Episode 1 - Welcome To Prison
Welcome To Prison. - This Is Where The Story Begins.
The media has long left the topic about the European Refugee Crisis, but we have not. This is where the story begins.
I wish this podcast wasn’t necessary. But the hidden corruption taking place in this so-called ‘free continent’, Europe, is just too big to turn your back on. I don’t have a solution and I don’t have the power to change the rules. But hey, let’s begin here.
Let’s jump back in time. The end of the second world war marked a turning point for the global consciousness. The blood stains of the 60 million who had perished could not simply be swept into the gutters and forgotten about. The world came together and decided that this could never happen again.
So the victors created the United Nations to act as the guardians of the international stage. And rules were written for the conduct of nations, between each other and towards their own people. In 1951, the UN held a convention on the rights of refugees to ensure that those with the misfortune of living in state wrought by war and violence would be able to safely seek refuge in its member states. This was to ensure that, next time the common man could escape murder and humiliation at the careless hands of those forces more powerful than himself. That same year, Europe, the continent fragmented since its founding by constant ancient wars and petty grabs for power, came together to form the European Coal and Steel Community. Though this first union merely tied together a handful of nations over the use and distribution of coal and steel, this economic union over vital war-making resources laid the foundation for what is now the European Union.
Bounded now by international law and the zeitgeist of an ever-closer union amongst nations, these communities were to insure that humanity would be able to use its collective strength in times of crisis to help its brethren around the globe in need, whenever possible. But these dreams of an evermore peaceful and civilised planet have begun to be disturbed by the distant hum of war drums, rumbling bellies, bullets, and bombs.
Back to present
Though it was the war in Syria that caused the greatest number of people to flee from their homes – war, persecution, and extreme poverty have caused mass exodus from the far reaches of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The specific causes of these diasporas vary from nation to nation, but they are united in their goal of reaching Europe to receive that protection and peace enshrined in their legal institutions. And so they came, every year more. In just two years, the number of asylum applications in the EU tripled, from around 431,000 asylum applicants in 2013 to over 1.3 million in 2015. Arriving by air, land, and especially by sea. In 2015 and 2016, more than 2.3 million individuals attempted to cross the mediterranean sea. And though this journey is the world’s most trafficked migration route, it is also the deadliest. In 2016, 1 in every 88 individuals attempting to cross the mediterranean clandestinely died in those waters.
The law of inertia states that a something in motion tends to remain in motion. And such was the case with this crisis. A change in demographics brought a change. It is likely that the founders of these institutions we wish so desperately to protect us could have never foreseen what the world would be facing nearly seven decades later. It was not supposed to be that thousands washed up dead each year on freedom’s doorstep.
The story we wish to tell is not simple. There is no one beginning, and like all great tales of human history, there is no clear end. So let us begin where were are, in the nation famed for its enduring epics and tragedies, at the gates of Asia, where for centuries before, and now again today, so many borders meet.
Lesvos was once a sleepy Greek island, located less than 10 kilometers from the Turkish coast, at its closest point. Now, the island is host to over 9,000 asylum seekers and counting, as around 1000 individuals continue to arrive each month. At least that’s what official numbers say. But most NGOs claim these figures to be much higher.
The situation transformed on the 20th of March 2016, when the EU-Turkey deal came into effect. As of that date, all so-called “irregular migrants” arriving on the Greek islands would be returned to Turkey. In order to orchestrate those returns, the Greek government created separate “border procedures” – wherein new arrivals would be geographically restricted to the island so as to process their cases. Once an island of transit from Turkey to mainland Greece and beyond, refugees now wait, held on the island for an uncertain number of months, though usually years, for their cases to be assessed and then, hopefully, permission to travel freely onwards from this island and formally apply for asylum in Athens. So unlike before the deal, where the island represented just the first of many future stops across Europe on the journey, it has now become a detention centre of sorts for the thousands of refugees held hostage to the changing political and economic landscape Europe finds itself in. As the backlog of cases to be assessed grows by the day, the climate on the island grows palpably tenser.
However, the refugee crisis is not the only crisis in this story. It was here in Greece that most argue the 2008 economic crisis cut deepest in Europe. And this is not a problem of the past. The country continues to feel the shock of the crisis, which most here doubt that the country will ever fully recover from. With unemployment still over 20% overall and over 40% for the youth, both over double the EU averages, it’s easy to understand why Greeks are each year more divided in their approaches to saving their nation’s future. There has been both a rise in the far right, and to counter, a rise in the radical left, painting a political landscape that is increasingly polarised. On the one hand, you have the Golden Dawn, a self-proclaimed nationalist party, though described by observes as a fascist or even neo-nazi party. On the other, you have the antifas, short for anti-fascists, who can best be described as autonomous grassroots youth collectives fighting against the far right. Both have a clear vision in mind for the future of their country.
Specific facets of this crisis, such as human trafficking, the new rise of xenophobia and fascism, mental health issues, terrorism, refugee camps reminiscent of concentration camps, the roles of volunteers, governments, NGOs, integration into Europe, and the meaning of human rights and more will be explored in future episodes. We hope that by listening to the stories we tell in this podcast, our listeners will be able to gain a fuller understanding of this crisis, and maybe, just maybe, we can, together, begin to untangle this web together.
Many will say that this is a podcast about the European refugee crisis, we suppose this is unavoidable. For us, this is a podcast about a crisis much more complex and difficult to define. Is this a refugee crisis of Europe, as we keep calling it? Or is it a crisis of Syrians, or Iraqis, or Afghans, or Congolese, or one of the other approximately 40 nationalities coming to Europe seeking asylum? Is it called the European refugee crisis because all the refugees are coming here? It appears to us that this podcast is about three crisis at play here in Europe – a refugee crisis, an economic crisis, and an identity crisis.
Thousands of people stuck in bureaucratic limbo, waiting for years in detention centers created to house individuals for only a maximum of two weeks. Though there are 3 camps on the island, none are as crowded or dangerous as the infamous Moria camp.
Perhaps it is best put by the ominous greeting tagged on the outer wall of the camp ‘Welcome to prison’.