1. You are a member of the Coordination of trade unions, student unions and solidarity groups with refugees and migrants. Can you explain how this Coordination came to be and what your job is?
My name is Pavlos Antonopoulos and I work as a teacher in secondary public education. The setting up of the Coordination was decided on the basis of the class solidarity, as the number of the refugees was growing day after day, and there were no public structures for receiving and assisting the thousands of people, coming mainly through the Aegean Sea. So the immediate intervention for their support and enforcement was becoming an imperative human duty. At the same time, the existence of the fence in Evros made the maritime access the unique possible option for those persecuted people, leading to the drowning decades of children, women, men and elderly persons every day. The only solution for us to prevent the murders of thousands of refugees was the tearing down of the fence. We estimated that this was one of the most important tasks for the People’s Movement (grass-root movement) and we undertook to organize it.
2. I see you refer to both refugees and migrants. How is it so? What's the difference in terms of living conditions and rights for them in Greece?
In our Coordination we do not distinguish people coming to our country into categories. It is the E.U and the Greek government who separate them, according to the agreements they have signed. The economic refugees fleeing their homelands, as the imperialistic policies pursued upon them have impoverished them and rendered their stay in their own countries impossible, are not recognised as refugees. Therefore, according to the new agreement between the EU and Turkey, they will be sent back to Turkey. For the implementation of this agreement, Greece recognizes Turkey as a safe country, while no other E.U. country does. Because of that, the refugees, after sorting, are separated into those who have the right to seek asylum and those who do not have this right and are sent back to Turkey where they are directly imprisonned.
3. Do the refugees/migrants have agency? Do they get to have their say in the management of the "refugees’ crisis"? How do they get to decide and express what they need/want? How are they organized? Do they have their representatives?
Nobody is interested in the refugees’ organization, and of course they do not have the possibility to claim their rights in an organised way. That’ s one of the main reasons we decided to set up the coordination: help the refugees to get organised and decisively claim their rights with them. On the contrary, the NGOs limit their action in providing food and the essential for refugees’ survival and nothing else. Many times we have come into conflict with them, because they are offended by our intervention and, in cooperation with the government and the media who are bothered by our action, they try to stop us.
4. The refugees have said in countless occasions that "we don't want water, we don't want food, we want you open the borders now". What is the best way to force the opening of the borders at some stage? Should we establish some kind of international coordination to launch a campaign to force the opening of the borders?
The right of refugees to choose their country of destination is enshrined by the Geneva Refugee Convention. The European Union Governments, although they are responsible along with the US and NATO for the war in the Middle East and for misery in African countries (Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and African countries), prohibit refugees to exercise their legitimate right to choose their destination country, by raising fences across Europe and trapping them in Greece and now in Turkey. It is an issue concerning the workers and all European countries’ peoples to fight together, in ordrer to impose on their governments the opening of the borders, and stand against the racists and fascists who, with the backing of the European governments, pursue this policy.
5. What's your outlook for the following six months? How do you think the "refugees crisis" is going to evolve?
After the EU Governments refusal to open their borders and receive those suffering people, we try to organize this reality so as to offer them our maximum assistance. Firtsly, we struggle for the principle of non-refoulement to be observed and to prevent the refugees’ return to Turkey. Secondly, we struggle to close the concentration camps organised by the government throughout the country, and to permit refugees to live a normal life, the same as the rest of the inhabitants in this country. Thirdly, we struggle for the recognition of equal rights for the refugees, the right to work and equal working conditions with Greek workers, the right to humane living conditions. Last, we struggle for the withdrawal of NATO and FRONTEX form the Aegean Sea, because they are the source of war and imperialist interventions in the surrounding areas (Syria, Libya, etc)
6. As for international solidarity, in Catalonia there are many initiatives in place, to collect food, clothes and money to either bring directly or ship to Greece, and many volunteers are going there to help. What's the best way to proceed in your opinion? Is material and human aid needed? Or is there a bigger need of money? Who are the acceptable counterparts for this solidarity in your opinion?
