European countries must step up NOW in response to this new EMERGENCY.
Chios has descended into crisis. After days of protests that have seen locals attacked by riot police, volunteers made victim to abuse and violence, mass strikes across the islands, finally, an unending chain of fights are breaking the camp of Vial. Tear gas used to break up inter-cultural skirmishes harm children and innocent bystanders, forced to stay within the perimeter of the camp. Whilst on the one hand, anonymous threats are made against those that stand in solidarity, hundreds of vulnerable people are displaced from tents ruined by fires overnight. Access is restricted in and out.
All this is set against the backdrop of rising panic over the coronavirus outbreak, already central in the government's rhetoric as a way of dealing with 'illegal migration'. We are likely to see increased pushbacks and unjust 'justification' of border closures in Northern Greece and in the Aegean.
Meanwhile, Turkey is masterminding a life-threatening, international game, commanding that its border staff stand down, and spreading hope through its media that Europe is open. Thousands of asylum seekers fleeing conflict in Idlib and those already residing in the country are reported to be moving towards Greece, to the islands and the land border at Evros, where they will be met with the same, massive humanitarian crisis at best, and violence and illegal push-backs at worst.
It is hardly safe to be here, for anyone. The government's policy of making, retracting, inventing and mistaking a whole succession of legal, humanitarian and political statements has finally brought the local community to the end of its tether. Feeling lied and tricked regarding the establishment of new camps on the islands - reneging on election promises to decongest the islands - the local community rose up at the decision to send Riot Police to Lesvos and Chios. After days of strikes and clashes, finally, the violence turns towards NGOs and volunteer groups, demonised as part of the problem.
The seemingly inarrestable advance of coronavirus is having the effect of throwing gasoline on an already raging fire. Volunteer groups and authorities are panicking. How will the broken ecosystems on the islands survive this added menace?
Right now, ensuing fights in the camp are being met with a stern and violent response from the police. Though the reason for these fights remains unclear, one thing is certain: the situation is not just worse than ever before: it is beyond anyone's reckoning.
And where do we go from here? How to fix the harm of the EU-Turkey Statement cancer that's been growing for 4 years? There are 3 things that need to happen, and happen now:
European countries must scramble to immediately evacuate the islands of all asylum seekers. Asylum procedures must be split between EU countries and handled accordingly. There can be no discussion; no excuses anymore. Ignorance is no excuse to the humanitarian crisis on Europe's shores.
There must be immediate moves made by the government and EU to create adequate centres of reception, where NGOs have access and humanitarian needs can be met. This goes beyond shelter and fair processes - which are not even met now! - to include safe spaces for the most vulnerable, adequate nutrition, healthcare and access to dignified sanitary infrastructure.
European countries must all - without exception - engage in a fair system of support for Greece. Border forces, asylum officers, doctors and psychologists must be sent on rotation periods in such substantial numbers that the continuing flow of asylum seekers onto the Aegean Islands can be met and processed with due care for their legal, mental, physical and human rights. Asylum processes must henceforth be completed in a timely way.
The current situation cannot be solved unless a backlog of applications is not cleared and immediate staffing shortages - in healthcare as well as legal work - are not fixed. This requires urgent multilateral talks. These should be held early next week by EU leaders.
Until this time, the conflict will only worsen on the Aegean Islands, putting the lives of refugees, humanitarian aid workers and local people at risk.