THE MASS protest marches in Greece against the sheer police violence and oppression have been developing all last week into an insurgency against the dictatorial rule of the Kyriakos Mitsotakis government.
Following last Tuesday’s huge march and street battles between youth and armed riot police in the Nea Smyrni Athens residential area, university students staged mass militant marches in the centre of Athens last Wednesday and in Thessaloniki twice in a single day last Thursday.
In Athens last Thursday evening youth, students and workers staged the biggest march of the recent weeks with over 10,000 demonstrating through the city centre while armed riot police watched from afar – the biggest march yet.
The march was called by the Initiative of Lawyers for the defence of democratic rights against autocracy.
When the march was concluded, people stayed on their anger and rage still boiling, not satisfied by the march alone.
New slogans were shouted demanding that the hated DRASI motorcycle riot police units be disbanded and the Prime Minister Mitsotakis and the Public Minister Khrysokhoides be thrown out.
The march consisted in almost its entirety of youth and university students but, for the first time, there were several trade union banners of public employees, technicians and artists. Also for the first time, the youth section of Tsipras’ SYRIZA party joined the march as well as Varoufakis’ MeRA25 party. These two bourgeois parties now half-heartedly join the marches to appear as being an opposition force but also because they sense that this mass movement of youth can be victorious.
But the Greek Communist Party (KKE) has refused to join the demonstrations and have instructed trade unions not to either. In fact the KKE leaders called last Tuesday’s street battle in Nea Smyrni, where youth pushed back the armed riot police, as ‘organised by the state, agencies and provocateurs’.
Mass unemployment, low wages, rising pandemic deaths, extreme lockdowns, dictatorial laws and police violence have galvanised students, youth and workers who are waging a determined struggle.
Their main two demands are the scrapping of a law that allows riot police and cameras into university buildings and campuses and the vindication of imprisoned hunger striker D. Koufontinas, now in his 64th day of hunger strike, who demands a transfer to an Athens prison as is his right under Greek prison rules.
The Greek government seeks his death to appear as determined so it can then redouble its attack on university students and the working class.
- People who apply for asylum in Germany will have their case put on hold if they have already received protection in Greece, migration authorities say. This year more than 2,000 recognised refugees from Greece have made another claim in Germany.
In January and February this year around 2,100 people submitted asylum applications to the German migration authorities, even though they had already been granted protection in Greece.
The German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) told the newspaper Welt am Sonntag (‘World on Sunday’) that in 2020, a total of 7,100 people seeking asylum in Germany had previously been recognised in Greece. Their applications are to be put on hold, it said.
According to BAMF, it has put the asylum decisions of those with protection in Greece on the back burner since December 23. It said the applicants were at an advantage because they already had European residency permits and protection status. The ‘freeze’ would apply to everyone with protection status coming from Greece, it added.
Meanwhile, the most recent refugee tragedy at sea happened in the last couple of weeks. At least 41 people drowned when their boat capsized in the Central Mediterranean this was the latest shipwreck involving migrants and refugees fleeing conflict-stricken Libya and seeking a better life in Europe. The route takes the refugees to either Italy or Greece.
The shipwreck was latest along the central Mediterranean route where about 118 migrants have died this year.
The United Nations migration and refugee agencies, IOM and UNHCR, said in a joint statement on Wednesday that the drowned people were among at least 120 migrants on a dinghy that left Libya on February 18th.
According to testimonies gathered by the UNHCR, the dinghy started taking in water after about 15 hours at sea, and eight people died before a merchant vessel came to help.
‘After about 15 hours the dinghy started to take in water, and the persons on board tried in every way possible to call for help,’ a joint statement by the IOM and UNHCR said.
‘In those hours, six persons died after falling into the water, while two others tried to swim to a boat spotted in the distance and drowned.
‘After about three hours, the vessel Vos Triton approached the dinghy to carry out a rescue but in the difficult and delicate operation many persons lost their lives.’
The vessel rescued the survivors and took them to the Sicilian port town of Porto Empedocle in Italy. The missing included three children and four women, one of whom left behind a newborn baby currently in Lampedusa.
