A wave of violent activities has been unleashed on the Greek islands and the Greek-Turkish land border, with vigilantes targeting NGOs, journalists, and migrants. Who are these new vigilantes? How are they connected to far-right organizations?
The decision of Turkish president Erdogan to suspend the halt of migrants within Turkey’s borders has caused a renewed attempt of about 13.000 migrants and refugees to enter the European Union via Greece. The Greek state promptly reacted by suspending the registrations of applications for international protection for one month while many of the newly arrived migrants were tried and convicted for ‘illegal’ entry with up to 4 years imprisonment.
With tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets, Greek border police and military are defending the borders against unarmed migrants who are trapped in a no-man’s-land between two historically rivaling states. The police and military have been assisted by a growing number of armed vigilantes who patrol the border regions of the mainland and on the islands. These vigilantes turn violent against NGO staff and international reporters.
This culmination of vigilante activities has been especially welcomed by far-right groups that try to co-opt their dynamics. However, the atmosphere of an alleged state of exception that justifies violence has also been nurtured by mainstream politics and media over the last months. The recent violent mobilizations are, hence, understandable only in the context of an aggravation of political rhetoric against migrants and refugees.
Vigilantism on the Greek islands
The situation at the Greek border was a central issue in the national elections of July 2019. The now governing conservative New Democracy (ND) party had been campaigning for a restoration of law and order, which was supposedly the result of the Syriza government. With the expansion of border patrols and an acceleration of asylum procedures, the islands of Lesvos, Samos, and Chios were promised a relief from much of the pressure that they have been carrying since these specific islands became hotspots for migrants’ entrance to the European Union in 2015.
The island of Lesvos had been especially in the spotlight due to the unprecedented growth of the population of its infamous camp Moria, which, built with a maximum capacity of 3.000 inhabitants, came to host more than 20.000 migrants. In particular, locals complained about perceived insecurity and a decrease in tourist revenues.Print