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Far right and religious extremists among the volunteers on Lesbos

14 January 2016 / 18:01:56  GRReporter
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In recent days, there have been frequent talks that the Greek police and Frontex will begin to check on the spot the volunteers and non-profit organizations working to address the refugee crisis on the islands. At first glance, these actions seem excessive and have even provoked reactions. "A closer look, however, and being aware of the conditions on the spot could convince us of the opposite", states for the newspaper Kathimerini Fotini Rantsiou who has 20 years of experience in humanitarian missions and who is now working on the island of Lesbos for the organization Solidarity Now. "A total of 80 non-profit organizations are operating here, only 50 of which are accredited by the authorities. Groups of volunteers form and appear virtually at every bay in the north and east parts of the island. Often refugees arriving by boat are faced with as many, or even more, volunteers, who quarrel opver who will provide assistance to them," she describes the situation.

The local residents are offended. Fishermen who first helped rescue people have been displaced by people who are new to the sea and unable to swim. "Fishermen for example are trying to explain that boats should not stop before reaching the shore, they should be left for the waves to push them so as not to capsize." The municipality has urged the non-profit organizations to register but only some of them have done so. The Chamber of Commerce invited 50 non-profit organizations to a meeting and only 10 responded. Since October, the Medical Association on Lesbos has repeatedly requested that the medical organizations be accredited but only one has been.

The people on the island often witness many conflicting situations. "Hundreds of volunteers have arrived from Denmark at a time when their country is discussing the seizure of cash and jewellery of refugees to cover their costs. Would it not be more useful to exert pressure against such a policy by remaining in Denmark?" asks Fotini Rantsiou. A representative group of the far-right Swedish Democrats party visited the island in October and handed out brochures to arriving refugees, stating that they are not welcome in Sweden. Swedish volunteers arrived a week later and began working to "reverse the climate."

In early December, when the arrivals shifted from the north to the south of Lesbos, a new tactic was launched. "Many volunteers have contacts with refugees and/or traffickers before they depart to the Greek coast. On one hand, this looks like cooperation with the people who are breaking the law but on the other hand, it is raising the following logical question: ‘why are volunteers not on the Turkish coast to assist the families of refugees there?’" asks Fotini Rantsiou. Accordingly, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other international organizations could be on the opposite coast to establish in time the situation of refugees before they take the perilous journey to Europe by sea.

Some volunteers with "unclear" objectives and motives are causing anxiety, including groups of sometimes extremely religious Muslims from Europe. "With many hundreds of people on the islands today and with so little reporting on the part of a multitude of small groups, the intention of the authorities to obtain a clearer picture of the situation is not surprising," concludes Fotini Rantsiou.

Meanwhile, a strange case of an illegal mosque in a plot near the registration and reception centre for refugees in Moriah has been referred to the prosecutor’s office and the municipality of Lesbos. Englishman Anthony Kan from Huddersfield, a Muslim, seems to have arranged a makeshift mosque in a tent with the inscription "Mosque", putting inside carpets and small tables with books.

Collage: ethnos.gr

The police have submitted a record of pictures and information to the prosecutor in Mytilene, who is launching an inspection following signals that the premise is being used as a mosque. Efstratios Tzimis, deputy mayor for technical issues and public works at the municipality, defines the "mosque" as illegal, adding that its use is prohibited as it has no permit.

Tags: RefugeesVolunteersLesbosInspectionsCrisis
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