone asking what will happen.”
Being penned in the camp is driving some to desperation. Karim said, “Two people I know even went to the police to say we want to be deported to Turkey. I asked them why. They’ve been in this prison more than a month and they don’t want any more—they want to be free.”
David Cameron and other backers of the EU deal say this will stop people risking their lives to get into Europe. But so far it has meant fewer people coming through Greece and more taking the far more dangerous route into Italy.
Karim argued, “We want them to free all the people in these prisons. We know we came here illegally, but we had to because of the problems in our countries—we don’t want to break the law. Don’t force people to claim asylum in Greece, a poor country where there are no jobs. Give them the papers to go where they want to go.”
Trade Unionists for Calais summit, Sunday 24 April, 11am-5pm (Registration from 10am),Student Central, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HY.£5/£2. Register at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/trade-unionists-for-calais-tickets-23238344514?aff=eac2 Called by Stand Up To Racism