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One year after the Moria fire: Few lessons learned as Greece expands barriers to refugees’ protection

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Women and children at the the Turkey-Greece border at Pazarkule.(file photo) © IOM/Uygar Emrah Özesen

45 NGOs and civil society groups have today released a report urging the European Union and Greek government to abandon plans to dramatically restrict the movement of people in refugee camps in Greece. With financial and technical support from the European Commission, authorities in Greece are constructing fences and concrete walls around dozens of existing camps and building closed camps in remote locations on the Aegean islands. New legislation aims to further restrict the freedom of movement of camp residents and access for NGOs, journalists, and others with critical aid delivery and monitoring roles. 

When a devastating fire destroyed Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesvos burned to the ground on the night of 8-9 September 2020, Greek and European officials promised they would improve reception conditions. EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said there should be “no more Morias.” Yet, rather than pursuing alternatives to camps, the EU and Greece have hardened their approach. As the report shows, authorities are pursuing “harmful policies focused on deterring and containing asylum seekers and refugees,” thus “jointly implementing and deepening the status quo.” 

Within months of the fire in September 2020, Greek and EU officials agreed to the construction of  Multi-Purpose Reception and Identification Centres (MPRICs) on five Aegean islands. On the mainland, they began building walls and chain link fencing around dozens of existing camps. Camp residents and NGOs familiar with the plans have likened these facilities to prisons.

The report identifies a number of significant concerns about the plans, warning that the new structures “will impede effective identification and protection of vulnerable people; limit access to services and assistance for asylum seekers; hinder independent monitoring of conditions inside facilities; and exacerbate the harmful effects of displacement and containment on individuals’ mental health. Moreover, these policies will preclude displaced people’s integration in local communities, to their detriment and that of Greece.”

The European Commission is funding the construction projects with grants exceeding €250 million. Commissioner Johansson has defended the work, insisting that the new structures on the islands will not be closed and that people will be free to come and go. Yet the Greek authorities make no secret of their intention to restrict freedom of movement for camp residents: on 29 March 2021, the Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, described the new MPRICs as “closed and controlled.” He has used similar language when discussing camp facilities.

Questioning how and why EU funds are being used to restrict the freedom of movement of people seeking sanctuary, the report urges Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to urgently investigate the current construction process and intervene to protect the rights and liberties of people seeking asylum in Greece. In a list of recommendations, the report asks EU institutions and national governments, particularly the Greek authorities, the European Commission and its Task Force Migration Management, and Members of the European Parliament to:

  1. Guarantee that new arrivals to the Greek island are not detained in MPRICs by default and that restrictions on movement are based on an individual assessment and do not exceed limitations laid down in law. 
  2. Secure a firm commitment from the Greek authorities that the freedom of movement of residents of all camps will be upheld, and that access to essential services, including education (especially for children), and healthcare is guaranteed. 
  3. Guarantee that asylum seekers located at facilities in remote areas have access to city centres or nearby urban areas by facilitating transport and opportunities for engagement, thereby preventing the harmful effects of isolation and social exclusion and promoting an early start to integration. 
  4. Urgently scrutinising the use of EU funds to finance the construction of MPRICs and walls around mainland camps, and considering a moratorium on construction until the fundamental rights of residents are guaranteed. 
  5. Guarantee a timely and adequate monitoring and evaluation plan to assess conditions in the new MPRICs and walled-off camps and their impact on residents’ access to rights, material reception conditions, services, assistance, mental health, and education  (especially for children).
  6. Ensure that legislation governing NGOs’ access to reception facilities in Greece is in line with EU and international law and standards regarding the freedom of association and does not hinder the provision of adequate services and support to asylum seekers living inside reception facilities. The EU Commission should proceed without delay in assessing whether Greek legislation restricting NGO activity is compatible with EU law.
  7. Urge the Greek government to revoke the new restrictions on cash assistance to allow asylum seekers to live in independent housing, and investing in alternative accommodation to reception facilities to promote integration and social inclusion while people complete the asylum process.
  8. Urge the Greek government to introduce protocols for the operation and monitoring of all reception facilities that ensure adequate security and protection of camp residents and staff without encroaching on their rights and freedoms. 
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The importance of Iran’s membership in the SCO

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The members of Majlis (the Parliament) have approved the emergency of the plan of Iran’s commitments to achieve the position of a member state in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), – informs IRNA from Tehran.

The  emergency plan was endorsed with 161 votes in favor, two against, and three abstentions.

Ali Adyani, the deputy vice president for parliamentary affairs, said that the plan was proposed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was endorsed by the cabinet members, and sent to parliament to become law.

According to the official, Iran’s membership in the SCO is of great importance in terms of economic, social, and international affairs particularly because the opportunity would help the Islamic Republic get rid of illegal sanctions and enhance economic diplomacy.

