Has COVID-19 Impeded Free Speech? The “Land of Origins”, COVID-19 and Personal Liberties.

Has COVID-19 Impeded Free Speech? The “Land of Origins”, COVID-19 and Personal Liberties.

Business + Politics

Has COVID-19 Impeded Free Speech? The “Land of Origins”, COVID-19 and Personal Liberties

free speech covid-19
brandon lynch

Brandon Lynch

8th September 2020

 

Freedom of speech is understood to be fundamental to the democratic system, a system that, thus far, has stood the test of time. We hold our freedom of speech dearly as human beings, with constitutions such as the United States reserving its first amendment to uphold such a right.  

 

Historically, the ancient Greeks pioneered this principle around the early fifth century B.C as “Parrhesia” or “to speak candidly or to ask forgiveness for so speaking”. Parrhesia was fundamental to the democracy of classical Athens, with courts, theatres and assemblies subscribing to its proponents, much like today’s contemporary structure. However, protection of speech was first introduced by King John of England in 1215 with the signing of the Magna Carta, a charter of liberty and political rights, subjective to who you’re asking of course.   

 

Today,  free speech centres around the 1948 United Nations International Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes free speech as a human right.  

 

‘If the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech and press is to mean anything, it must allow protests even against the moral code that the standard of the day sets for the community’ – William O.Douglas (1957)  

 

In the past outbreaks of disease have shaped our politics, crushed revolutions, and entrenched racial and social discrimination. Epidemics have also altered the societies which they have spread through, affecting personal relationships, the work of artists and intellectuals, and man-made and natural environments. COVID-19 is much the same in this sense, with its presence rapidly altering the political, social and economic landscapes of our modern world.  

 

Now COVID-19 is attacking not only our ability to be heard, but also the legitimacy of that voice. The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is one of the many prevalent examples of where freedom of speech has been hindered by COVID-19’s continued exponential growth. However, I do feel Ethiopia, unlike many other examples I could use, will disproportionately suffer from the stripping of such scarce personal freedoms.  

 

In the past outbreaks of disease have shaped our politics, crushed revolutions, and entrenched racial and social discrimination.

 

As of July 23rd, Ethiopia, the ‘Land of Origins’, where humans first walked uprights, ranks 75th in world COVID rankings, with 11,524 cases. For a country of 115 million inhabitants, this stat isn’t particularly daunting. However, when we look at the additional statistics of testing capacity and availability, the issues become more cognizant. Arbitrary arrests, persecution of government critics and journalists have spiked following the declaration of a state of emergency on April 8th 2020. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed cited such arrests under enforced emergency legislature, stating “media institutions are to deliver accurate information to the public”.  

 

However, if we are to critically analyze such statements, a reality of biased corruption and state censorship shines through. This lockdown on free speech has been exacerbated by the change in government., Under the current administration, the Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation legislation grants government authorities powers to fine and imprison citizens for their social media activity, infringing on the autonomy to speak, organize, mobilize, and challenge the government’s narrative.  

 

We have seen the impacts of this on a personal level, with stories such as that of Yayesew ShimelisShimelis, an employee of Tigray TV, a regional government-owned station, published on his personal Facebook and YouTube the proposal and preparation of 200,000 graves in anticipation of deaths from COVID-19. The following day Oromia police arrested Shimelis at his family home, seizing his laptop, cellphone and notebooks.  

 

Other examples of free speech infringement can be seen in examples like that of Elsabet Kebede, a prominent member of the Ethiopian Women’s Lawyers Association. On April 4th, Addis Ababa police detained Kebede and transferred her to the custody of Harari regional authorities. Reports suggest officials have not charged her with an offence but accuse her of disseminating false news on Facebook posts they claim could ‘instigate violence’.  

 

Alp Toker, executive director of Netblocks, a non-profit organization that monitors internet censorship expressed his concern on the ever-increasing powers of censorship in Ethiopia.  

