On Tuesday, 22 June, the trial against the Vial 15 will take place in the court of Mytilini, Lesvos Island. 15 people from different countries have been accused for riots and fire within the EU Hotspot Camp Vial on Chios Island on the night of 18-19 April 2020. The arrests followed protests against the inhumane conditions of Vial camp after a women died in an isolation container.
The 15 defendants are charged with arson with risk to human life, destruction of private property, causing injuries to people and forming a criminal group. As we have seen in many cases such as the recent trial against the Moria 6, they have been arrested without thorough investigation.
The only evidence against most of the defendants is that a police officer claimed to have recognized them in the police data base on his computer based on their appearance such as heigh and hair colour. However, the protests happened at night. The police heavily attacked the protestors with teargas and the people had their faces covered – with masks because of the Covid-19 pandemic and scarfs because of the teargas grenades and the heavy smoke coming from the fire. Only few people were arrested on the same day simply based on the fact that they were carrying lighters or knifes – which are commonplace objects in a camp, needed for cooking and smoking. The majority of the defendants were arrested between two and twenty days after the fire.
At the time, about 7000 people were living in Vial, a camp whose infrastructure is only designed for 1000 people. Most of the people live in an informal area in self-built huts and shelters under fatal hygienic conditions. The 15 people were arrested during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, a period of great insecurity how the virus would affect the camp residents. The Greek and European authorities managing the camps reacted mainly by trying to quarantine the residents in the camps through strict curfews and fines. While people were unable to leave the camp, hardly any medical or hygienic precautions were taken within the camps, making the people feel even more abandoned.
After the death of a 47-year old woman from Iraq, the situation escalated and protests broke out. The woman died, reportedly from either a heart attack or an obstruction. She had been to hospital two days previous with bradycardia and arrhythmias where she was tested for COVID-19 and given medication. Once she returned to Vial, she was locked in one of the new containers outside the camp, as an isolation precaution, and had a panic attack. Her husband found her dead in the container.
No one has been held accountable for the death of the women in Vial camp and all the unknown death within the camps and at sea as well as for the suffering of the people. Instead, 15 people selected on flimsy evidence will now be punished for the destruction of the camp facilities. They have already been punished without any court procedure, being held in pre-trial detention for one year and two months. The court has been postponed twice because of COVID-19, it is the third time that they are transferred in handcuffs to Mytilene Police Station.
Although there is no credible evidence, we are afraid that they will be convicted and criminalized as the scapegoats for the European and Greek migration policies, creating unbearable living conditions in camps on the Greek Islands. We have seen how the Moria 6 were sentenced to 5 and 10 years imprisonment, although the procedure was full of flaws and the only witness of the accusation did not appear in court.
We are tired of watching this senseless destruction of peoples’ lives. The criminalization of migrants’ protests has to stop.
The crime is not that Vial and Moria were burned, the crime is their existence!
Free the Vial 15!