Get Rid of the Death Strip
opinion / analysis
Saturday December 05, 2009 18:04 by A.C.
On the EU Border
At a time when much of Germany celebrates the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of the two Germanys, Flüchtlingsrat Leipzig is drawing parallels between the landmine situation on the German-German border back then, and the current EU-non-EU border between Greece and Turkey, today.
Since 1989 there have been more than twice as many deaths on the border between the Greek mainland and Turkey alone than there were on the German-German border in total . However this current issue does not seem to receive as much attention as past events, which are in hindsight acknowledged as being in contravention of both the European Convention and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This modern-day ‘Death Strip’ still consists of more than a million landmines and was officially responsible for 253 deaths, as well as an unknown number of injuries, from 2003 to 2006 alone . According to the Landmine Monitor, casualties were not recorded in 2007 in Greece; however 28 deaths and 73 injuries were recorded in Turkey in the same year . It’s a convenient method for Greek authorities to try to prevent immigrants from entering Greek territory in the first instance, which when used in conjunction with the many other official and unofficial procedures in place, helps create a much more impenetrable Fortress Europe.
This situation relates to Germany today since both countries are EU members, and under the Dublin II Regulation, Germany is responsible for sending asylum seekers back to the first EU member state they set foot on. That state is often Greece. Further to this, Germany was one of the two major suppliers of landmines to Greece in the past – landmines that are yet to be cleared.
Since May 2009, the Greek Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been reportedly sending most of its 1.6 million remaining mines to a destruction facility in Bulgaria, where they were supposed to be destroyed before the March 2008 deadline. Under the Ottawa or Mine Ban Treaty, the state will officially be allowed to retain 7,224 mines “for training purposes” . It is however doubtful whether all landmines have already been identified and located, since the process of pinpointing minefields has been hindered by a lack of documentation and willpower. This, combined with natural events such as floods, which have moved the mines from their original locations to positions that are no longer marked as dangerous or fenced off, means migrants crossing into Greek territory at night continue to be injured or die unnecessarily. Many also become casualties:
because they are led to the border along the River Evros at night and then instructed to ignore any mine fences and markings and walk into the Hellenic territory. Sometimes they are even aided in cutting the wire and led into minefields.
There is also conflicting information about whether the demining that has occurred so far has been mainly on the border areas to the north and north-west of Greece, or on the Turkish border to the east. Further to this, the figures quoted by the Greek authorities at various international Ottawa Convention gatherings tend to vary in ways that contradict each other, thus undermining their credibility. What is known, though, is that the majority of landmine casualties continue to occur at the border between Greece and Turkey. By declaring the section covering “areas suspected to contain mines” in its annual Article 7 reports “void”, Greece further undermines the credibility of its commitment to fulfilling the Ottawa Treaty requirements . What is clear is that there is no credible estimate of the number of antipersonnel mines in Greece and therefore no true indication of the scope and achievability of the demining targets.
Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, has stated that not only is Greece obliged to complete the clearance of the mined areas and to effectively protect migrants’ physical security, but “the authorities must also provide a prompt and generous assistance to all mine victims, especially migrants”.
Because of their status as asylum seekers or irregular migrants, the care that victims deserve often takes a back seat to their criminalisation by the state, which only wishes to expel them or better, leave them to die from their injuries. According to landmine expert, Louisa O’Brien:
There is no 'care, rehabilitation or social and economic reintegration' after (survivors) leave hospital, no prosthetic limbs, no psychological counselling for their trauma, no way to earn a living and their legal status is precarious.
While the MoD and the Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity are jointly responsible for ensuring the rights of mine survivors, the reality on the ground is different. Care and support is provided by doctors at the two main hospitals in the Evros border area of Didymoteichon and Alexandroupolis, as well as lawyers and other activists and advocates on an individual basis. In an interview conducted in September, Landmine Monitor researcher, Louisa O’Brien, confirmed that all medical departments and hospitals had been sent a newsletter informing them that medical treatment is free to mine survivors, but that no survivor has been treated in this way for free.
Apart from this failure of the Greek national government to inform medical staff about their obligation to provide free treatment, there is also a hefty dose of lip service being paid by EU officials, who are failing to put their money where their mouth is. In a speech given to the European Parliament in 2005, the European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy quoted the following very impressive funding figures for the Mine Action Strategy of 2005-2007:
Our Strategy is supported by a budget of 140 million Euros. ...This money is well spent, not just for marking, clearing and destroying mines, but also, to alleviate the suffering of the victims, aid their socio-economic reintegration, and to enhance local and regional capacity. This shows that Europe's foreign policy is at its best when it uses all its broad instruments to promote human security.
However, none of this money has since been put into assisting landmine victims in Greece, with the ICBL (International Campaign to Ban Landmines) receiving only between 12,000 € and 17,000 € a year from the Greek national government to use as it sees fit. One mine survivor had to wait 11 years for his first prosthesis (which does nothing to address his other medical, psychological and social needs ), while a ‘lucky’ few survivors with “humanitarian refugee status” have received a disability pension of approximately 270 € every two months as of July 2009.
Keeping irregular migrants out by military means is a way of waging war against unarmed civilians. Leaving them to bleed to death in minefields or secretly depositing them on the other side of the Turkish border to an unknown fate, serves as a warning to others who wish to enter the EU. And denying them access to proper disability support and services once they fall victim to landmines is the denial of basic human rights. Twenty years after the Berlin Wall came down, we must continue to break down all barriers that impinge on basic human rights.
Louisa O’Brien, Purging Greece of land mine scourge, http://www.ekathimerini.com , 1/3/06
As part of an event organised by the Leipzig Refugee Council (“Flüchtlingsrat Leipzig”) on October 2nd with the theme: “The police state behind the minefield”, there were not only photos, films, talks and discussions about the German-German border of the past, but the current EU-non-EU border between Greece and Turkey, today. The information in this article is similar to what was presented there, as well as at the annual Market for Democracy (“Markt für Demokratie”) held on 9th October.
Written in conjunction with Initiative gegen Abschiebehaft Berlin & Flüchtlingsrat Leipzig
More information at: http://www.fluechtlingsrat-lpz.org