  

“On 22 June 2018, his government (Ahmed) declared free expression a foundational right and ordered the unblocking of over 200 websites. Instead, exactly one year later, the entire internet  has been blocked and Ethiopia is digitally isolated from the world”  

 

Such issues are unfortunately not pandemic exclusive, beyond arrests of some high-level officials in November 2019, there has been little progress on accountability for past abuses within Ethiopian institutions. A national reconciliation commission was set up in December 2018 but it has an unclear mandate.  

 

For the roughly 16 million internet users in Ethiopia, internet shutdowns have been routine since 2015, with newly implemented emergency powers exacerbating restrictions. Internet access is key to unlocking the country’s economic, social and political potential. Continuing internet blackouts and censorship are costing Ethiopians roughly $4.5 million each day the internet is cut, hindering proposed social initiatives to lift inhabitants from poverty.  

 

 

Featured photo by wiredforlego

 
 

 

UK and Refugees: Between Dehumanisation and Demonisation

UK and Refugees: Between Dehumanisation and Demonisation

HUMANITARIAN

UK and Refugees: Between Dehumanisation and Demonisation

rubber dinghy refugees uk media
ellen mcveigh

Ellen McVeigh

4th September 2020

 

Earlier in August 2020, during a live item on BBC Breakfast, presenter Simon Jones and a small crew filmed a group of around 15 refugees on a precarious dinghy attempting to cross the English Channel from Calais to Dover in order to seek asylum in the UK. In an unsettling, almost dystopian piece of television, Jones explains in real-time the incredibly dangerous and desperate scene taking place behind him, as the individuals in the overcrowded dinghy attempt to drain the water collecting in the boat using buckets. The whole item is presented with the detached demeanour of either a sports commentator watching a boat race, or the tour operator on a whale watching tour. Despite asking them where they are from and if they are OK, there is a palpable lack of any kind of insight into the context of this journey, what they were fleeing from, or really any sensitivity towards the incredibly complex situation the refugees had found themselves in. What does the public learn from stories such as these?  

 

While this is an issue which is essential to report on, many are sceptical about the timing of these news stories while the UK is still deep in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and the government continues to face public scrutiny. With a death toll of more than 40,000, the worst in Europe, it could be argued that a few dozen people attempting to seek asylum in the country is not the most significant issue to be focussing on right now. The question of what led people to make this journey is the much more important issue, but these 10 minute live segments simply are not able to get to the crux of these issues. Around the same time as the BBC Breakfast show came out, Sky News had a similar piece on individuals from Sudan attempting to cross the Channel in a small dinghy without life jackets. Despite both news outlets reassuring their viewers that they were conscious of the safety of the refugees, many critics were worried not only about the risk of death but also the incredible depths to which these mainstream media outlets could stoop when covering these issues. To turn this dangerous situation into a television spectacle, filming vulnerable people who are unable to properly consent, highlighted a long-standing issue which the UK media has had with refugee and migrant issues for many years.  

 

In 2016, a report from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees found that the volume of mainstream UK news coverage of asylum seekers and refugees has been increasing noticeably since the early 2000s. The report found several elements of this coverage which have had an impact on the British public’s perceptions of refugees and asylum seekers. They found that stories about migrants secretly crossing the English Channel from France had been a persistent feature of the British press, and particularly in right-wing newspapers such as The Telegraph and the Daily Mail. The report found that British newspapers regularly conflated stories about asylum seekers and refugees with other migrants, using the terms refugees and migrants interchangeably and sometimes even within the one article. In the more right-leaning papers, the UNHCR found frequent usage of the trope of the ‘bogus asylum seeker’, and the creation of distinctions between ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ asylum seekers, often used to support hostile policies from the UK government. They found that these right-wing newspapers are likely to detach stories about refugees entering the UK from their home countries and that this lack of context leaves readers “badly informed about the factors behind refugee flows”. Even the BBC was found to divorce refugees from the push factors in their home country, instead largely focussing on political opinion from across the UK regarding the intake of refugees to the country. 

