The Greek authorities’ move to ban most journalists from covering its military operation to move thousands of refugees from Idomeni camp on Tuesday, is a blatant violation of freedom of expression and part of worrying trend of censorship, PEN International said today.
‘Journalists must be allowed to safely do their jobs, which is to gather facts on the ground and report them to the rest of the world,’ said Ann Harrison, Director of Freedom to Write Programme.
‘The ongoing refugee crisis is a major issue in Europe and people have a right to know what is being done in their name, including to enable them to challenge Europe’s inadequate humanitarian response for these desperate people.’
Idomeni refugee camp, the largest unofficial camp in Europe, has been home to thousands of refugees stranded in Greece. At dawn, on Tuesday 24 May, some 400 Greek riot police entered the camp to begin clearing the approximately 8,500 residents of the camp. By sunset over 2,000 residents had left in government buses and moved to government-run camps.
All media were banned from entering the site, except for state-run TV networks and news services. According to reports, plainclothes police officers have been patrolling the camp to find journalists who may still be in the camp.
‘These refugees, most of whom have escaped conflict and war, found out they were going to be moved out of the camp when hundreds of riot police and bulldozers entered the camp in the early hours of the morning. No one has told them where they are going or what will happen to them once they get there. People are scared and confused. There are also a lot of concerns about the safety and standards of the new camps, where again journalists are not allowed to enter,’ said PEN International’s Campaigns and Communications Manager Sahar Halaimzai, who earlier in the week was in Idomeni camp volunteering in her personal capacity.
‘People across Europe and indeed the world need to know what is happening here – including the way in which these people are moved and the conditions on the new sites. But since the start of this operation independent journalists have been kept 6km from the site. At times like these it is more important than ever that journalists bear witness to any rights violations or mistreatment and to ensure that people are being treated humanely and with dignity’.
Since early 2015, PEN has been campaigning at the national, European and global level for a more coordinated, humanitarian approach to providing safety to those at most risk, particularly those seeking to reach Europe. It is reiterating its call on the international community to:
- Substantially increase the number of refugee resettlement spaces;
- Develop refugee determination processes that are timely, fair and treat every claimant with dignity and which do not violate the principle of non-refoulement;
- Expand opportunities for temporary respite for writers in difficult situations through visa and sponsorship programmes, scholarships, writers and artists residencies and other ways;
- Refrain from violent policies and practices that aim to deter or prevent people from crossing their borders;
- Provide more funding to support countries hosting the largest numbers of refugees fleeing conflict, including Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey
- Call on refugee-hosting communities and governments to facilitate access to basic social services for asylum seekers and refugees;
- Take all possible measures to combat xenophobia and anti-refugee sentiment.