The massive movement of the refugees/migrants in the hot summer of 2015

Contribution to the meeting of the Feminist Network of the European Left Party-EL-FEM in 24th of November

The massive movement of refugees this summer exceeded anything after the Bosnian war, but some say after the 2nd World War. Of course, it is the result of wars in the whole Asia area, and more. “Regular” imperialist interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, have produced and are producing waves of refugees, since the much longed normalisation in these countries is still far away. The war of Syria has produced even more refugees, despite the beginning of this conflict was social revolt against the Assad dictatorship, in the line of the Arab Spring of 2011. Soon many foreign forces intervened, arming the different sides in the social unrest, so this war is in a way a war of all against all, with the dictatorial regime remaining in power and becoming all the more criminal. About 5 millions of Syrians have left their ravaged country and remain mostly in the neighbouring countries, with 2,2 million of them in Turkey, with another 5 million displaced internally.

Many of all the above, war but also poverty stricken people, are heading for Europe, in a desperate effort to save their lives and build another future.

The closest passage for all Asian people is from Turkey to Greece, through the sea or the land. In the North of Greece, in the border with Turkey, a high and long iron fence of 12 kilometres was built in 2012, and as a result the waves of refugees, which were much lower at the time, were reoriented into passing through the sea, which is far more dangerous. As we know, the movement from Africa takes place through Italy, which is receiving now a much lower percentage of refugees, due to the increasing of the Syrian crisis mostly.

“The fence in Evros is the cause for the drowning of refugees”, as is denounced by collectives that call for a mobilisation today, the 24 of October, on the spot, in order to protest and demand its demolition. “The fence forces refugees and immigrants to follow dangerous sea passages in order to cross borders”. “Since the completion of the fence, in 2012, the drownings in the Aegean sea have dramatically increased and will continue to increase”. Unfortunately, the Greek government has not demolished the iron fence in the northern border, as despite its commitment against it before it come to power.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 500.000 migrants/refugees have arrived in Greece, mostly through the sea borders with Turkey, and most of them wishing to proceed to other countries of the European Union, especially Germany. The sea journey is short, less than one hour, and the small inflatable

motor boats can do it easily if the weather is fine and if there are not overloaded. When there is bad weather or overloading, the small boats usually capsise and there are tragedies, despite the policy of the coastal guard for salvation and the prompt intervention. The UNHCR calculates the number of refugees and migrants who crossed Mediterranean sea until October to be 643.000 (500.000 of them to Greece), as compared with 219.000 for the whole 2014. It also calculates that at least 123 people have died or gone missing in Greek territorial waters this year, while 3.135 have perished in all the mediterranean for the same period.

Some of the worse tragedies in 2015, up to now, include:

* Two boats carrying about 500 migrants sank after leaving Zuwara in Libya on 27 August;

* The bodies of 71 people, believed to be Syrian migrants, were discovered in an abandoned lorry in Austria on 27 August;

* A shipwreck off Italy’s Lampedusa island killed about 800 people on 19 April;

* At least 300 migrants are feared to have drowned after attempting to cross the Mediterranean in rough seas in early February

* On Sunday the 13th of September, 34 refugees lost their lives in the tiny Greek Farmakonisi island. Among them 4 babies and 11 children. The incident was registered as “accident” or “tragedy”.

The real reason for all these tragedies is the policy of the European Union and the individual states comprising it, who insist to face migration as a “crime” which must be punished or prevented.

The siruation the European Union is confronted with today, is the refugee crisis. One of the EU countries with external borders of Europe is Greece, closest as it is with Asia, and this is why it has to carry all those people entering and demanding asylum. For Greece, it was a heavy task to confront, since the previous policy of repelling the incoming people stopped since SYRIZA government come to power, in January 2015. The number though is huge, and Greece was not prepared to receive and accept such numbers, nor, even more, was Europe. The main effort of the Greek government since the influx of the increased numbers was to Europeanise the issue, it insisted that this is a European question and the whole of the European Union has to agree for the reception of refugees.

Of course, all these people come to Europe illegally, through by the assistance of the traffickers, who charge huge amounts of money, and are responsible for

the violation of the human rights of the migrants/refugees. Many of them have to wait for long periods of months or days in order to get on a boat, usually without food, sometimes even without water, and hiding in islands and forests, exposed to weather and human rights violations. Usual violations are sexual assaults or rape of women, and of unaccompanied minor youngsters, who are quite a few. This side of violations is well known to us through stories of the refugees themselves, but they were also reported by Melissa Flemming, the spokeswoman for UNHCR in one of her recent reports. (

The answer, therefore to this humanitarian crisis is not more repression of the refugees themselves or even of the traffickers, but the inauguration of safe journeys through organised means of transport of the UNHCR, or the states, or the European Union. This is the answer of the pro-migrants movement, and this we try to impose on the governments if we are to respect solidarity as a political and human principle. And of course, after transport there is settlement. Very low numbers are accepted until today by the different countries of the European Union, while new fences of repression are calculated and prepared in many of the intermediate borders.

Here I must add that Greece has experienced a huge wave of refugees after the 1922 war, when an “exchange of populations” was agreed with Turkey, meaning 1.500.000 Greeks and 750.000 Turks had to be deposed from their respective lands, with all the suffering that this entailed in the course of moving and of resettlement in the new lands, starting from zero. This trauma of national cleansing is always alive in the memory of the Greek population, and I must add that the huge wave of solidarity expressed in the last few months is partly due to these memories of refugees. Unfortunately there was also fascist and racist policy towards or against the refugees, but it has been, until now, a minority condition.

Unfortunately, we, our feminist collective TO MOV have not taken particular care of the sexual assaults of women and minors referred to above, until now, despite we know the problem, and are sensitive to it, because there was a very difficult political situation in Greece since the end of June. We had the referendum of 6th of July and the subsequent elections proclaimed for the 20th of September, after the resignation of SYRIZA government due to the new policies agreed to, after the clear blackmail of the European Union institutions concerning the economic policies and the demands for reactionary restructuring of important economic and social sectors.

Thus the two major problems for immigrants/refugees, i.e. movement and settlement, can and must be addressed by the European Union and the UNHCR, now, and the problem of peace and of creating conditions for the return of some of the refugees in their homes should be addressed in the short, the medium and the long run.

The European Union has 500 million inhabitants. If the different countries agree to take a percentage of them, with quotas based on some indicators, the numbers they will finally take are really low in relation to this massive population of 500 million. And, they owe to respond with solidarity and humanitarian way, since Europe is one of the players of the different wars that oblige so many millions of people to leave their countries, their lives.

Solidarity groups are everywhere in the islands primarily, but also in the cities the refugees pass from. Groups working day and night, with their own means and with people’s donations and solidarity. The state has done until now much less work for the refugees in relation with the citizens and the groups, despite the comparative great infrastructure and funds it has at its disposal.

Here we must mention the women being champions and majority in every kind of solidarity activities, resourceful and understanding the how to resolve problems or to address these huge waves of coming people. One example of solidarity work in my post in our website, in Molyvos, Mytilene:

Sissy Vovou

Member of the feminist collective TO MOV

Member of the editorial committee of the e-newspaper