 

The framing of the issue of refugees crossing the English Channel on dinghies as an interesting topic for political debate, rather than an increasingly urgent human rights concern, allows the UK Government to shirk a certain amount of responsibility.”

It could be seen as the result of decades of cynical reporting on refugees from the British press, as well as the rising mainstream prominence of far-right groups such as UKIP, that we could see asylum seekers in such a desperate situation being shown live on breakfast television as a kind of visual spectacle. In an article in gal-dem magazine, Diyora Shadijanova speaks to the ‘Faragification’ of the media; the idea that the British media can continuously debate issues surrounding asylum and immigration in a detached, theoretical way rather than real situations happening to real people, which the UK government has a direct hand in affecting. Diyora highlights the fact that British media debates refugee issues in isolation, not addressing the circumstances which push someone to board an unsafe dinghy on the English Channel. They often fail to address the part the UK Government has to play not only in the global conflicts which produce refugees but also in creating a ‘hostile environment’ through the removal of safe, legal routes to seek asylum in the country. The obsession with ‘civilised’ debates on complex human rights issues has led to the normalisation of anti-immigration rhetoric. While waiting for the media to come to a balanced conclusion, people will continue to risk their lives on the Channel because they simply have no other choice. 

 

The framing of the issue of refugees crossing the English Channel on dinghies as an interesting topic for political debate, rather than an increasingly urgent human rights concern, allows the UK Government to shirk a certain amount of responsibility. In May 2020, The Guardian reported that the recently drafted Brexit text showed the UK Home Office’s plans to terminate the current system of family reunification, a policy which currently grants unaccompanied minors sanctuary in the UK. Despite earlier commitments to reunite refugee children with family in the UK, the draft negotiation text for Brexit seeks to ensure that family reunification will be on a discretionary basis, rather than a mandatory obligation. This news outraged refugee charities such as Safe Passage and Amnesty International, who warned it would endanger already vulnerable minors, and drive them into the hands of smugglers and gangs. In August, following the controversial BBC Breakfast Channel crossing segment, Safe Passage warned that more children and families would risk their lives by crossing the Channel through unsafe means if the UK government scrapped the legal routes to family reunification. They are concerned that many are already running out of time to seek a legal route before the Brexit transition period ends, and are instead being forced into lorries and dinghies.  

 

bbc refugee report english channel
sky news reporting refugees english channel 2020

 

The warnings from charities about children risking their lives in an attempt to cross the Channel became incredibly poignant on the 19th of August when it was reported that a 16-year-old Sudanese boy had drowned in the English Channel while attempting to reach the UK. When tweeting her condolences for the boy’s death, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel claimed that the incident was “a brutal reminder of the abhorrent criminal gangs and people smugglers who exploit vulnerable people”. She faced a backlash from charities and other organisations who made the point that it was the UK Government’s ‘hostile environment’ was the very thing forcing people into these situations. Safe Passage highlighted that this tragic news was a “direct consequence of a lack of safe alternatives”; whilst Amnesty International UK demanded that both the UK and French governments share their asylum obligations. Just days earlier, Patel had announced plans to send royal navy warships into the English Channel to block migrant crossings, despite warnings that this was dangerous and unlawful. Amnesty International UK had warned that the only people who would benefit from these dangerous proposals would be the very smugglers and gangs who Priti Patel claimed to abhor.  

 

Years of intensifying anti-immigration rhetoric across the British press have calcified during the Brexit era, heightened by a Tory government which are openly committed to evading their responsibility to some of the most vulnerable in society. The divorcing of any context, for people making dangerous journeys across continents and seas, from the political situations in their home country or the lack of safe alternatives to entry as a direct result of UK government policy. This detachment from human rights issues, to the point of dehumanisation, allows a reporting on refugee issues which focuses entirely on political debate as opposed to empathetic framing of these issues which focuses on first-hand knowledge of the situation. Rather than seeing this lives as disposable, a tragic inevitability of the curious quirk of Channel crossings, it is important to reframe the conversation not in terms of personal responsibility but in terms of government policy which directly impacts on the paths that incredibly desperate people take when they are given no other choice. No human being is illegal, travelling across the Channel in a boat is not illegal, seeking asylum in the UK is not illegal. 

