Refugees on Greek islands angry at freedom for new arrivals

By John Psaropoulos,
Al Jazeera, April 20, 2018

group call Greek government to lift refugees’ movement restrictions
independently from the date of arrival.
in Greece are now subject to different legal rulings, depending on the time of
their arrival [File: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters]
Greece – Elation has turned to anger for refugees on Greece’s
eastern Aegean islands, following a court ruling that prolongs their
confinement to those islands, but allows new arrivals to leave immediately.
authorities were reportedly already allowing free movement for refugees
arriving on Wednesday, a day after the ruling by the Council of State.
Dozens of
refugees on
Wednesday occupied Sappho Square in Mytilene harbour on Lesbos, in protest
against what they see as discrimination against them.
refugees] are saying it’s unfair,” said Ariel Ricker, who founded
Advocates Abroad, an organisation offering free legal aid to asylum applicants
in Greece and the Middle East.
was done to unburden the island. It was clear that this was not done for the benefit
of the refugees … so they’re furious about it.”
There are
also concerns that frustration at the double standard could lead to
has to be something coming after this that says, ‘there will be a fair way to
deal with those who have been waiting for two years’,” said Ricker.
 “If it doesn’t happen, there will be a fair amount of
More than
15,000 refugees are
currently living
on the islands of Rhodes, Kos, Leros, Samos, Chios
and Lesbos, most of them in facilities built to house fewer than half that
unreviewable ruling late on Tuesday overturned a decision of Greece’s Asylum Service,
which confined applicants for international protection to the six islands if
they arrived after March 20, 2016.
when an agreement entered into force between the European
 (EU) and Turkey, obliging each party to quickly readmit
people crossing their shared border without documents.
2015, more than 1.5 million people have crossed from Turkey into EU member
Greece, seeking protection from war or persecution in Africa and Asia.
needed some assurance that the people it was being asked to readmit had arrived
in Greece after March 2016, and that it was not being asked to absorb refugees
and economic migrants who had been in Greece for years.
could not be done if [asylum] applicants did not stay on the islands, until it
was clear whether they were going to go in one or the other direction
[deportation or asylum],” said Maria Stavropoulou, the outgoing head of
Greece’s Asylum Service, who issued the original restriction.
The EU
fully backed her. In December 2016, Greece’s Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas
asked the European Commission for permission to move asylum applicants to the
mainland for processing, but his request was denied.
the Greek Council for Refugees, a legal aid NGO, successfully challenged
Stavropoulou’s decision on the grounds that she was not legally competent to
issue it in the first place.
to the islands after March 2016 was one of a series of deterrents that produced
a dramatic drop in refugee arrivals in the Aegean – from an average of 2,700 a
day in early 2016 to 300 a day by the end of March, and double digits after
argued that the knowledge that refugees can immediately reach the European
mainland will quickly encourage their numbers to rise again.
believe this butters the bread of smugglers, who will take full advantage of
it,” Stavropoulou told Al Jazeera. “I am sure [this will encourage
them to smuggle more people].”
for everyone’
The new
freedom of movement is likely to be a false dawn for another reason. The Greek
government has already submitted a bill to parliament that shores up the Asylum
Service’s authority by transposing an EU directive into Greek law.
applicants may move freely within the territory of the host Member State or
within an area assigned to them by that Member State,” the directive says.
believes that, armed with the new law, her successor will be able to re-issue
the restriction.
Such a
move would dismay organisations working with migrants.
people indefinitely on islands in inhumane conditions should never be
considered as a solution,” said Luca Fontana, field co-ordinator for
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Lesbos.
this decision only applies to the new arrivals and not to the thousands of
people who have been trapped for months, sometimes years, on the Greek islands
… We call on the Greek authorities to lift these restrictions independently
from the date of arrival, to avoid creating unnecessary suffering for people
who have already been pushed to their limit.”
have long complained of theft and house burglaries for which they consider
refugees responsible. They also fear the loss of livelihoods from tourism.
resolution of the Council of State is proof that the geographical restriction
is unjust for everyone,” Lesbos Mayor Spyros Galinos wrote on Twitter.
hope that his is the beginning of the decongestion process for all the