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  • Writer's pictureRory O'Keeffe, Koraki

'Closed camps': Jail, and the law

Updated: Sep 13, 2020

We talked yesterday (Friday 11 September) as part of a wider briefing, about the Greek government's plans to open 'closed camps' for refugees on the five Aegean islands of Lesvos, Chios, Leros, Samos and Kos, noting - as all must - that these will not be 'camps' at all. They will be 'closed' in the sense that the men, women and children forced into them will not be allowed out until their asylum applications are processed. That is, they will be jails.

We noted further that the current advice issued to new arrivals on the islands is that it will take five years for asylum applications to be opened, meaning that Greece - an EU member-state - is planning to jail innocent men, women and children for five years for no reason other than that they have arrived in Greece.

Under this system, some children will spend more time in prison than they have been alive to that point.

On Thursday (10 September) the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, told the EU Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs that the EU 'will not fund closed camps (jails)'.

This is an encouraging and welcome step.

But at present it is also largely meaningless. And indeed, unworkable. As indeed would any purely 'financial' act - let alone merely words - prove.

Because if the EU simply says 'we will not fund closed camps' and takes no other action, Greece will still receive the same level of EU funding it always has, and can simply state that it spent 'its own' money on the jails, not money provided to it by the EU.

So, the EU would need to cut funding in order to prevent the camps being built.

But should the EU cut funding from the enormous amount it has spent (and should be spending - it should be doing far more) on the refugee response in Greece, there is absolutely nothing to stop Nea Dimokratia publicly criticising the EU for failing to provide cash to help refugees, building the jails anyway and stripping back yet further the services and necessities provided to refugees in Greece. In fact, this is exactly what Nea Dimokratia is most likely to do under such circumstances.

As a result, simply saying 'the EU will not fund (jails)'- and indeed even the EU cutting funding - will have at best no effect on the jailing of innocent men, women and children. At worst, it will not only see those innocent people locked up for five years but also see thousands more innocent people forced to suffer even greater hardship than they do at present.

The only way for the EU to prevent the Greek government taking this deplorable, immoral, illegal and to be blunt disgusting step is if it refuses to allow Greece - as a member state - to take it.

That is, the EU must make clear that should Greece do this - and as soon as the 'first brick is laid' - it will take action under EU and international law to prevent it. Including, as soon as it is necessary, inviting UN legal action alongside its own.

It is absolutely time for the EU to step up and do what it should already have done and take the 12,589 men, women and children whose shelter was destroyed this week, elsewhere in the bloc. It has not yet done so, or even said it shall.

It is also vital it takes the appropriate action to prevent the Greek government jailing innocent men, women and children for five years.

And it is time we - organisations and individuals alike - step up to demand that the Greek government does not do this, and, if necessary, that the EU prevents them from it.

This is the EU. The richest political bloc in human history. In the 21st Century.

We can and must all do better. Time to start.


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