 

 

Featured photo by Pikist

 
 

 

STAND Student Podcast: Democratic Republic of Congo Series Episode 5

STAND Student Podcast: Democratic Republic of Congo Series Episode 5

STAND Student Podcast

STAND Student Podcast: Democratic Republic of Congo Series Episode 5

Young Greens outside the Dáil

Listen to the fifth episode of this series on the following platforms:

iTunes

Spotify

Google Podcasts

Anchor

Castbox

Breaker

Overcast

Radio Republic

Welcome to the fifth episode of our podcast series on the Democratic Republic of Congo, the entirety of which has been researched, produced and edited by TCD Student Maria Salto Galdon.

In this week’s podcast, we’re sharing the second part of an important interview on African economics, international trade, and supply chains.

We are joined again by Dr. David Nyaluke, UCD Proudly Made in Africa Fellow in Business and Development at the UCD School of Business.

David gives us incredibly valuable insight into one of the biggest issues facing modern day Africa – its international trade system. Join us as we journey  through its unfair history and current day situation .

When you’re done listening, make sure to connect with Proudly Made in Africa in whatever way you can:

www.ProudlyMadeInAfrica.org

www.linkedin.com/company/proudlymadeinafrica

www.facebook.com/proudlymadeinafrica

www.twitter.com/ProudlyMIA

Follow us on Instagram @stand.ie for updates and links to future podcast episodes.

 

 

Accepting and Adapting: A Note on COVID-19 Context

Accepting and Adapting: A Note on COVID-19 Context

Opinion

Accepting and Adapting: A Note on COVID-19 Context

berlin bar dublin wash your hands covid-19 2
olivia moore

Olivia Moore

3rd September 2020

 

2020 so far has been an absolute whirlwind – and not the good, refreshing, exciting kind. The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown created a completely foreign world for people all over the globe, in which the daily practices and social norms we took so much for granted were completely demolishedWhen a system override of this magnitude happens, there is not much left to do but build again from scratch. 

 

This time last year, little did we think we would be in position of worldwide quarantine, rendered helpless at the mercy of a deadly virus. Even more socould we ever have pictured all that would go along with something that affects us and our lives to this scale 

 

This time last year, I would not have believed the fact that I would silently judge people for not wearing a facemask indoors in public.  

 

I would have thought it ridiculous that we all frequently wait patiently for forty minutes in a spaced-out queue right through the shopping centre just to get into Tesco to do our weekly shop, standing surrounded by deserted clothes shops and restaurants. 

 

I would have been shocked if I found out that, at different points in the lockdown, we could only travel 2 kilometres and 5 kilometres from our own houses, and only eventually be able to venture outside of our own county towards the end of the summer – and adhered to these rules. 

 

I would have been surprised (and probably delighted – praise the leg room!) if you mentioned that we were legally only allowed to sit one-per-row on buses and trains.  

 

When a system override of this magnitude happens, there is not much left to do but build again from scratch.”

I would never have thought I would be rolling my eyes at people choosing to go on or book leisure holidays abroad. 

 

I would find it utterly unthinkable that schools and colleges could take a six-month hiatus, or if I found out that I would matter-of-factly finish my final exams from my bed at 10pm. 

 

This time last year, I would have laughed if you told me that the European Commissioner was in national disgrace and was forced to resign after “merely” attending a Golf Society dinner along with 80 people in Galway. 

