Rory O'Keeffe, Koraki
Lesvos’ turn to revel in ND carnival of lies
Anyone unfortunate enough to be addressed by Nea Dimokratia on its ‘strict but fair’ refugee ‘policy’ should remember to ask: what happened to our €3.2bn?
We wrote elsewhere about the visit of Greek Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis to Lesvos on Friday (12 May 2023), where he told a series of lies about his and his government’s ‘achievements’ related to ‘migration’ during the last four years.
He was accompanied on his visit by his government’s migration minister Notis Mitarachis, who has helpfully publicly published his own (Mitarachis’) address to the people of the island.
As is by now customary, we will first pate what he said, and then… comment on it.
Mitarachis told the people of Lesvos that:
‘I remember in 2019, when before the elections, we visited the shame of Moria with Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Charalambos Athanasiou. When on the day of the 2019 elections, Lesvos hosted 8 thousand asylum seekers in multiple structures and apartments.
‘We committed to the Greek people to substantially reduce the flows and drastically the effects of the crisis on local communities. And we did it with planning and determination. Implementing a strict but fair immigration policy.’
We have already noted on a number of occasions that Mitarachis’ ‘policy’ was far from fair: it was in fact illegal. It was, and remains, the beating, robbing, torture, sexual assault and in some cases killing, of people who arrive at Greece’s borders seeking safety.
More than seven in every ten people to have arrived to Greece by sea have been illegally pushed back in the period 1 March 2020 to 31 March 2023.
Pushbacks are illegal. Robbing people – of their cash, telephones, of course, but also of their documents and their clothes – is illegal. Torturing people is illegal. Sexually assaulting people is illegal. Killing people is illegal.
That is not ‘strict but fair’. It’s robbery, assault, molestation, murder. It is documented and itisfact.
Nea Dimokratia has shamed Greece beyond all possible imagination. It has taken a country proud of its history of philosophy, discovery and democracy, and turned it into the precise barbarians it used to teach its citizens lived beyond its borders.
Greece is the barbarian at the gates, today. Vicious, violent, acting beyond the law and out of control. Mitarachis and his coterie are to blame.
Let us pretend for a moment that this fact does not reduce to zero absolutely everything else Mitarachis had to say.
Because he claims that on Sunday 9 July 2019, when he and his party took power, there were ‘8,000 people’ on Lesvos, who had arrived seeking safety.
And yet, a year later, in September 2020, he and his party had allowed the population of Moria camp, Lesvos, alone, to increase to 12,589 people, more than four and a half times above its safe capacity and certainly the reason why the camp was destroyed by fire on 9 September 2020.
Mitarachis and his party do not get to talk about the ‘shame of Moria’ when they, by his own admission, took a shameful and despicable situation and for a year actively made it worse, and that situation ended not because they took action to end it, but because a fire ripped through the camp because of he and his government’s neglect.
We will, of course revisit the ‘crisis’ of the local communities.
He went on:
‘We are happy to welcome you today to a better Lesvos. Where Moria now belongs to the Municipality of Mytilene, to be shaped for the benefit of the local community. Funded by the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum.
‘As already happened on May 7, 2021 with the delivery to the Municipality of Mytilini, of the area in Karatepe. As we have already done, in your presence, in Vathy Samos, in Eleonas in Athens.
‘Here in Lesbos we have already closed the squats and apartments of the ESTIA program.’
What Nea Dimokratia did to Kara Tepe was an outrage. It closed the sole remaining acceptable (anything more positive would be an overstatement) decent facility for men, women and children arriving in Greece seeking safety, and replaced it with nothing, leaving the people – who had been selected to be there because of their enhanced vulnerability – to instead live in tents at Mavro Vouni camp, the replacement for Moria, where the soil is so filled with lead that experts warned there was significant danger of poisoning from living there, where the camp flooded seven times in the first winter, and to which it took the Greek government nine months to provide warm water. As of last July, 14 months after its handover, Kara Tepe was not ‘being used by the community’. It was a derelict site.
The closure of Elaionas was carried out at the express demand of Panathinaikos Football Club which wants to build a new stadium there, and the Mayor of Athens, Kiriakos Mitsotakis’ nephew Kostas Bakoyannis, and against the wishes of its residents, who have now, despite having jobs, social networks and school places, been scattered to refugee camps all over Greece, often hundreds of kilometres away, and its staff, who noted these salient facts and the damage this move will do to them.
Mitarachis, a man whose responsibility includes the welfare of people arriving in Greece, tweeted in response his happiness that an area of Athens was to be ‘improved’.
At Samos, while the Vathy camp was an undeniable disgrace, it has been replaced with a concentration camp at which no water at all was provided for two weeks last summer, cockroach infestations are common, children had to be moved because of repeated outbreaks of scabies, and the food provided is insufficient to meet people’s needs.
Not only that, the camp is surrounded by huge walls, barbed wire, monitored by drones, patrolled by security staff often in greater number than those who are forced to stay there, festooned by security cameras watching those people’s every move, most new arrivals are unable to leave for at least 25 and often 50 days, and even those who can leave may only do so with prior permission and under strict curfew.
There are prisons in Greece with less severe conditions, yet the people at the Samos concentration camp have broken no law.
