Mr. Marquardt, you described dramatic scenes with refugees in Lesbos on Sunday. A day has passed. How has the situation changed?
Erik Marquardt: The situation on Lesbos is getting worse, I can’t say otherwise. A child drowned off the island on Monday morning because 48 refugees were in distress on a boat. The Greek coast guard has confirmed this. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to get information.
Why is that?
Right-wing extremists have set up checkpoints all over the island. They attack journalists and aid workers – and also refugees. I’ve heard of hooded people hitting people with steel chains. Accordingly, I have been talking on the phone all morning: Where can you go along? Where is it dangerous? Which areas should I avoid?
What are your conclusions?
Our freedom of movement is very limited. You quickly get into dangerous situations here. NGO workers no longer dare to give interviews because they are afraid of visiting at night. Verified information from journalists would be more important than ever: Both the Turkish and the Greek side are currently making propaganda.
What does that mean for the refugees?
Your situation is becoming even more insecure than it already is. An example: Camp Moria is the central reception center on Lesbos. 20,000 people live here under the worst conditions. They sat there today without help because aid workers no longer dared to go out and preferred to stay at home. The roads to and from Moria are also blocked.
What is the police doing?
In the interview Erik Marquardt
Erik Marquardt is a Greens MEP and photographer. The 32-year-old has been dealing with European refugee policy for years and keeps traveling to the EU’s external border. He already described the situation on Lesbos to the taz on Sunday.
She leaves the refugees alone with the right mobs. And it does not ensure that freedom of the press is preserved. The police often stand by but are also overwhelmed. It’s not just right-wing extremists. Even normal people join the protests. I can understand people’s anger too. The EU has left the islands along with the situation for years, that was irresponsible. But of course, this must not be a legitimation for violence.
Have you personally got into difficult situations?
There was a delicate scene on Sunday. We were bumped into and insulted by residents for taking pictures of a refugee boat. The police then took us to the station, not the aggressive bumpers – and instructed us not to go to the beaches. A friend of mine, the freelance journalist Michael Trammer, has been beaten up by the rights. He will now leave the island because he is no longer safe – and has received threats via Twitter.
Why do you want to stay for the time being?
I have the feeling that I can make a difference here. It is important not to lose contact with the authorities. For example, I want to meet the chief of police of Lesbos. Neutral observers are important in such situations. But I take care not to put myself in danger. For example, today I canceled a TV interview in the north of the island because the trip was too unsafe for me.
How do you rate the behavior of the Greek government?
The Greek government is escalating the situation in an irresponsible manner. It pretends to be at war. You can see on TV how the military holds military exercises at the border. Driving tanks, landing craft slipping on the beach, soldiers throwing themselves into the dirt with machine guns. Turkish authorities have leaked a video to Sky-News to show the Greek coast guard’s violent crackdown on refugees. A ship rushes dangerously close to a fully occupied inflatable boat. Unfortunately, it is feared that it is not fake.
Greece’s government has declared that asylum rights will be suspended for a month. What do you make of it?
This is a bankruptcy declaration. There are orderly procedures to check whether someone is entitled to asylum or not. The government now simply claims that all refugees do not need protection. That is a line of argument of the extreme right.
Legally, this position is questionable anyway, isn’t it? The Geneva Refugee Convention applies – regardless of statements by a government.
Yes, the suspension of the right to asylum is illegal. But the people at stake cannot buy anything from it. They need help now and have little use when courts in the distant future refute the Greek government.
How do you see the EU dealing with the crisis?
The heads of government of the EU act naively. Erdogan’s goal was to create a crisis-like atmosphere. The EU is doing it a favor to allow that to happen. I have the feeling that the heads of state and government are slipping into a situation in which they are jeopardizing the lives of many people. We need the rule of law and a European distribution mechanism for refugees. The EU countries that want to help must go ahead.