 

And yet, all these rules and all these instances we have just taken in our stride. Although it was certainly a shock to the system at the beginning, we got on with it. Now, most of us barely bat an eyelid; we keep an eye on the precautions and follow the rules, as if we have always lived like this. Throughout the coronavirus, the pandemic, and global quarantine, humans have proved themselves to be as flexible and adaptable as ever. A new world has been forced upon us – but we have created the new norms to go with it.  

 

 

Featured photo by William Murphy

 
 

 

Social Media Doesn’t Need to Stop. We do.

Social Media Doesn’t Need to Stop. We do.

Opinion

Social Media Doesn’t Need to Stop. We do.

taking picture of woman for social media
valerie mchugh

Valerie McHugh

2nd September 2020

 

When I was 11 years old, I got my first mobile phone. It was bigger than my hand, and probably weighed more than a saucepan of baby spuds, but this did not ruffle my feathers too much. The only phone numbers I had were my family’s, and they were painfully boring to text with. They did not understand any of my ‘super cool’ text lingo, so I didn’t bother using the phone that much.  

 

But then I hit the teenage years, and these block phones seemed to fall into the shadows behind the shiny new smartphones. Most of them retired to that drawer in the kitchen that is seldom opened; the one filled with old rolls of tapeChristmas wrapping paper, and that tool your dad uses to bleed the radiator.  

 

Consequently, social media began to be a major thing just as I was hitting secondary school. Every day I heard about ‘Animal Farm,’ on Facebook and much to my embarrassment I never quite established what it was – but I knew that was not missing out. did not see the appeal in reading about my friends online. I spent every day with them, and I figured I already knew everything I needed to knowWe were also taught about cyber bullying from a young age, and I was often advised to avoid social media altogether to protect myself. This le me to view social media as a problem I did not need, something that scared me. As a result, I did not venture into the 21st century until I was in my second year of secondary school. 

 

tentatively created my very first social media account on Snapchat when I was 14. I picked aextremely cringey username that I have regretted ever sinceand I have continued to use the app every single day for the past 7 years. It surpassed my expectations and was not nearly as scary as I thought it would be. The ability to talk to my best friends whenever I wanted was something that I got a major kick out of. Late night gossiping sessions and the frequent viewing of other people’s best friends lists became my social life; and since then, I have been building my profile on multiple social platforms.  

 

Over my teenage years I heard a lot of negative things about social media and how it has been construed as an unhealthy place for us to be. Cyber bulling became more and more prevalent in everyday life as I got older, and I will never forget the AskFM phenomenon that disrupted countless lives and destroyed many people. Other notable soul-destroying factors that were often mentioned as I grew up were the use of photoshopping and the unhealthy comparisons so frequently made when viewing oneself against a public image that popular people had construed as the norm.  

 

I always considered myself as a bystander in this drama. I was watching it happen, but I was never involved in this world. Yes, I had social media accounts, but the negative, scary sides of social media always seemed to go right over my head. Maybe it was my parents monitoring my internet usage that saved me from this, or maybe it was just luck. 

 

But then I became an adult 

 

I was faced with a whole new world of people that I presumed were way cooler than me simply because of their presence on social media. I thought that the coolest cats were always the one that snapchatted their way through three nights out week and posted hungover lecture snaps on their private stories the next day. Therefore, I figured that the less desirable members of the college community were people like me, the ones who didn’t really care about drinking and the ones who snuggled up in bed with Netflix and tea every night for 90% of the semester 

 

Ironically, I became the main viewer of my own social media pages: re-watching my own stories, checking who had liked my photos, and stressing over a perfect caption for every single thing that went on my page.

I have always danced to the beat of my own drum, even if I do not always like the sound of it, and I’ve carried on doing my own thing for as long as I can remember. But I am only human, and I became extremely conscious of my lack of Instagram content; and consequently, felt obliged to get a ‘grammable’ picture every time I ventured past the threshold of my bedroom door – just to prove that I had friends.  

 

Social media became the source of all my news stories, which in hindsight was highly questionable, considering that I am studying to become a journalist. I figured I was learning all I needed to learn, and probably getting real-time information from real people. 

