Turning the Greece-Turkey border into a war zone
The Greece-Turkey border zones are populated by local solidarity groups, NGOs, and journalists on the one hand, and by a variety of groups enforcing border control on the other.
As migration researcher Vassilis Tsianos reports, the latter include:
“self-organized groups of local farmers walking around with shotguns. There is also a so-called national vigilante group, in whose ranks right-wing extremists and anti-immigrant activists mix. Then there are groups of men wearing ski masks and camouflage clothing who intercept and collect refugees and bring them back to the Turkish side of the Evros River in small inflatable boats. Although they don’t wear badges, they drive the same cars as border police – this is documented by photos we have collected. Policemen have confirmed to me that they sometimes drive at the border without badges. In addition, there is now also the military patrolling the so-called green border.”
In this complex web of actors, the efforts of grassroots resistance movements against government policies to replace settlements like the Moria camp in Greece with even more inhuman detention centers are overshadowed by campaigns such as #Greeceunderattack and #Europeunderattack.
Are they being undermined and occasionally turned against their causes, as commentators have suggested? In other words, is the struggle against inhuman camps being transformed into a struggle against shelters in general? Whatever the case, it is crucial to differentiate between the two movements. After all, there are commentators like Nikolaos Xypolitas, Assistant Professor at the University of the Aegean, who specializes in migration and labour, who is quoted in the Süddeutsche Zeitung saying that these are in fact one and the same people: those who have been against inhuman camps have for all intents and purposes – “changing into fascist mode” – turned into opponents of shelters in general.
Rising up against health fascism
Against this backdrop, “Europe’s hell,” as the “hot spot” on Lesbos at the Greece-Turkey border has been called, presents a particular challenge.
In the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak, those stranded in places like the Moria camp seem completely abandoned. But they are not. It is of utmost importance to recall that for years, health autonomy and an alternative care infrastructure have been improvised on a daily yet highly precarious basis. Miriam Arentz, who reports from the Moria camp on Lesbos, makes visible efforts in providing care infrastructure. In a similar vein, the recently published book “For Health Autonomy” is an important source for lessons from everyday health dystopia in Greece evolving since the debt/austerity crisis that hit the country in 2008 and thereafter. Put together by the CareNotes Collective, the book highlights solidarity clinics as a grassroots effort to respond to that very crisis.
Taking this background into account, “this is very much the time to spread health autonomy in the wake of our shared and unevenly spread vulnerability to the state’s management of the coronavirus,” as scholar-activist Malav Kanuga says.
As those who are hit the hardest are denied even human rights, grassroots efforts to provide basic care infrastructure need to be supported – last but not least, because they are continuously facing the threat of eviction. There is, for instance, an urgent need to organize against the repeated attempt to evict the Metropolitan Community Clinic Helliniko in Athens, Greece. In their statement against the eviction, the organizers write:
“They want to evict us without giving an alternative solution, they want to demolish a 200 square meter building and the clinic it houses which supports outcasts of the Greek society which were created by the Economic Adjustment Programs that were supported by the Greek Governments from 2010 until today. […] [Nevertheless] we will continue to be in our current location offering medicines, hope and dignity. For all these years the Metropolitan Community Clinic Helliniko has been a constant supporter of all people who needed our help without discrimination and we will continue to be so.”
In an open letter (in Greek and German) that calls for solidarity with those fighting locally against eviction of the Metropolitan Community Clinic Helliniko in Athens, a great number of academics from Greece, Germany, and beyond have voiced their solidarity.
All of the latter shows that the moment of the ‘corona crisis,’ in which autocratic tendencies are cropping up, hitting those who are the least protected – that this dark moment is also the time for democratic engagement, political activism and actions of solidarity in the name of health and care as “a common good” as Yanis Varoufakis also argues.
This, in fact, is what one can also learn by looking at China, where the resistance against the central government remains strong despite heightened repression. And where people are quietly sharing views on “How Democratic Taiwan Outperformed Authoritarian China.”Print