How does the revolutionary left feel about these shows of international (ist?) solidarity? Is there a feeling of paternalism from "Western" Europeans intervening in Greece, as if the local movements were not capable of deciding what's to be done and of responding to the current situation?
Although workers in our country have seen their wages being severely cut in the last years, due to the Greek Governments’ policies after the decision and with the support of the E.U. and the IMF, although the unemployment rate has now exceeded the 25% of our workforce, Greek people daily offers assistance and supports refugees in their battle for living. It is therefore necessary that the totality of the workers in the European countries organize a strong movement of solidarity, in order to put an end to the imperialist interventions in the area, to open the borders for the refugees, and change the policies pursued by the EU countries that are against the interests of the workers and the grass-roots class. For this reason, we organised a big demonstration at the greek-turkish borders, in order to put pressure on our both governments to abolish the fence, we established contacts with the Turkish trade unions and we co-signed a declaration in Kessani, Turkey, agreeing to join our forces in this direction. We are also trying to develop an anti-war movement by organising gatherings and demonstrations all over the country, demanding the end of the war, the closing of the NATO’s military bases in our Greece, the withdrawal of NATO from the Aegean Sea, the end of the imperialist interventions in the area.
7. And what's your view regarding the task of NGOs at Idomeni, Piraeus, etc.?
Broadly speaking, they assist the Government by undertaking its own tasks and obligations, receiving an economic advantage for this assistance, organising and providing humanitarian aid. On the other hand, they impede people in solidarity, who are organised in trade unions and collectivities, to intervene and help the refugees to organise themselves and fight together with the Greek workers for their rights. They are acting in collaboration with the government which materially prohibits our interventions, by repressive measures too, going as far as to exacerbate the trade unions’ action, threatening us with judicial proceedings, as it recently happened in Piraeus. Nevertheless, we insist on continuing our struggle and we do not give in to pressures. We organise our resistance through gatherings and demonstrations, along with the refugees, we demand their rights to be respected, we inform the refugees about them, and we help them to get organised in the anti-war movement.
8. A few words about the makeup of solidarity groups at the port, in Idomeni, on Lesvos...? And what about the squats in Athens?
It is very difficult for us to intervene in Idomeni, because the only aim of people gathering there is the opening of the borders. This is something that we cannot do. We may achieve this aim, if we all act together. People stay there because they hope that Europeans will someday open the borders. We believe that they won’t, unless they are forced by all of us. Some refugees, with our assistance, go to Thessaloniki and demonstrate for the opening of the borders. Now, at the port our intervention is more effective. We have already organised two demonstrations in common with the refugees and we inform them daily on things that interest them and we support them. On the islands we provide our support, too, and we try to protect them from the fascist attacks and the governmental policies.
9. [The most important question] What do the Greek anticapitalist left and the Greek social movements want us to do (if anything at all)?
To build up, all together, a solidarity movement that would claim the rights of refugees, an anti-war movement against the imperialist interventions in the area, a movement that denounces the policies of the E.U., the USA and the local governments, as the government of Turkey, Katar and Saudi-Arabia, who are part of the problem.
10. Last question: the EU-Turkey Agreement was passed with the support of all 28 member States, and is being implemented by a supposedly left-wing government. What's your political assessment of Syriza's stance in this issue, and by extension of the European left?
This Agreement is a wretched agreement that in actual fact denies the rights of refugees, provided by the International Conventions up to now. Thousands of refugees are trapped in Greece and in Turkey, they are forced to live under miserable conditions, they are sent from Greece back to Turkey, where some of them commit suicide, while the rest are put in jail and their hopes for a better life vanish. This is an inhuman agreement. SYRIZA, by accepting this agreement, proves once again that it has nothing to do with the Left and therefore it is not entitled to speak on behalf of it. European workers cannot invest in such governments. Our only hope is in our struggles, in our union and in our faith in a society without exploitation, without wars, without refugees.
11. Could you please send me a picture of you, and how you want us to introduce you?
Member of the Coordination of trade unions, student unions and solidarity groups with refugees and migrants, member of the Anticapitalist Front ΑΝΤΑΡΣΥΑ