 

Ironically, I became the main viewer of my own social media pages: re-watching my own stories, checking who had liked my photos, and stressing over a perfect caption for every single thing that went on my page.  

 

But a few weeks ago, on a very ordinary day, I came to aextraordinary conclusion after watching a friend of mine absentmindedly scroll through her own Instagram posts and zoom in on her face in every photo, all while having coffee with me.  

 

After putting a different pair of glasses on, I realised that it is not just me that obsesses over their own newsfeed  this silent obsession has infected every single one of us. I always brushed it off as just a factor of Instagram life, but now have come to the real conclusion. It is not the app that is making us do this. It is us and our perception of what we should be, that is created by other people who are also following what they think they should be.  

 

And it is all FAKE. 

 

Why have we become selfish robots who aspire to be perfect, or at least be the perfect version of imperfection so that we will still get dozens of likes simply for being ‘relatable’? Why is it the features of social media platforms that are mainly blamed for the disasters that ensue as a result of them, when it is the people using them that comment, criticiseand bully? 

 

We did not get taught the absolute truth when we were in school. I was advised to avoid social media because it could hurt me. But it is not the app that will hurt me; Facebook is not going to jump out of my computer and punch me in the face. It is the world that can hurt me. It is people and this sickening obsession we all have with ourselves. 

 

The solution to this social pandemic that is destroying us does not lie in avoidance of the App Store or at the touch of the iPad. It lies within us. 

 

Social media does not need to stop. We do. 

 

 

Featured photo by Josh Rose

 
 

 

Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy

Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy

Opinion

Devoid of Empathy: Greece’s Refugee Policy 

Greece Refugee Policy

1st September 2020

 

On 2 September 2015, almost five years ago to this day, the world was horrified as images of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s dead body emerged, washed up on a Turkish beach. His family, fleeing the Syrian civil war, was trying to reach the Greek island of Kos. Since his picture made front-page news around the globe, media interest in the plight of these refugees has slowly dissipated.  

 

Meanwhile, the evolving crisis is worsening in Greece. As a primary entry point to the EU for those seeking asylum, the country is clearly overwhelmed and incapable of hosting those seeking protection. Facing discrimination and mistreatment at the hands of the Greek government, tensions have heightened during the Covid-19 crisis. Refugees who survive the journey to Europe think that the road ahead of them will be easier than the journey they have left behind. The reality is that suffering is far from over. 

 

Oinofyta refugee camp is located an hour from Athens. In November 2017, the camp was closed as it did not meet the minimum legal standards, yet it reopened just five months later. A source stated that, upon reopening, conditions were actually worse than before, due to reduced outside-support and services offered to the residents. Nonetheless, demand clearly overrode the need for a safe place to house refugees. Mothers, fathers and children are being kept in the camp; a disused chemical factory deemed structurally unsound, which ultimately does not meet the basic needs of humans; there is no clean water, the building is unsanitary, and the toilets have no doors for privacy. The camp is left unattended, with residents locked inside, on the weekends and overnight 

 

Pregnant women who go into labour when the camp is unattended are left to fend for themselves; in one particular instance, it was reported that a woman was assisted by other residents during her labour. The residents called an ambulance, which arrived two days later. Post-delivery, no assistance was provided to the new mother and child, by any official. The sad truth is that the woman would have probably received better medical care in a war zone  than on EU soil in this instance. Residents transferred to Oinofyta from Moria, often described as the worst refugee camp in the world., They stated that conditions had been terrible in Moria, but that at least organisations such as Médecins San Frontières (MSF) provided medical assistance. This is due to the Greek government revoking access to healthcare for asylum seekers. The only way to get out of these camps for medical treatment is to register for an asylum application, and this process presents yet another set of challenges.  