Since 2014, more than 20,000 migrants and refugees have died at sea while trying to reach Europe from Africa. More than 17,000 of those have been in the central Mediterranean which is described by the UN as the most dangerous migration route in the world.
In the years since the 2011 occupation, invasion and destruction of Libya where terrorist forces, armed organised and financed by the US, France and UK took control of the country, killing long-time leader Colonel Gadaffi. Since these forces have run amok in the country, Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants.
Human smugglers based in Libya launch vessels, many of them flimsy rubber dinghies or rickety fishing boats crowded with migrants, who hope to reach European shores to seek asylum.
The journey – after years of suffering and torture in the country of origin, during travel and in Libya – starts with leaving in the middle of the night, often on overcrowded, unseaworthy boats without food and water.
Questionable life jackets for the treacherous conditions are only for those who can afford them.
In addition to the casualty figures are the ones forcibly returned to Libya, described as ‘hell’ by those who survived the ordeal on their transit.
Since February 2017, at least 36,000 people have been intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and returned to the North African country, UN figures show.
The European Union has reportedly spent more than 90 million euros ($109m) in funding and training the Libyan coastguard to stop the crossings.
The EU sent more than 327.9 million euros ($397.9m) to Libya, largely channelled through UN agencies.
EU nations such as Italy and Malta have often refused docking permission to humanitarian rescue boats.
‘The duty to rescue people at sea must always be respected, regardless of their nationality and legal status, in line with international obligations,’ the UN statement added.
‘That migrants and refugees should continue to try desperately to reach Europe via the central Mediterranean is demonstration of the need for an immediate international effort to provide them with viable alternatives to these deadly sea crossings.
‘The solutions exist. What is needed is a step change to strengthen access to education and to increase available sources of livelihood in countries along the route.’
- A pregnant Afghan woman who was severely injured when she set herself on fire in a refugee camp on Lesbos has been formally charged with arson and destruction of public property after giving testimony to a prosecutor from her hospital bed.
The 26-year-old, who has been granted refugee status and is due to give birth next week, was told she would face trial for her actions and be unable to leave Greece. She has not been publicly identified.
‘Although she was in a lot of pain because of her burns and found it difficult to speak, the testimony at the hospital in Mytilene lasted for around two and a half hours,’ her lawyer, Teresa Volakaki, told The Guardian.
‘It was clear she was stressed and having difficulty remembering but the prosecutor took a very strict line and ruled she will now face criminal charges, trial and not be able to travel abroad.’
Greek authorities had previously acknowledged that the woman had been driven to self-immolation after learning she could not fly to Germany with other camp residents, also granted asylum, because she was in the final stage of pregnancy and doctors did not think it wise.
‘When she was told she couldn’t travel, her distress and disappointment were such she attempted suicide,’ said Nikos Triantafyllos, an investigating magistrate who conducted an initial inquiry into the case.
‘She regrets her actions very much,’ he said speaking from Mytilene, the island’s capital.
‘She has suffered burns to her hands, feet and head. She is full of remorse. She is due to give birth to her fourth child next week.’
The incident occurred in the temporary camp erected on the Aegean isle after a series of devastating blazes gutted Lesbos’ notoriously overcrowded holding centre in Moria. The woman, who has also been charged with endangering the lives of fellow refugees in the facility, placed her two daughters and son outside the tent before setting fire to it. The children are now being looked after by their father.
Other camp residents rushed to extinguish the flames alongside police who guard the installation, local media outlets reported. ‘We were called to the scene as well,’ said Savvas Dionysatos, a spokesman for the island’s firefighting brigade.
Housed on a former military firing range, the temporary installation hosts about 6,500 men, women and children, the vast majority from Afghanistan. Although constructed as an emergency measure, residents have had to endure increasingly poor conditions, with aid groups and rights campaigners criticising the structure for failing to meet basic winterisation standards.
Lesbos, like other north-eastern Aegean isles, has been lashed by snowstorms and heavy rainfall in recent weeks. Temperatures have been such that some locals have offered to host residents of the camp in their homes.
The detention of asylum seekers on outposts opposite the Turkish coast has been blamed for a mental health crisis that psychosocial experts have attributed to a surge in suicide attempts and cases of self-harm.