The comment regarding ‘squats and apartments’ should be regarded as less positive than Mitarachis seems to think. First, he appears to attempt to claim that the squats and apartments were part of the ESTIA programme. Of course, they were not. ESTIA was a UNHCR programme in which the EU poured cash into Greek property owners’ pockets – into Greece – in exchange for allowing men, women and children to move out of the disgusting camps into which they had been forced and begin to create lives in communities, living in decent – or at least reasonable – accommodation for the first time since arriving in Greece, sometimes years.
Its closure harmed Greek people – business owners, landlords, everyone who benefitted from the EU money pouring into the country, and who benefitted from selling goods and produce to the new residents – and of course harmed the people who lived there. It left many homeless, wrenched adults from jobs and children from schools, and dumped them back into squalid ghettoes successive Greek governments have been running as refugee camps for more than seven years now.
It also, finally, saw the end of all efforts at social cohesion in Greece. It was a despicable and calculated measure, deigned to harm foreign people, but paid for by Greek people. As we have said many times, we are all forced to pay the bill for a few maniacs’ bigotry and racism.
He did not stop there, adding:
‘The North Aegean was given 60 million within three years, that is, comparatively, 1/5 of the Regional Operational Program of the North Aegean 2014-2020 and 1/7 of the 2021-2027.’
Now. It is actually interesting that Mitarachis chooses to address ‘cash’ here. Because a line he and his government have continually used to describe the situation on the Greek islands during the refugee response is that they were ‘damaged’ by a ‘crisis’.
We take issue with that because in fact the islands, which had been open roughly six months of the year (the summer season) were now open 12 months.
Through EU funds, UN cash, expat NGO workers who were paid to be there, spending money on food, drink and clothing, and renting places to live, through jobs created in those NGO responses and in all other businesses on the islands to meet extraordinary new demand, and let us not forget, through the cash brought and spent by the men, women and children seeking safety, the islands’ economies massively benefitted from the arrival of those people.
And there is more. Because from 2015 to 2021, the European Union alone handed Greece €3.2bn.
We do not pretend for a second that the money sloshing into Greece was used wisely. In fact, we know that some was not used at all, instead being held against the spirit in which it had been given, in government accounts to help the country appear to meet its EU demanded increased revenues.
But if Mitarachis is going to parade the spending of €60m on the North Aegean region, the people of the North Aegean should note that €3.2bn is €3,200 million. And they should ask what the hell happened to the other €3,140 million the Greek government was given by the EU. Because they certainly did not see or benefit from it.
We wish to note only one other thing Mitarachis said, which was this:
‘The area we see was once overwhelmed by tens of thousands of immigrants who illegally arrived in our country, without any control and living in miserable conditions. During the SYRIZA/ANEL period, 643,000 asylum seekers arrived on Lesvos. While from 2020 until today a total of 11,630.’
First of all, they did not arrive illegally. It is absolutely legal to travel and arrive in a country in order to apply for asylum.
Secondly, they clearly did not arrive ‘without control’: they were ‘controlled’ in the most despicable of ways, stripped of their rights and held at Moria. A practice continued by Nea Dimokratia at Moria and in every other location, since they came to power.
Thirdly, those people, who arrived legally, certainly did live in miserable conditions, but those conditions were not only continued but worsened by Nea Dimokratia.
But finally, Mitarachis’ numbers.
First of all, it’s important to note that what Mitarachis means when he says ‘arrived’ is ‘were registered as having arrived’. Seven in every ten of the men, women and children who arrived here, tired, hungry, thirsty, often cold, were instead of being registered as arrivals, beaten, stripped of their possessions, often tortured and/or sexually assaulted, in some cases killed, and all, without exception, illegally pushed back.
Secondly, we should obviously note that it is insane for Mitarachis to claim credit for fewer people arriving in Greece than did in 2015–March 2016 (when almost every single one of the 643,000 people who arrived, did so) when the situation in which people who travelled were forced to do so was entirely different, and when illegal measures taken by the EU, and the global pandemic, all played far greater parts in reducing the number of (actual) arrivals than Mitarachis’ despicable policies did.
And thirdly, we must also note that ‘since 2020’ is a weird place to start a comparison between SYRIZA and ANEL, who governed to 9 July 2019 (and in fact arguably until mid-May because of the election campaign period, in which no ‘government’ is officially in power) and Nea Dimokratia, which governed from that moment.
And it’s interesting to look at the period Sunday 9 July to 31 December 2019, because in that period, 11,379 men, women and children arrived on Lesvos. Just 251 people fewer than the number he claims arrived in what he pretends is the entire period of Nea Dimokratia’s governance.
In fact, from Sunday 9 July 2019, to Thursday 11 May 2023, 38,960 people arrived on Lesvos. Well over three times as many people as he claimed.
But don’t worry. We are happy to address Mitarachis’ misleading claim on the grounds he has misleadingly set for it.
Because from 1 January 2020 to 11 May 2023, 27,581 people arrived on Lesvos and managed to avoid being beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, tortured, killed and pushed back. Almost 250 per cent more than he claims.
Even when boasting about having made Greece the pariah of the civilised world, wrecking lives with reckless abandon, thieving from people already forced from their homes with only the possessions they can carry, exposing people fleeing extreme violence to beatings, torture and sexual assaults, making, in short, Greece one of the world’s dealers of violence, horror and terror, he cannot tell the truth.
Mitarachis is a liar who is ashamed of the despicable behaviour he has ordered only because he believes he has not been despicable enough.
That is the man who visited Lesvos, and addressed its people.
Remember to ask him where your €3.124bn is.