 

Oinofyta refugee camp is truly hell on earth, and it has been left up to asylum seekers to arrange their asylum appointments, which have to be organised via Skype. As you can imagine, this is an impossible task for those who don’t own a smartphone or don’t know how to use the internet. Even those who can navigate these first steps run into roadblocks. Six months after one asylum seeker arrived in Greece, he still has not been successful in organising an appointment, as the line is constantly engaged. People who have suffered in their home country and experienced suffering along their journey do not deserve to be housed in deplorable conditions with no healthcare or legal assistance, in what they expected to be a safe place to exist. 

 

Despite financial support sent to the UNHCR and the Greek government by the EU, conditions in these camps are yet to improve. There have been allegations and investigations into a lack of transparency and possible embezzlement and corruption in relation to funds allocated to Greece to take care of these refugees. The Greek government has adopted an increasingly hard-line approach to those that are refugees and the already inadequate system that attempts to support them. 

 

“Traditionally, the Greek government has given refugees six months to find suitable financial support and accommodation after their asylum application is deemed successful. In March, they reduced this time frame to just one month.”

As Greece welcomes tourists and allows them to roam freely, even if they are from countries with high rates of Covid-19, certain refugee camps have been subject to a continued lockdown since March 23. More than five months on, it has been extended seven times. This embodies the message from the Greek government: the difference between being welcomed and being treated as livestock is your country of origin and your financial means. As camp conditions worsened during the lockdown, many residents said that they felt abandoned and unable to source medication for the sick. The extended lockdown has been deemed discriminatory and unjustifiable in terms of public health by humanitarian agencies such as MSF, violating a long list of national, regional and international laws – notably Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Greek government is using the pandemic to detain and exercise control over refugees, worsening their already dire circumstances. 

 

Traditionally, the Greek government has given refugees six months to find suitable financial support and accommodation after their asylum application is deemed successful. In March, they reduced this time frame to just one month which, understandably, has led to residents refusing to leave their accommodationsparked protests and triggered a dramatic uptake in homelessness. This homelessness is especially prevalent in Victoria Square, Athens. According to organisations such as foodKIND, many residents in refugee camps have had their cash cards revoked due to this tightened timeline.  

 

These cash cards are a monthly financial allowance allocated to refugees. For the majority, this is their only means of feeding themselves and their families. Eligible refugees are subject to monthly verification checks and need to register through the smartphone app Viber – which means that, much like the asylum application process, possessing and being able to use a smartphone and internet access are required. There is a pattern occurring here: the Greek government is actively implementing a process that will make even the most basic and vital support extremely difficult to obtain for those most vulnerable.  

 

This system has led to fears of the financialisation of refugees in Greece, where money can even be deducted from a cash card as a form of punishment. According to estimates, this five-month reduction affects 11,000 refugees in Greece. It is simply not feasible to expect a refugee to find employment within a month in Greece, considering it has the highest unemployment rate in the EU. Organisations such as MSF have stated that no one is exempt from eviction, with Greek officials evicting refugees with serious health and mental health problems. In fact, in June, an MSF patient with existing health issues died from cardiac arrest after being threatened with eviction. This individual was literally scared to death by the actions of the Greek government, and to their benefit, one less refugee lives. Even so, the Migration Ministry’s Secretary-General still came out in defence of the change in law, stating that ‘if they are pampered, how are they ever going to find a job and become part of society?’. It is apparent that, wherever possible, the Greek government seeks to render these refugees despondent, hoping that they will disappear or cease to exist. 

 