Iran has been an observer of the SCO since 2005. Then, President Ebrahim Raisi called for full membership of the Islamic country in the organization in its last summer summit in Tajikistan.

The legislators have accepted to speed up scrutinizing the plan. Earlier, the Iranian parliament had endorsed the plan of accession of the Islamic Republic to the SCO.

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Sabah: ‘The Americans have deceived themselves, the Europeans and Ukraine’

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The US is repeating the same mistakes as in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. Now – in Ukraine. So it seems inevitable that Washington will face another setback as a result of its ideological obsession, – writes prominent Turkish observer Bercan Tutar at “Sabah” newspaper.

Having suffered a complete failure in the Middle East wars, the Americans sent to Ukraine not only their ineffective weapons, but also their inadequate thoughts and strategies. But no matter what they do, their chances of defeating Russia are very slim.

The 330th day of the war, which began on February 24, 2022, has already been completed. After a short retreat, Russia began redeployment. However, the fact that Russia abandoned the siege of Kyiv and focused on control over Russian-speaking regions led Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky and the United States to false conclusions.

Encouraged by Russia’s cautious military actions, the United States applied its strategy in the war on terrorism in Ukraine and. According to American experts, the current US administration is following the deadly tracks of previous military propaganda in Ukraine, which proved unsuccessful in Afghanistan and Iraq.

While Russia is pursuing a military strategy that prioritizes its political goals, we see that the US is lacking in both military and political leadership. As soon as the war in Ukraine began, the first goal of the US was to rally its NATO allies against the Russian invasion. It was a smart strategy and it worked.

However, when the US reached the first target, a further one only increased its expectations. Russia was asked to leave not only Donetsk and Lugansk (Donbass), but also Crimea. Even further, the United States began to voice maximalist demands, such as regime change in Moscow. But it is absolutely clear that these demands can arise only in conditions of a total world war.

As a result, American fantasies lead Washington to attempt strategic suicide. The Americans have deceived themselves, the Europeans and Ukraine.

Russian leader Putin said on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the breaking of the blockade of Leningrad: “We tolerated it for a long time and tried to come to an agreement. As it has recently turned out, they were messing around with us; they were lying to us. This was not the first time this has happened to us. Yet we did everything in our power to settle the problem peacefully. It has become obvious now that it was an inherently impossible mission; the enemy was only preparing to bring this conflict to the hot phase. As I have said, there was no other way than to do what we are doing now.”

In short, some geopolitical officials in the US have dragged Zelensky into a ‘no-win war’ against a nuclear-armed Russia.

Now the world is focused on two options:

– either the US and its allies will perform a ‘miracle’ in Ukraine;

– or the Russians will crush Ukraine and then break the back of the NATO alliance.

Thus, the US strategic position in Europe will come to an end and a new world order will be born, perhaps with several centers of power outside of America.

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War games will take place off Durban between South Africa, China and Russia

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South Africa’s government has finally shown its colours by inviting Russia and China for war games next month, London’s ‘Daily Mail’ writes with indignation and indignation.

SA President Cyril Ramaphosa has ditched his supposed ‘neutrality’ to the war by hosting the naval drills off the country’s east coast near Durban and Richards Bay from February 17 to 27. The move is the strongest indication yet of the strengthening relationship between South Africa, and the anti-West authoritarian regimes of China and Russia.

The drills will take place around the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and bring more focus on the refusal of South Africa – a leading voice on its continent – to side with the West and condemn Russia’s actions. The South African government said last year it had adopted a neutral stance over Ukraine and called for dialogue and diplomacy.

But the upcoming naval drills have led the country’s main opposition party to accuse the government of effectively siding with Russia.

But the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), which incorporates all of its armed forces, said next month’s naval exercise would ‘strengthen the already flourishing relations between South Africa, Russia and China’. The aim of the drills was ‘sharing operational skills and knowledge’, the SANDF said.

The three countries also conducted a similar naval exercise in 2019 in Cape Town, while Russia and China held joint naval drills in the East China Sea last month.

The United States and European Union had hoped South Africa would support the international condemnation of Russia and act as a leader for other nations in Africa. But, South Africa appealed to be one of several African countries to ‘abstain’ in a United Nations vote last year condemning Russia’s special military operation.

South Africa and Russia share a long history, after the Soviet Union gave support to the ANC in its fight to bring down apartheid, the regime of repression against the country’s black majority, writes London newspaper. (And we should remember, how the British destroyed the Boers’ Transvaal and the Orange Republic of the at the beginning of the 20th century, and planted the apartheid regime here).

Apartheid ended in 1994 when the ANC won the first democratic elections in South Africa and Nelson Mandela became president.

South Africa is also a member of BRICS, a bloc of emerging economies, alongside Brazil, Russia, India and China.

South Africa’s obligations with respect to sanctions relate only to those that are specifically adopted by the United Nations. Currently, there are no UN-imposed sanctions on the particular individual, they say in Pretoria.

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