We, the independent volunteers of the Shorba Crew and other groups in Idomeni have not been starting protests in the camps and strongly resent accusations by the media that we are 'fake volunteers'. Since January, The Shorba Crew have cooked over 500,000 meals and served them in and around Idomeni camp.
Media has accused volunteers of starting the protests in camp which have been responded to with the sickening and indiscriminate violence of the FYROM border forces. As a result volunteers have been subject to intensified police harassment.
Today (12/04/16) three volunteers were illegally detained while driving to the Idomeni camp. The reason given was to provide identification - something that we all do regularly on site. At Evzoni Station, with no reason of suspicion given, the car was searched. A small knife was found in the vehicle - they were on their way to serve at a tea tent which uses fresh cut ginger. A female member of the group was illegally forced to strip for a complete search, again without pretext. Phones were taken. The owner of the car was beaten then handcuffed and taken to another room by four other police and loudly threatened with more violence while his friends had to listen outside. He has since been taken to Kilkis and remains in police custody until at least tomorrow morning. No reason has been given for this violent detainment and violation. Over the course of the day other vehicles were stopped, searched and volunteers were taken to the station and/or interrogated on the spot with varying degrees of intimidation.
WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE DO
We are independent volunteers who are unpaid for our work in and around Idomeni Camp. We live in and around villages in Idomeni and Polycastro where we enjoy a healthy relationship with local people, groups, and businesses. We are from Greece and all over the world, the situation in the camps is a world problem not the Greek people's to shoulder alone. We have been cooking and serving food in the camps alongside other groups since January and have seen them expand to the current situation. Two months ago The Shorba Crew were the only source of hot food in the camps and at one point were cooking and serving upwards of 10,000 meals a day. We are diverse in our approach and also provide humanitarian support with clothes, camping and cooking equipment, music, childcare/educational areas and charging stations. We all work together to bring some humanity to an inhumane situation.
WHY WE ARE NOT ORGANISING PROTESTS OR SAYING THE BORDER WILL OPEN
We have been in the camps for months now and have formed a close relationship with the community residing there. Many individuals have become our friends and valued members of our crew. We have worked to provide accurate information in relevant languages about the overwhelmingly confusing and overloaded bureaucratic processes by which people can access the Greek asylum system, seek relocation or apply for family reunification. This is the only way people can hope to leave.
We have seen the situation in the camps develop into the current humanitarian nightmare as the EU has created a bottleneck by closing the Greece/FYROM border and the entire Balkan Route. This has denied people any freedom of movement to seek protection and security. We firmly believe the borders will not be re-opened in the current political climate. We have long seen the brutality the forces guarding the FYROM border are capable of. We are aware they have a firm mandate, logistical support and crowd control equipment supplied from member states of the EU to maintain their southern borders. They will enact this with whatever force they decide necessary - with very little international oversight, control or enforcement of laws regarding violence inflicted on non-aggressors.
We have never advocated or encouraged any mass crossing of the border as we are aware of the hopelessness of this kind of action and the violence it invites from border control forces. We are completely against the building of false hope and the disappointment and injury it has resulted in. We have not organised any protests and have strongly attempted to discourage them. When we became aware of the river crossing flyer being circulated in Idomeni, we immediately informed Doctors Without Borders and UNHCR then attempted to communicate as much as possible it was untrue and dangerous. We have been portrayed as being present at all the protests. This is easy to do because we are in camps every day and when we become aware of protests, we act to minimize harm. We strongly resent accusations we are fake volunteers here to cause trouble. Further we regard it as incredibly racist and patronising to imply that people need 'western activists' or 'fake volunteer groups' to organize protests for them. Some people have been stuck here since January, struggling to maintain their dignity in abysmal living conditions without prospects of any improvement. We perceive these acts of protest to be ones of frustration and desperation as the reality sets in that Fortress Europe has locked its doors.
MEDIA PERSECUTION FUELS POLICE REPRESSION
Due to constant persecution by the media our work has become much harder to perform. Baseless allegations of which we have heard nothing official have continually appeared on national television networks. As this has become an increasingly politicised issue our group and others have experienced more targeting and harassment from both media and the police. We were raided at gunpoint by Greek police in late January and have experienced media harassment in our homes, vehicles and while serving food in the camps. We have so far refused to respond to most media questions as they are invasive, biased and seem unlikey to give us a fair hearing. We continue to release regular online statements, videos and pictures concerning our activities and position regarding these issues. These have either been too hard for members of the media to locate or they have chosen to deliberately ignore them.
As many groups have experienced in Greece there is an increased atmosphere of suspicion towards volunteers being promoted by the media and political motivation being created to criminalise refugee support. We have already experienced this repression over the last months and today, as a result of media allegations it has increased.We condemn the EU policies creating the inhuman situation at their borders. We condemn the violence against those who are seeking safety.We condemn the media organisations responsible for these biased and poorly researched articles and their shallow and sensationalist representation of the situation. We condemn the use of state (police) violence to repress volunteers who are attempting to show the people in the camps that they have not been forgotten. And we thank the people who continue to support the work of all volunteers, both inside and outside the camps and the walls of Europe.
Independent Volunteers of Idomeni, Aid Delivery Mission, The Shorba Crew.
Statement published first on 13. Apr 2016 in :: statewatch.org.