Greece has made it near impossible for humanitarian organisations to operate in the country, imposing a multitude of expensive and bureaucratic obligations on them. Organisations offering essential services such as midwifery, healthcare and legal assistance are often ignored or denied entry to the refugee camps. In response, 72 organisations released a statement to Greek officials, urging them to reconsider the rules implemented in July due to the fact that ‘humanitarian work is essential work’, yet this ‘administrative assault’ on civil society groups has yet to be reversed. Legal Centre Lesvos has claimed that there is now constant police presence at their centre, resulting in the intimidation and threat of fines for people trying to access their services. Greek officials have also been harassing MSF, imposing fines exceeding €35,000 and threatening legal action which has directly led to the closure of the Covid-19 Isolation Centre on the Greek island of Lesvos. This centre was set up in an attempt to deter the devastating effect an outbreak in Moria could have on residents, as local health facilities are unable to cope with such an outbreak. The pandemic has only served to accelerate the government’s onslaught on refugees, at a time where countries such as Portugal granted refugees full citizenship rights during the pandemic. These tactics, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, can be perceived as a ‘cleansing’, as the Greek government is making it clear that they do not care whether these refugees live or die. 

 

The In a New York Times article  New York Times released on August 14, it was reported on August 14 that these hard-line tactics have extended to the sea. More than 1,000 people trying to reach Greece by sea have been turned away by the Greek coast guard, and some were even removed from the detention centres on the Greek islands. These people were often abandoned at sea on overcrowded life rafts in flagrant violation of humanitarian law. Despite the evidence, in the form of survivor interviews, photographic and video evidence, the Greek government has denied that these expulsions even took place. As the world is preoccupied with the coronavirus threat, the tactics of the Greek government have become more extreme and organised; they abandon these migrants around the Greek-Turkish sea border, where their survival is dependent on the compassion of the Turkish coast guard. A doctoral researcher at the Irish Center for Human Rights was among the first to document this unprecedented tactic adopted by the Greek government. Compelling evidence regarding these illegal pushbacks has since been recorded by organisations with a presence on the Greek islands, such as Legal Centre Lesvos and Aegean Boat Report, since March. There have been more recent reports of Greek officials injuring refugees on boats, imitating video evidence which emerged earlier this year.  

 

More than 1,000 people trying to reach Greece by sea have been turned away by the Greek coast guard… these people were often abandoned at sea on overcrowded life rafts in flagrant violation of humanitarian law.

These hard-line anti-refugee tactics are blatantly illegal. The European Union was built on solidarity and as a safe haven for those fleeing persecution and war. In the context of conflict, the mistreatment of civilians is deemed a war crime, so why is the world turning a blind eye to what continues to happen in Greece? As we ourselves are navigating this pandemic, imagine the suffering endured by these refugees, as Greek officials capitalise on the fact that our attention is being diverted elsewhere. Greece’s policies and tactics are entirely devoid of empathy and fail to give even a moment’s consideration for the human rights of these people. They have sought safety and dignity in EU territory and are met with prolonged suffering. Mechanisms in place to help refugees, such as cash cards and the asylum process, are riddled with unnecessary hurdles.  

 

Nothing comes easy for them; so don’t we have an obligation to support these vulnerable people in any way we can? Instead, the already inadequate support system is being used against them as a punitive measure, to avoid them being ‘pampered’. The Greek government is essentially caging these people in, to the detriment of their physical and mental health, taking anything but a humanitarian approach to this crisis. We must remember that these people are fleeing war-torn countries and have, in some cases, been subject to torture and sexual violence. Yet the Greek government has purposefully rendered especially vulnerable refugees homeless, even in the midst of a pandemic. 

 

In a final twist of hypocrisy, Greece is the current chair of the Council of Europe, the EU’s leading human rights organisation. Imagine the consequences of an EU country setting such an example for the rest of the world. 

 

If you would like to help organisations making a difference in the everyday lives of the refugees struggling in Greece please consider donating to the following organisations: 

foodKIND, who provide meals for 700 people a day in the Oinofyta and Malakasa refugee camps in Greece. 1 euro equals 3 meals for a refugee in need, click here to donate. 

Aegean Boat Report, who work to provide neutral, detailed and accurate information concerning boats arriving in the Aegean sea. This organisation has brought a lot of information to light concerning the disturbing practices against refugees arriving to the Greek islands from Turkey. By donating here you will be contributing to a better and more widespread understanding of this ongoing refugee crisis. 

 

 

Featured photo by Fotomovimiento