Political decisions that cost lives #farmakonisi


Greece has been eager to request European, if not international, solidarity and allegiance on the principal of humanist values, whilst being reluctant to observe those same values when the shoe is on the other foot.

Greece has, possibly, the worst record of convictions for human rights violations amongst member states within the core of the European Union – that is the EU prior to the enlargement that included the ex soviet states. Convictions regarding discrimination against both Greeks (see recent ECHR decision on same sex civil unions - σύμφωνο συμβίωσης), and migrants that today see Greece only as a gateway to Europe when they used to consider it as a place of work and relocation, picking strawberries on wages below minimum pay, or hanging off buildings during the housing bubble, etcetera.

Our attitude towards "foreigners" has been problematic, even when they were a source of income for us (e.g. tourists, not the politically charged lenders), even with those “crazy Germans” that carried stones on donkeys up the cliffs of Mani in the Peloponnese to restore houses that locals had abandoned for decades or centuries.

We have citizens, journalists, and media that are not just ignorant or indifferent to xenophobia, but they actively encourage it. We can see politicians capitalizing on the reactionary attitudes in society for their election; openly like the Golden Dawn candidates, or indirectly like minister Varvitsiotis when he associated Sunday’s migrant deaths at sea to patrolling the borders – as if we were in a war.

August 2013 | via Capital.gr

Minister Varvitsiotis went further to accuse the CoE Commissioner for Human Rights (a friend of this country, and a champion of the idea that migration is not a border state problem, but a European one) that “Mr. Muižnieks and several others want to create a political issue in Greece”. All this whilst Greece is presiding on the Council of Europe. Despite calls for his resignation, the minister still remains in his position, a clear sign that the government and the Prime Minister share his reactionary opinions.

In a WSJ article on Golden Dawn, prime ministerial advisor and Secretary for the Government Mr Baltakos was reported saying "We are not interested in the human rights of foreigners" as he threw the annual report of the Greek National Commission for Human Rights on a table in front of him, after stumbling on a chapter on racist violence. On another article in the Greek press, the Chief of Police was reported saying to staff, referring to migrants, “We should make their lives a living hell”. These are not isolated incidents anymore and it would not be unfair to say that there is tolerance for such behavior, if not encouragement.

It is unfortunate, but one can suggest that backward-looking ideas are still strong here, ridiculing a government that has dead refugees on one hand, while pleading for ‘solidarity’ with the other.

When Greece decided to erect a wire fence on its northern mountain borders, it was made clear by NGOs and citizens with an interest or knowledge on the matter of immigration that the fence would turn all traffic to the stormy seas of the Aegean, resulting in increased numbers of deaths. And yet, no policies were put in place to avoid them. Nothing was done in terms of safety, against a clear and present danger against lives. ‘Foreign’ lives.

extract: letter from Commissioner HR Muižnieks to Greek Ministers Varvitsiotis & Dendias

These are the circumstances, the political climate and practice, under which a Coastguard raider (not a search and rescue) boat was sent in bad weather, endangering the crew and the migrants onboard the other vessel, to engage on yet another pushback operation, or lead them to safety... Minister Varvitsiotis’ (later deleted) tweet suggests that this was not a rescue operation: “Some are trying to annul Coastguard’s contribution in the fight against illegal immigration,” he wrote, refusing to accept current terminology when referring to ‘sans-papiers’ as ‘illegals’ (λαθρομετανάστες).

The vessel was tied with rope and towed until it capsized resulting in twelve deaths (nine children and three women). Had rescue protocol been in place and observed, had the orders been not hostile towards the ‘sans-papiers’ onboard, had this been a rescue operation like the ones launched when Greek nationals are in danger at sea, this tragedy would have turned differently.

The Greek government seems eager to engage in yet another bickering cockfight with the opposition (SYRIZA) on who-said-what. However, the pertaining question is this: under which instructions, rules of engagement and protocols did the Coastguard tie and tow the vessel, and to what end?

Which political decision led to this tragedy in the Aegean?

This is the crucial question for a government that was elected with an agenda of “recuperating* our city centers” from ‘foreigners’A rhetoric that Prime Minister Samaras didn’t abandon after his election in office, as reported by the CoE Commissioner for Human Rights Mr. Muižnieks in April 2013. An answer would be greatly appreciated in the duration of the Greek Presidency, should this government find a ‘European’ bone in its ranks.

sub-heading > “Greece has become a center for illegals”
Title > Samaras: “We must recuperate our city centers”
Ta Nea newspaper, 19th April 2012 
* translation taken from the Commissioner's report, altough a more aplicable translation might be "to conquer anew".

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