On the Greek island of Lesvos, volunteers and refugees are facing violent attacks from locals.
Each day, dozens of refugees wash up on the shores of the Greek island of Lesvos. They come at all hours and from many different shores.
These refugees will be in the midst of dangerous journeys across the ocean, having fled their homes. Some come to the shores of Greece for a shot at a better life, but most come simply to survive.
One Border Falls, Another Closes
Last week, Idlib—one of the last rebel strongholds in Syria—began to crumble as Russian-backed airstrikes eviscerated its infrastructure. Surviving residents fled in huge numbers to the neighboring nation, Turkey.
Turkey has been shouldering the vast majority of the world's refugees since the worldwide crisis coalesced in the 2010s, and they currently host over three million refugees. Following Idlib's fall, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared that Turkey's borders were officially open because his nation could no longer handle the flows of refugees rushing out of Idlib.
This action was in violation of a 2016 Turkey-EU deal, in which the EU promised $6 billion to Turkey in exchange for their closed borders (though Turkey has only received roughly $3.2 million, which is perhaps the cause of Erdoğan's violation).
Many of Turkey's migrant population, aided or pushed by Turkish police, immediately attempted to flee Turkey for Greece, embarking on a journey across the Aegean Sea. Across the nation, Greek citizens and law enforcement officials have reacted violently, greeting refugees with tear gas, water cannons, and brutal attacks. Millions of refugees are now in prison-like camps on Greece's borders; others are still at sea, blocked by government ships on both sides.
Lesvos: A Microcosm of a Macro-Disaster
The island of Lesvos has seen a particularly harsh fallout from these recent events. Since the news from Turkey broke, local islanders have launched huge protests, establishing roadblocks and patrols to prevent migrants from moving from the sea into the camps.
In February, seven Lesvos inhabitants were arrested for planning violent attacks on migrants; following Turkey's announcement, journalists and aid volunteers have been injured by locals, and warehouses containing supplies and donations have been burned. Many of the organizations providing life-saving resources to refugees have been forced to shut down, and locals have been forcing boats to turn away from the island, resulting in the death of at least one child.
A far-right neo-Nazi party known as the Golden Dawn, which may be gaining prominence on the island, may be behind some of these actions.
Crumbling Patience: Lesvos Takes Fallout from the Syrian War
Lesvos's inhabitants were once praised for the strength of their solidarity. The island is vast and full of empty stretches of land, and the makeshift camps only take up a tiny fraction of its dry mountainous areas; but lately, the influx of migrants from Turkey and the threat of new government-built migrant centers have catalyzed a new wave of xenophobic violence.
The horrors of Lesvos's one major holding camp—Moria—are difficult to describe. The camp, designed to hold 3,000, currently holds over 20,000 refugees. Many languish there even though they have family and job prospects in the EU, held in limbo and exposed to disease and traumatizing violence, both of which run rampant in the camps.
In light of the recent riots, North Aegean governor Kostas Moutzouris has called for the declaration of a national emergency. However, politicians and human rights organizations have constantly called for an end to the misery on Lesvos since the crisis began five years ago.
Of course, all these events are tragic consequences of much bigger political movements. The EU's failure to accept more refugees—and its failure to support the people living in its nation's camps—have burdened the island with far more refugees than it can handle. "The Lesbos community has been abandoned by its own government for almost five years to deal with the consequences of a failed reception system. Like the refugee community, it is tired," said Sophie McCann, a Doctors Without Borders advocacy advisor.
In turn, the proliferation of refugees is the result of a complex humanitarian disaster, one that often has unfortunate consequences. "Refugees are not a bargaining chip to be played with at the whims of political leaders," said EuroMed Rights President Wadir Al-Asmar. "Europeans cannot look away from what might become one of the worst humanitarian disasters the war in Syria has brought on its people. Respecting international humanitarian law as well as the human right to protection and refuge remain the sole possible answer in the face of such indiscriminate violence."
The Syrian civil war, which began in 2011, has killed 500,000 people, coming out to nearly 1 in 10 Syrians. The conflict was caused by many complex forces—including climate change, which led to a drought that resulted in congestion and economic stagnation in Syria's inner cities.
With all the global significance connected to the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, many people don't realize that September 11th has a very different set of meanings in Chile.
A memorial depicting Allende's broken glasses in the aftermath of the coup
On that day in 1973, the United States backed a coup that killed Chile's democratic socialist president, Salvador Allende, ushering in the brutal era of Pinochet. Chile has never fully recovered from the violence of that period, nor the sudden shift in economic policy that followed. For many Chileans, it has been hard to imagine a world in which the leadership could work for them, rather than the global elite. But now the streets of Santiago and Valparaiso are being taken over by thousands of protesters who've been unwilling to accept piecemeal concessions from President Sebastian Pinera.
In Chile, a billionaire president pushes austerity while the military represses protesters. Thousands have been arrested. Knowing Chile's history, this is very dangerous.
The solution here and across the world is obvious. Put power where it belongs: with working people. https://t.co/s6J7kOtDXs
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) October 30, 2019
So far many of these protests have been peaceful, but there have been instances of arson and of violent clashes between protesters and security forces. At least 20 have already died, but the activists there are not giving up. They are relentless, and they are only interested in substantive change—a fundamental restructuring of the Chilean Government to serve the working people. They want Pinera to resign, and they are calling for changes to the Chilean constitution.
