Activism and solidarity in the crosshairs

No one is illegal! : Graffiti

By Tereza Volakaki

Nowadays, people of the movements, the solidarity groups, those who are on the side of immigrants and refugees, but also the workers in non-governmental organizations (NGOs), are the target of a constant attack by the state, the authorities and the local community. A phenomenon that is found mainly in those regions where there are reception and identification centers[1] (ΚΥΤ), where applicants for international protection live, such as in the islands of the Eastern Aegean, but also mainland where the influx of refugees by sea is particularly massive.

The way in which these persecutions have taken place is not at all irrelevant to the political situation and the government’s choices in relation to the crucial domain of ​​protection of minority groups and human rights as a whole. Amid the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, the global issue of the pandemic (COVID-19) is being added, which has been «exploited» by the authorities for an unprecedented repression. After all, the recession of the economy in the era of the pandemic, is like another piece of the puzzle, in the wider restriction of rights and individual freedoms, the conservatism of society and its shift to the extreme right.

Clearly, in the current context, people who choose to side with the most oppressed do so with full awareness that their actions are likely to have personal consequences in short or long term. Consequences, such as their political targeting by far-right groups and often the criminalization of their actions by the state, either directly (arrests) or indirectly (fines, threats).[2]

At international level, in legislative and jurisprudential practice, human rights defenders,[3] are protected through international conventions, the ECHR, the Convention against Torture, decisions of the UN Commission on Human Rights and, of course, the ECtHR. The most interesting issue that arises from the debate on the protection of these individuals is that it has rarely been accepted that they can seek international protection (asylum) as persecuted for their political actions and beliefs. Importantly, both the Commission against Torture and the ECtHR have emphasized that the deportation of political activists is contrary to the principle of the prohibition of torture and considers it necessary to protect them.[4] Also relevant is the UN General Assembly Resolution on the international protection of human rights defenders prosecuted for their actions under the 1951 Geneva Convention.[5] The protection that can be granted to them is always proportionate and related to the violations of their rights in their country of origin, and the absence of internal protection in those states.

In particular, for quite some time since the beginning of 2020, fascist groups, under the cover of the police, set up ambushes around the Moria camp, barring workers from entering. Those who did not comply found their vehicle damaged. The physical attacks that took place under the same conditions were varied.[6] Furthermore, there have been targeted attacks on organizations’ offices, such as Médecins Sans Frontières,[7] and the refugee children’s school, in the spring of 2020. At the same time, government-linked public statements highlight that defending the rights of refugees can become particularly dangerous. In particular, recent online statements by Nea Dimokratia member, Konstantinos Bogdanos, refer to government-sponsored investigations into organizations involved in «espionage», as they present data, evidence and facts about illegal deportations, in which the government takes action.[8] This is an indirect threat against organizations that have taken a clear stand in favor of human rights from the beginning, «photographing» those who are going to be attacked somehow in the future. An attack that consists of a series of actions, ranging from obstructing traffic to and from the Moria camp, to refusing to rent houses and apartments to NGO workers in the city of Mytilene.

Clearly, this targeting has reached such proportions that it becomes necessary for the anti-racist and anti-fascist movement to be activated immediately in solidarity with those who act in defense of refugees and immigrants in any way. Especially when those who participate in voluntary anti-racist collectives, as well as NGO workers, in addition to racist government policies and practices, are confronted daily with a xenophobic climate in local communities, such as the one attempted to outline above.

The situation is particularly difficult at the current juncture, since the Moria camp in Lesvos burned down completely. As the refugees are stuck on the road between the camp and the city of Mytilene, the local community of the island has clearly revolted against the creation of a new «accommodation » (or – more correctly – prison) center for people in the same place. At the same time, this reactionary climate has been exacerbated by the reaction of the government, which hastened to send MAT, thus giving direct legitimacy to the action of far-right groups to attack refugees/immigrants and solidarity in every part of the island of Lesvos.

The central issue today is to unite the world of movements in solidarity and joint action with immigrants and refugees, against a government, the EU and far-right people. And that’s all our emphasis should be on that.


[1] ΚΥΤ (Κέντρο Υποδοχής και Ταυτοποίησης= Service for Reception and Identification).

[2] “Targeting Solidarity: Criminalization and Harassment of people defending refugee and migrants rights in Northern France (Amnesty International, 2019), available at: https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/EUR2103562019ENGLISH.PDF, last assessed 13 August 2020.

[3] HRD, Human Rights’ Defenders.

[4]  “UNCAT: Return to Turkey of Kurdish asylum applicant was a violation of the Convention” (EDAL, 16.8.2019), available at: https://www.asylumlawdatabase.eu/en/content/uncat-returnturkey-kurdish-asylum-applicant-was-violation-convention, last assessed 16 August 2020, ECtHR-A.A. v. Switzerland, Application No. 58802/12, 7 January 2013.

[5] UNGA, Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Rec 53/144, 53th Session, Agenda item 110 (b), A/RES/53/144(8 March 1999).

[6]  «Το χρονικό των πογκρόμ και των επιθέσεων στη Λέσβο», (ΕΡΤ, Β.Αιγαίο, 13-03-2020), available at: https://voreioaigaio.ert.gr/eidiseis/lesvos/to-chroniko-ton-pogkrom-kai-ton-epitheseon-sti-lesvo/, last assessed 6 September 2020.

[7] «Προπηλακισμός εργαζομένου των Γιατρών Χωρίς Σύνορα στη Μόρια», (Lesvosnews.net,11-02-2020), available 6 September 2020.

[8] «Μπογδάνος κατά τεσσάρων ΜΚΟ για κατασκοπία» (Δημοκρατία, 10-07-2020), available at: https://www.dimokratianews.gr/politiki/mpogdanos-kata-tessaron-mko-gia-kataskopia/,last assessed 6 September 2020. 

*Για την ελληνική εκδοχή του κειμένου (for Greek) εδώ

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