19th September 2014
Mayor of Mitilini wants to close down self-organised Welcome Center for Refugees
This week the mayor of Mitilini, Mr. Galinos announced to close down
Pikpa, the self-organised Welcome Center for refugees on Lesvos by the
end of September. Since 2012, Pikpa is run by volunteers from the local
initiative “Village of all together”.
In the night from 18th to 19th of September, a military ship transported
an unknown number of refugees from the prison close to the village of
Moria to an unknown destiny – most probably to one of the big camps on
the Greek mainland, where they will have to face long periods of
detention, officially up to 18 months but in practice sometimes even
The announcement of mayor Galinos perfectly mirrors this situation. We
read it as an announcement to not learn from the history of Lesvos
island. To not learn from the hardships refugees had to go through in
Pagani, a prison also known as “Dantes inferno”. To not learn from the
struggles that had led to its closure. And to not learn from the two
years of encouraging experiences made in running a real Welcome Center
at the gates of Europe.
To not learn means to continue the criminalisation of people who fled
from war and terror just to save their lives. It means to continue to
“welcome” them with “reception centers” that resemble Guantanamo
prisons, such as the new container prison on Lesvos, close to Moria.
“We call it the ‘Pagani of the Troika’, because this is exactly what it
is: a Pagani financed by EU money, a Pagani that is wanted by a
restrictive European migration regime.” Says Welcome to Europe. Mayor
Galinos exactly follows this line: he publicly announced his will to
close down a self-organised space, where thousands of people have been
welcomed at the gates of Europe. He makes clear that he is willing to
fulfil the dictate of Europe’s migration policy that seeks to make it as
hard as possible for refugees to reach a safe place.
With the closure of Pikpa Mayor Galinos has decided to destroy a space
in which, since 2012, many volunteers are working hard to give newly
arriving refugees what they need the most: a warm welcome and a
respectful atmosphere to host them in safety. They have created a space
that is more than just a roof over peoples’ heads. It is a space that
allows for the freedom to prepare the next steps of their difficult
journeys towards their final destination.
Since October 2013 we collectively organized twice a journey back to the
border. We returned to give back what we had ourselves received: the
solidarity of local people to newcomers. When we were there in August
we met a lot of newcomers who left with the words: “When I will be
settled I will come back and do the same.” They will remember Lesvos as
the place where they were welcomed for the first time during their
This is only possible because a space for this practice of welcoming
exists, a space that shows that it is possible to host refugees. If
there were an independent office doing the registration in Mitilini, the
people could just continue with their travels within one day.
Lesvos as an island has the chance to be known as a place of welcome and
not as the place of a new prison for refugees. Detention and pre-removal
centres, however you want to name these prisons, are not needed, they
only serve the European policies of deterrence.
We just say: welcome to Europe! Pikpa was, in the best sense, a
light-house for us. We need spaces of welcome and solidarity at all
European borders. Close down the prisons.
Welcome to europe- w2eu
Attached you will find a letter to the friends of the village of all
together that we wrote after our journey to Lesvos in August.
Letter to the friends of ‘The village of All Together’
Dear friends of ‘The village of All Together’,
first of all we would like to thank you many times for having started
this wonderful idea of a solidarity welcome center! You run Pikpa now
since 2012 already – which is an incredible long time, especially if we
see what your challenges are every day! We came already in October last
year and now once again in August with even more people to this island,
one of the gates for refugees to Europe. Many of us came via Greece to
Europe years ago and know by their own experience what the newcomers had
to overcome and survive until they arrive here. We cannot express with
words what it means to us that you try to create a welcoming space for
them. When we came some of us had the good luck to be welcomed by the
nobordercamp in 2009 but most of us have been only “welcomed” in Europe
with police and prisons. Also later on, after our release nobody has
been there to assist us to find our way to Athens, the next “station” of
this journey and further on. It touches our hearts that you created a
space of welcoming and hospitality – it is needed and the only possible
option to overcome these inhuman borders.
We came back here to Mitilini to encourage and welcome the newcomers and
to assist them on their further way. The last days have been a great
experience for us. It was possible for us to meet and talk with hundreds
of newly arriving refugees and to provide them with information,
contacts in various European countries and to give them hope. This was
possible ecause there was the space for them and us to meet in Pikpa
before they have been brought to be registered by the police even. We
had the chance to spread as many information as possible even before. We
gathered useful information in a guide (see:
We distributed them in English,
Farsi and Arabic. And we would like to offer you to leave copies here
and could promise to update it every year. We have been especially
impressed by the incredible work the translators did every day in Pikpa.
As many of us have experience in translating we have to say that this is
very exhausting in a situation like I We also said farewell to many of
the newcomers in the harbour of Mitilini – and they have been more than
happy to be surrounded by you and us.
Nevertheless there have been also sad moments for us. We would like to
share some thoughts about it with you as long as some of us are still on
the island. We know very well that for most of us it is only a short
period of time to be here, but some of us are anyway part of your
structures and we would like to contribute to your great effort to
support refugees on this gate to Europe. The sad moments are related to
the situation that people will not only face a situation like in Pikpa,
but they will be also confronted with coast guards, police and Frontex.
The coast guard entered daily Pikpa with the buses to take the people to
the prison in Moria to register them, and in the same moment also to do
a so called screening to sort out all those people they want to keep
longer time in prison. Many of us know the Greek prisons. Some of us
have been only recently freed from prisons on the Greek mainland after
having spent many months there – without any other reason than being a
refugee. We came here with one main aim: to overcome this system of
prisons. We are more than sad to see that nothing has been learnt from
the past and that after the closure of Pagani we see on this island a
new prison for refugees.
Like many of you we are especially worried about the situation of having
Pikpa used by the Coast Guard as a space to “store” newly arriving
refugees there before they are brought into prison for registration –
without medical treatment and for an unknown timeperiod, some already
stayed for nearly one week here until the coast guard came to pick them.
Like you we still say: Pikpa is an open and self organised welcome
center and not a space for the police. Our impression was that the
people understand very well what makes the difference.
We demand to do the registration without detention. The example of Pikpa
shows that this is possible. We have seen the so called “Reception
Centre” in Moria with our own eyes and we all know that it had nothing
to do with reception but with imprisoning, degrading and selecting human
beings. It would be only logical to just let the people freely go to any
office for a simple registration to let them continue their journey to
Athens as soon as possible. The few people who wish to apply for asylum
already here on this island could be hosted much more easily and with
fewer expenses. The new Pagani of the Troika has cost more than 3
Million of Euros and it obviously cannot be used because it was just
forgotten that hundreds of people should be able to go to the toilet or
take a shower while they are kept there. The place for registration
cannot be in Moria. And it cannot be in Pikpa, because this is not the
space of the Coast Guard the police or Frontex. The people would go out
of their own interest to do the registration to board finally the
ferries to Athens after a few hours of rest.
We hope that you will have the energy to enforce that Pikpa remains and
will be established as a space of welcome – and to stop the police from
taking over the space.
Pikpa is an important symbol of solidarity – and in the last ten days we
have seen hundreds of newly arriving refugees who made an experience of
being welcomed. We wish you and us together all strength and a long
breath! You can always count on our support.
Welcome to Europe and Youth without Borders