For Americans, this kind of protest remains out of the question. Protest in America does not exist to be disruptive or to force action. It only serves as a salve for our powerlessness.
American protest is sanctioned by the system and restricted to its proper time and place. It makes the protesters feel better for a time—makes them feel seen, like they're a part of something—and maybe it raises some awareness for a cause or inspires some phone calls to congress. And if it attempts to do more, it is met with swift and violent crackdowns. It does not—cannot—break down the country's normal functions.
But what if the normal functions no longer work for the people? What if the interests that led the United States to back coups against Socialist leaders are also fueling mass propaganda campaigns against grass roots movements at home? What if they're defending those in power from the normal avenues of accountability?
The American media has a tight focus right now on the rapidly developing impeachment proceedings, and that makes sense. There is new information coming out of those efforts on a near daily basis, and there is a significant precedent for this kind of procedure to effect change. But it remains to be seen whether all this new evidence will survive the spin and propaganda from the likes of Fox News and One America News. We should not place our faith purely in the institutions of power to regulate power. To achieve anything for the people, the institutions of power must be afraid of the alternative.
We must look at the mass actions that are making life difficult for the powerful in Chile and Lebanon and Hong Kong, and prepare ourselves to make the same kind of trouble at home. Even if Trump is forced out of office and the Democrats choose a progressive nominee and the 2020 election fully flips control to the Democrats, the fight will only be getting started. The interests and forces that killed Salvador Allende in Chile will still be doing everything in their power to protect the status quo. We must be willing to upend the normal order if we want to produce real change.
Citizens are protesting a bill that would undermine their freedom and subject them to mainland China's draconian judicial system.
Thousands of protestors stormed Hong Kong's government headquarters, taking control of a legislative building for hours before being attacked with tear gas and dispersed by riot police. Inside the legislative building's main chamber, the activists, mostly young people, hung banners reading: "There's no rioters, there's only tyranny" and "There is no way left." Their stand is the culmination of mounting tensions over a bill that would allow mainland China to extradite citizens of Hong Kong in order to face the draconian Chinese judicial system.
"But isn't Hong Kong part of China already?" you might be wondering. Yes, but not exactly.
One Country, Two Systems
Up until 1997, Hong Kong was a colony of the United Kingdom. Upon its return to Chinese sovereignty, China signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a treaty that decreed: "The socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years."
Essentially, this agreement mandates that while Hong Kong will be a part of mainland China, it will still enjoy a high degree of autonomy, including its own legal, legislative, and economic systems––at least until 2047. After that, nobody is really sure what will happen. That uncertainty, especially regarding fear over loss of freedom, has lead to a high degree of pro-independence sentiment amongst youth in Hong Kong.
The 2019 Hong Kong Extradition Bill
Otherwise known as the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, this bill proposed in February by the Hong Kong government would allow suspected criminals to be extradited to face trial in Taiwan, Macau, or mainland China. This means that, hypothetically, a Hong Kong citizen accused of dissonance against the mainland Chinese government could be whisked away to face criminal trial in mainland China, where such offenses can carry harsh penalties including execution.
Many Hong Kong citizens have rightfully derided the bill as a means of undermining their freedom and giving mainland China a legal means to prosecute them and other international people for perceived political slights. Authorities in Taipei have rejected the bill on similar grounds.
On March 30th, amidst widespread, vocal calls from both the Hong Kong populace and the international community to discard the bill, the Hong Kong government rolled out amendments to the bill. This did not satisfy the Hong Kong populace, which overwhelmingly supported a full removal, so on June 9th they took to the streets, nearly 300,000 strong.
In opposition to the voices of its people, Hong Kong refused to withdraw the bill. Then, on June 12th the protests turned violent. Police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. Protesters were not dissuaded, turning out again on June 16th, nearly 2 million strong.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam relented two days later, apologizing for "the deficiencies of the (Hong Kong) government" and tabling the bill until further notice. Her actions came too little too late and were deemed as insufficient by the populace––they did not want the bill tabled—they wanted it discarded completely, along with Lam's resignation.
Without proper resolution, the protests have continued to escalate. According to CNN, the protesters currently have five demands: "They want a complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, an investigation of police brutality, retraction of the characterization of the protests as riots, the release of arrested protesters, and leader Carrie Lam to step down."
Why You Should Care
Governments work for their people––not the other way around. A government that fails to properly represent its people should be subject to the full force of its people. The Hong Kong protests serve as a necessary example of this force in action.
When the government does not listen to petitions and condemnations, people need to take to the streets in protest. When the government does not listen to protest, people need to rally together and confront their government head-on, by whatever means necessary. To be clear, a government that does not represent its people is a tyranny, and nobody who values their own freedoms should ever allow themselves to be ruled by tyrants.
While the situation in Hong Kong continues to develop, and while the police have brutalized the protestors on an ongoing basis, the protestors have risen again and again. Slowly but surely, their rage has lead to government action. The whole world is watching to see what happens next, but it's important to realize that these protests don't exist in a bubble. The same tactics that work in Hong Kong will work anywhere else in the world, as long as people turn out in large enough numbers. Peaceful protest is great when the government is willing to listen, but "no" is not an acceptable answer.