The Lesvos No Border camp is currently under way on the picturesque Aegean island, home to the less than picturesque Pagani detention centre. Pagani is, like many other Greek detention centres, a converted warehouse. Sited 5 km from Mitilini, the capital of Lesvos, it was originally designed to hold around 250 migrants but current numbers exceed 1,000, at least 200 of whom are unaccompanied children.
On 19 August, 160 of the unaccompanied minors detained in Pagani went on hunger strike to demand their immediate freedom. All of them are detained in just one room, where they share one toilet, many need to sleep on the floor due to lack of beds. Some of the minors are only eight or nine years old. 50 of them have been detained for over 2 months, the others have been in Pagani for several weeks already. Detention of minors is of course illegal under Greek and International law.
Video footage recorded by some of the children shows the room where they sleep, two or even three together, in a pile of bunk beds or in layers on the floor. In appalling scenes, children with severely wounded legs claim that there is no medical treatment. Other footage shows over 150 women and 50 babies crammed into to a single room 20 x 15 m with little or no exercise, fresh air or access to adequate food and medical care. [Video 1, 2, 3, 4]
Since the beginning of August a MSF team that includes a psychologist and translator has been working inside the detention centre. “We have seen that there is an urgent need for psychosocial support for many detainees inside the center," says Micky van Gerven, head of mission of the MSF project for migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees in Greece. “Most of them have endured a very difficult and perilous journey to reach Greece and are faced with an uncertain future in the country."
MSF had previously operated in the camp provided primary health care and psychosocial support during the summer of 2008 but withdrew after interference from the Greek authorities made it impossible to continue their mission. They have only recently returned after an agreement was concluded with the national and local authorities to ensure collaboration and access for MSF to undocumented migrants in the camp.
However, following the recent new restrictive anti-immigration legislation doubling the length of detention and severely restricting appeals against deportation decisions, together with the mass arrests instituted across Greece, the numbers in the already overcrowded detention centres have gone through the roof.
On 21 August, with tension inside the detention centre escalating, 930 detainees, including women and children, also went on hunger strike demanding their release, hanging on balusters and crying for freedom. This resulted in the release of 38 refugees the same day, including a pregnant woman with little children. However, whilst they were issued with papers they received no other support and were stuck on the island with no ferry ticket and no money for food.
On 24th, the UNHCR director for Greece Giorgos Tsarbopoulos visited Pagani and talked to activists from the No Border camp who had gathered outside. Earlier on in the day he had called for the immediate closure of another camp on the island, the over-crowded Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity facility at Agiassos for unaccompanied minors. The UNHCR later released a statement deploring the conditions inside Pagani and, following representations, the Greek government agreed to remove all unaccompanied minors from the camp by the end of the month.
It is difficult to get a accurate picture of exactly what is going on inside the detention centre, but in the past week roughly 250 migrants have been released. They have been given 30 days to proceed with their journey or face being detained again. That is of course if they can manage to get off the island at the busiest time of the year when everyone tries to travel home from the large cities and all the ferries are booked. News has also reached the No Border Camp today (29 Aug) that 450 people are due to be either released or moved from the camp and that (somehow) ferry tickets have already been booked, but it is still to be confirmed.
To keep up to date with events at the Camp visit the camp website: http://lesvos09.antira.info/