New Documentary Exposes the Mistreatment of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Greece
Kate Mara and Guy Smallman: European governments impose austerity demands in Greece but fund detention centers in Greece for refugees. Xenophobic views expressed even by centrist parties
SHIR HEVER, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. The film Into the Fire has been broadcast. And it is a film about the situation of immigrants, of refugees, asylum seekers in Greece. And it talks about the kind of treatment that they receive in Greece and the kind of problems of racism and discrimination against them.
I’ve spoken to Kate Mara and Guy Smallman from the Reel News Video Collective (not to be confused with The Real News Network). The Reel News Video Collective is an independent media collective that produces video coverage, documentaries, and slideshows on issues of social justice.
So I’d like to maybe start by asking you, why did you decide to make this documentary, Into the Fire?
GUY SMALLMAN, FILMMAKER: We were in Athens making a series of short films about the effects of austerity in Greece. And throughout that trip we did a sort of internet callout for help with our funding and contacts. And we got contacted out of the blue by a young Somali kid who was living in a hostel in quite bad conditions. We went to meet him and his friends, and we did a brief interview with them. But we really–what we heard made us think that the situation needed looking at in more detail. So we got funding to go back and shoot just on that one subject.
HEVER: One of the interesting things in that film is the rise of the Golden Dawn Party. And what you’re saying in that film is that this is not just a new phenomenon just because of the austerity, but it actually is a continuation of something from a previous time. Is that right?
KATE MARA, FILMMAKER: Well, Greece was one of the last dictatorships in Europe. And what people say, Greek independent journalists say in the film is that [incompr.] there was a transition from the dictatorship into a democratic state. The police force and other authorities didn’t still have this kind of dictatorship [incompr.] currently inherent in them.
You have to also say, though, that Golden Dawn has been around since the ’80s and it only recently got big. It got big with the austerity measures that were implemented. And that’s something you’ve seen over and over again in history, that during times of crisis, fascism gets stronger again.
HEVER: So this is–there are two things that are happening now in Greece at the same time. One of them is the austerity and the new cuts in the budget by the government as a result of the crisis. And at the same time, you’re describing a situation in which many asylum seekers, refugees, are coming to Greece as a sort of stepping stone in the process of trying to enter Europe. And what–is that just a coincidence that these two things are happening at the same time?
SMALLMAN: It’s happening very deliberately, because the richer countries in Europe, like Britain, Germany, France, are pretty much blackmailing–they’re using their power to blackmail countries like Greece, Italy, and Spain, where the asylum seekers and refugees tend to come through just because of their geographical location.
MARA: Most refugees we spoke to are trying to get to other European countries. They’re trying to transit Greece. But due to the Dublin II regulation, they’re not able to move on to other countries but get stuck in Greece. And you have to say–I think Frontex estimates about 90 percent of illegal entries, entries of people who are undocumented, happen through Greece. And Greece has to deal with all these people because there’s no allocation within Europe. The Dublin II agreement says they have to apply for asylum in the country that they arrive in.
But he also–it’s important to point out, I think, that the asylum system in Greece had problems before austerity, before the crisis, that the asylum system in Greece has never functioned properly, and austerity or the great crisis has made those problems worse and made the issues bigger. But, yeah, they predate that as well.
HEVER: So why does the Greek government cooperate with the Dublin II agreement and why don’t they allow these immigrants to continue on their journey into other European countries?
MARA: What [incompr.] told us is that Greece was almost kicked out of the [incompr.] agreement because too many immigrants made it through Greece into other European countries. So Europe puts pressure on them to do this and to keep people there and to keep the border controls intact.
HEVER: So the right wing inside Greece is blaming the financial situation in Greece on the immigrants?
MARA: Yes, but not only the right wing, also mainstream parties. The prime minister, Samaras, has been talk–what’s already a year ago talking about cleaning the streets up, immigrants, like they were dirt.
HEVER: What kind of policies is the government using against the immigrants?
SMALLMAN: Recently, since we completed the filming of this film, there’s been a huge roundup of refugees and migrants from the streets of Athens [incompr.] but it’s called Operation Zeus or something similar to that.
SMALLMAN: And during that, a lot of them were detained, put into camps. Old military bases and old police barracks are used for this kind of thing. So they’ve been doing that. And again, you know, sadly, it’s [incompr.] the political mainstream do use sort of, you know, racist language and imagery to pander to the media and, you know, to try and win votes. And [incompr.] it’s sadly something that the far right do very well at.
MARA: This operation was ironically named [incompr.] after the name of the Greek god of hospitality. And during the past weeks, 2,000 detained immigrants have gone on hunger strike in the detention camps. And just recently there were several reports released about the conditions in those detention camps. And I think Amnesty said something like it’s incredible that these conditions exist at this time in a European country.
HEVER: So what is the purpose of these policies? Do they think that if they make the lives of immigrants miserable enough, then other immigrants will not come to Greece in the future?
MARA: I don’t know what they’re thinking.
SMALLMAN: I certainly don’t think anyone can control how many migrants will try and come into Europe. Unless they’ve got a lot of money and they can fly, they’re always going to come by land or sea, which means that they will be coming through places like Greece and Italy. I mean, as one of the people we interviewed in the film pointed out, you know, a few years ago they had no migrants at all from places like Iraq or Afghanistan, yet that’s doubled, you know, and [incompr.] in the past few years alone. So, you know, Greece has no control over what’s happening in the rest of the world.
MARA: That’s the big problem with the whole regulating immigration. If people need to move, if they can’t survive, if they want to move, they are going to find ways to move. And if that means paying smugglers or doing it illegally, that will happen.
HEVER: Greece is now in the process of massive budget cuts. And one wonders why are they willing to spend all these resources, all this money on the police, on creating those detention centers that you were talking about, and where do they find the resources for that. And also, assuming that these immigrants are protected by the Dublin II agreement to some extent, is there any kind of obligation by the Greece government to provide them with certain services, some kind of welfare, until their situation is clarified?
SMALLMAN: Every country in Europe has obligations, every country in the world, in fact, that’s even signed up to the Human Rights Act has obligations to care for vulnerable people who need shelter within–inside their borders. I mean, that’s not unique to Greece.
MARA: And what–yeah, what we’re pointing out is that the detention camp [incompr.] funded with European money. And Europe, Frontex, the European border agency, is also financed through Europe. So Europe has a very high responsibility for what’s happening in Greece right now.
HEVER: So though we see this kind of very obvious violence by the Golden Dawn and by the Greece police, actually it is also funded by European countries that are able to hide behind this sort of–these policies and not take responsibility for them.
SMALLMAN: Yes, and that they’re blackmailing–the rich countries are blackmailing the poorer countries to secure their borders.
HEVER: Thank you very much for joining us, and goodbye.
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