visit to the Pikpa Centre for asylum-seekers in Mytilene
Ann Singleton and Tony Bunyan (who were in Mytilene for a Statewatch
Civil Liberties Workshop, which was attended by 122 people).
We visited the Pikpa Centre in
early April 2013, an open facility run by volunteers in a building
provided by the municipality. The Centre is outside the capital
town of Mytilene, near the airport.
It consists of a concrete
building containing a kitchen and a collection of small wooden
buildings in which people sleep, some 6 or 8 to a room, on bare
mattresses. They have all arrived following long journeys to
Greece from Syria, Afghanistan and further beyond. The people
from Afghanistan left there over four months ago. Each day 20-30
people arrive in Mytilene by boat. Some were told en route that
they could get a taxi to Athens from the island; clearly an impossibility,
even had they enough money for the fare.
Some receive papers (not
asylum) to go to Athens or move on elsewhere. Others stay on
the island, in limbo and entirely dependent on the goodwill,
financial support and voluntary work of the people of the island.
When we visited there
were 30 people in the Centre. They included single young men
in their late teens and early twenties, some older people including
mothers and fathers with children, and unaccompanied children.
They have had no opportunity to ask for asylum in Greece because
the Port Police send them to the Coastguards, who then send them
back to the Port Police (who will not accept an asylum claim).
They have not seen a lawyer and are told by the authorities that
it is only possible to do so if they get arrested, but the police
won't arrest them. If anyone does manage to be arrested, police
say it will mean five months in prison or a police cell before
they can submit an asylum claim. Two of the young men had arrived
in Molyvos, a tourist village in the north of the island. They
walked for two days across the mountains to get to Mtyilene town.
A significant number of
the people in Pikpa today have been there for 17 or 18 days,
not knowing if they will ever see a lawyer, be able to claim
asylum, or move out of the Centre.
It is clear that the EU's
Common European Asylum System is nowhere near in place on this
island and is unlikely ever to be, especially in the context
of the economic crisis.