Wie der Ausnahmezustand auf Lesbos zum Alltag wurde

After marching themselves, a brother and sister watch the Greek Independence Day parade in downtown Mytilene. Photo by Talitha Brauer.
Nach der Flüchtlingskrise erholt sich die griechische Insel Lesbos langsam. Doch der Bürgermeister fürchtet, dass die echten Herausforderungen noch bevorstehen
Mayor Spyros Galinos at work in his office at the new town hall in Mytilene, Lesvos. Photo by Talitha Brauer.

Keine Zelte mehr, keine Müllhaufen – auch die vielen Freiwilligen sind verschwunden. Die Not der Flüchtlinge auf der griechischen Insel Lesbos hat die kleine Hafenstadt Mytilini einst auf die Titelseiten von Zeitungen in der ganzen Welt gebracht. Jetzt erinnert in der historischen Altstadt kaum noch etwas an die humanitäre Krise, die das Leben hier so lange geprägt hat. Und dennoch: Wer heute an Lesbos denkt, denkt an die Flüchtlinge, sagen sie auf der Insel.

Dabei kommen längst nicht mehr so viele Flüchtlinge wie noch vor zwei Jahren. Die Balkanroute ist geschlossen, das Rücknahme-Abkommen von EU und Türkei nach wie vor in Kraft. Doch bei den Migranten, die dort sind, wächst die Verzweiflung.

„Die Lage scheint sich derzeit zu entspannen, aber wenn man genauer hinschaut, ist es nicht so einfach“, sagt Achilleas Tzemos. Er ist Projektkoordinator von Ärzte ohne Grenzen auf Lesbos. Viele seien in überfüllten Lagern untergebracht – mit ungewisser Zukunft, was zu schweren psychischen Problemen führe. Vor wenigen Wochen zündete sich ein Syrer auf der benachbarten Insel Chios an – er überlebte nur knapp. Drei Tage davor hatte sich ein anderer in der Nähe von Athen erhängt.

Seit 2015 sind mehr als eine Million Flüchtlinge über Griechenland nach Europa gekommen. In der Hochphase landeten an einem Wochenende bis zu 10000 Menschen an Lesbos’ Küsten, hungrig und erschöpft von der Überfahrt. In der Regel warteten sie ein paar Tage, bevor sie eine Fähre Richtung Festland bestiegen, von wo aus sie nach Schweden oder Deutschland weiterreisten. Nun müssen sie bleiben, bis ihre Asylgesuche entschieden sind.

Continue reading at Der Tagesspiegel.

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Snapshot: Angels feed hungry in Palermo

Palermo — A group of Sicilians gather in Piazza Indipendenza once a week. From the trunks of their cars, they separate the donated pastries from sandwiches with pork, mindful of religious restrictions.

For the past five years, the Angels of the Night, or Angeli della Notte, have put on their orange vests and driven around different parts of the city feeding the homeless, a population with a rising share of African migrants.

“Unfortunately the [European Union] does not do anything about it, we feel left to our own means,” said Giuseppe Li Vigni, a 52-year-old high school teacher who first organized the group through Facebook. “Many of the migrants do not want to stay in Italy, but their hopes are slim and nothing is done to give them a good life in the countries of departure. Sicily is beautiful and full of sun and culture, but it offers very little. There are no jobs.”

Li Vigni estimates that about 40 percent of the people they serve weekly are migrants, the others are Italians, some of whom lost their jobs and homes during the economic crisis. By now they know people by names. Like Muhammad, who came from Iran more than 30 years ago and sleeps in a camper van by the port. He takes extra food to give out to others and offers shelter to those in need.

The volunteers meet Tuesdays at 9 p.m. and drive in tandem, stopping at known spots where the homeless congregate: train stations, busy shopping streets, narrow alleys. “Do you need a hat, do you need a scarf,” they asked as one of the volunteers quickly pulled out clothes from a bag and offered them to a young African migrant. On an unseasonably cold night in January, some of the men slept in a homeless shelter, the only place for those without legal status. Others found refuge inside the train station or trains, which is illegal.

“When you walk on the streets you see them but you don’t stop,” said Anna Li Vigni, Giuseppe’s daughter, as they drove from one spot to another, in between picking up donations from restaurants and hospitals. “But when you are here, you listen to their stories and how they got here.”

Europe, Germany Brace for African Migrants as Record Numbers Land in Sicily

In past years, bad weather meant people stop making the dangerous Mediterranean route from Libya, but not this year. There were three landings in just two days in one bad-weather weekend. Photo by Anke Trojan.
As European countries pull back from past commitments to accepting refugees, tens of thousands linger in Italy as they navigate an overwhelmed asylum system.

News started to spread on a Friday evening that a sea landing with nearly 600 people — including more than 100 minors — was expected next morning at Sicily’s port of Catania. It was the middle of January and an unusually cold, rainy week, but none of that mattered. More people kept coming and more continued to die.

That weekend alone, nearly 2,000 were rescued. Half a dozen others arrived in white plastic bags. In Messina, an imam and a priest led prayers for two of them as their relatives mourned their loss, shivering under blankets.

Others, burned from the mixture of fuel and salt water, were taken directly to the hospital, where those who made the trip before them brought them a phone to call their families and reminded them that they should be grateful to be alive. Since January, 602 people have died or gone missing trying to cross the central Mediterranean route, following the deadliest year yet with 4,600 deaths in 2016.

The reasons behind what pushes this group of mostly Sub-Saharan Africans to risk death and endure beatings, rapes and exploitation on their way to Europe are as complex as the individuals themselves. Yet their fate often comes down to a binary decision: they are either refugees where they happen to land, fleeing war or persecution, or they continue their journey and are economic migrants looking for jobs.

And even as the line between both conditions becomes blurrier, it also keeps moving.

Outside immigration centers, migrants and asylum seekers insist they want to keep heading north. “Germany is my country,” one man from Senegal said. “In Germany they like African people,” he insisted.

What they don’t know or talk about is how European countries are erecting fences to stop people from going north and governments are making deals with countries in Africa, including quasi-states such as Libya, to send people back. Now with rising anti-immigrant rhetoric and upcoming elections, politicians and citizens increasingly say countries like Germany can’t take everyone who comes in, especially the Africans.

So far this year, nearly 25,000 people have arrived in Sicily, a trend that if continues could break last year’s record of 181,000. And just as thousands arrive almost weekly, tens of thousands linger in Italy as they navigate an overwhelmed asylum system, appeal their rejected claims or are stranded here — unwilling or unable to go back.

Continue reading at Coda Story.