“This is just the beginning”—that is the refrain we hear constantly repeated in Chios after the fire on Tuesday night. The landing of the neo-Nazis on the island of Chios was meant to be a spectacle, and, in the end, it was one: on the night of March 3, at around 2 a.m., someone set fire to the warehouse of Stay Human ODV, the non-profit organization that has been providing services and basic necessities to the refugees in the Vial camp since April 2018.
With a capacity of 1,500 people, the camp is home to over 6,000. There are only 14 bathrooms in all, seven for each gender. Like almost all Greek hotspots, this one is built in the middle of a ruined olive grove, surrounded by 30 km of wasteland in all directions. There is no shortage of episodes of self-harm and attempted suicide, especially among unaccompanied minors.
“Just yesterday, we were sorting the shoes,” says Musli Alievski, the founder of the non-profit organization established in 2016. He is a young Macedonian of Roma origin; his father, sensing that the winds of ethnic cleansing were blowing, took his family and fled to Italy before the Balkan war.
After Erdogan’s threat of “opening the floodgates,” for about a week now, “those from Golden Dawn and the self-proclaimed shock troops” have been arriving on the island. “This was the place where everything began, where we used to receive the donations, where we would receive what we needed to take to the center; above were the apartments of the volunteers—all destroyed.”
The police have concluded that the fire was an act of arson, but now they’re facing other more pressing problems: the island’s inhabitants have become exasperated with the situation, and last week they attacked soldiers who were transporting materials to set up another hotspot, a larger one, in preparation for a mass exodus that is now considered imminent.
Are you going to press charges for the fire?
For now, no—the climate is tense and we want to avoid retaliation and revenge against the islanders who are helping us. In addition, gangs of vigilantes and so-called “volunteers to defend the islands” have arrived on the island. They have already attacked police officers.
Why are the right-wingers attacking the police?
Because, unlike in Lesbos, there are no big NGOs here. MSF is not here, the UNHCR is not operating directly, everything is administered by the military. And the discontent of the islanders, fanned by the arrival of the goon squads from outside, is also being focused against them. But I don’t want to blame the people here, it’s not that they suddenly turned into neo-Nazis, they are just exasperated. The problem is European politics, not the Greek population.
Why are you, the volunteers, needed?
For starters, migrants no longer have free access to specialist medical examinations. An Iraqi child only discovered that he was practically blind after we had him examined by an ophthalmologist. All the children here have black teeth because of vitamin deficiencies. In the centers, they are given pre-cooked food that is beyond its expiration date, without traceability or a list of ingredients. Even the aggressiveness of the adults is often caused simply by the lack of vitamins in their bodies.
Are you afraid?
We’re not really frightened by right-wing aggression—rather, we are very disappointed in Europe’s reaction to Erdogan’s blackmail. Europe must act, not because it is afraid or being threatened, but because it is aware that those who are landing in Lampedusa aren’t landing in Italy, those who are landing in Chios aren’t landing in Greece: they’re landing in Europe.
There is much talk about Libyan smugglers, but little about Turkish smugglers.
They are criminals, just as much as the Libyans are. There is a clear pattern: those who escape from the Middle East first end up in the hands of Turkish textile entrepreneurs, working in factories, including for low-cost clothing chains, and then they reach the district of Çeşme. There, those who have no money for the crossing have to leave their families in hock to the traffickers. A 15-minute crossing by motorboat costs about €2,000, and the blackmail can last for years.
And how do migrants from Africa end up in the network of Turkish traffickers?
The Africans arriving in Greece are mostly Nigerians and Somalis. Those who don’t pass through Libya are usually the ones with the most economic resources. Once they arrive in Tunisia, Algeria or Morocco, they get themselves a €70 visa, take a flight to Istanbul, then they go to Çeşme or Izmir, and from there they set off together with the others who are running away from the Middle East, some from wars, some from persecution. The process of ‘selecting’ refugees, distinguishing between those who have the right to migrate and those who do not, cannot be reduced to a mere question of following laws.
How do they raise the money they need to pay?
It’s often the case that behind the crossing of a young man lies the investment of a whole village—a sort of crowdfunding, where you invest in the youngest and strongest man, hoping that he would make it, find a job and send money back through MoneyGram or Western Union. It’s just like in horse racing, you bet on the one who might succeed.
Here is the link for donations to the NGO.
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