They didn’t explain themselves as they forced us in their car, held me down by my hair and illegally strip searched me.
I was a volunteer in a refugee camp in the Idomeni area of Greece for 8 days, and I was aggressively detained and illegally harassed for it.
My fellow volunteer and I were on our way to meet friends at a restaurant when we were asked to pull over by an unmarked car with two small red and blue lights in the front. We stopped, and they rear-ended us. Four large men emerged and surrounded our car. They immediately asked us to step out of the car.
They didn’t ask to see our ID, so we asked to see theirs. They produced Greek ID cards with the word POLICE printed on them. These could have easily been faked, and the men certainly didn’t act like policemen.
We thought we were being kidnapped.
I got out of the car to get my ID, and one of moved straight into my face, 6 inches from it. Besides yelling GET IN OUR CAR, he only yelled Greek. I asked again why they had stopped us, but they didn’t answer. We got all our documents for our car to show them. They were uninterested. They didn’t care when we showed our passports. They continued to yell.
If a policemen yells at you in a language he knows you don’t understand, you question his intentions. If he grabs you to bruise, you question your own security.
One grabbed me and tried to force me in the backseat of my own car. They wanted to take us somewhere to ‘control our car’ – again without seeing any of our documents or knowing who we were, besides volunteers.
Two of the men took control of our car, with me in the backseat. My fellow volunteer was dragged into their car. They were completely in control, having explained nothing of the situation. We both thought we were being kidnapped and screamed for help. One of the men grabbed my head and hair, bruising my head and bringing tears to my eyes. He held my head down so I couldn’t see where we were going. My head still hurt for the next few days.
It was a relief to see we were actually brought to the police station. But a policeman dragged me out of the car by the arm, bruising it. Inside, he forced me against the wall and shoved his fist into my mouth and nose. He forced me to strip so he could search me.
In any other country, all of this would be illegal.
We learned later that the policemen had lied to the Thessaloniki police that they had found ‘suspicious materials’ in our car that we intended to distribute to refugees. There were no such materials, but my fellow volunteer was stopped again in Thessaloniki.
It’s no secret among volunteers that the Greek government and mass media are portraying the volunteers as radical activists trying to ignite violent protests. The police have arrested almost 30 people now, and they’ve found no evidence to support that claim. Only a few have been charged, but only with things like “carrying walkie-talkies” and carrying a knife. Those people have to spend nights in prison and appear in court.
When they arrested and injured me, I had a knife, yet they didn’t charge me with anything. My fellow volunteer and I were probably the first to get arrested. With the refugee protests increasingly formidable, the police are becoming more and more desperate. They’re making it up as they go along. They didn’t even fully search me, my fellow volunteer, or our car.
The Greek government seems to be increasingly desperate. Now, fighter jets and military helicopters fly over Idomeni in “training exercises,” although they’ve never trained over there before.
The EU and Turkey struck a deal on March 19 to exchange refugees like currency so each government would benefit. The EU and Greece point to the Asylum Service to argue that their policies are within international law, but the service is extremely slow and terribly made. In just the first deportation, 13 people were deported ‘by mistake.’
Doctors Without Borders and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have found the situation so deplorable they’ve actually pulled out of some places in protest. Even in Idomeni, the UNHCR can’t work to fix the gross human rights violations because the Greek government denies the existence of those violations.
More than 50,000 asylum-seekers in Greece confront a world that has rejected them. Of the deal’s promised 6,000 relocations to the EU, only 208 have come through. It’s an even more shameful thought when you compare it with the 160,000 relocations promised by EU countries in September. Detention centers (yes – they’re even called prisons) have been set up around Greece to hold refugees, even when they have papers that allow them to travel within Greece.
No news media have talked to the Idomeni volunteers who have been arrested. Far fewer have even written about the arrests and detentions of volunteers by Greek police. If they did, they’d find that local police use their position to terrorise and injure volunteers.
The day after our arrest, 300 refugees – women and children included – were injured by the tear gas canisters and rubber bullets fired into a protest on the Macedonian border.
The EU-Turkey deal was disgraceful from the beginning. But the deal didn’t say that the Greek government was allowed to illegally detain and intimidate refugees and volunteers.