Submit an Article

Please use this feature to submit any articles that you would like the Green European Foundation to publish. Please include a short bio on the author and details on the copyright. Articles can be submitted in English, French, Hungarian, Dutch, Spanish, or German. If the original article is in any other language, please submit a short description of the piece in any of the above languages and GEJ can consider translation. The GEJ Editorial Board reserves final right to decide on publication. Download our article guidelines PDF

File uploader. Accepts .rtf, .doc, .docx and .txt file formats up to 3MB in size.


Green European Foundation Mobile Site
Contact Us:
Green European Journal

The European venue
for Green ideas

Journal Articles by Language

Criminalising Solidarity: When helping refugees becomes a risk

The influx of refugees to the shores of Greek islands has generally been met with overwhelming support from locals, eager to provide much needed aid to the refugees. However, on the island of Lesbos, volunteers have seen their compassion met with resistance, even to the point of seeing their efforts criminalised in a bid to deter them.

Press, volunteers and locals greet an inflatable boat carrying Syrian refugees as it arrives on the northern shore of the island of Lesbos in the evening. There is hardly any organised help for the refugees in Lesbos.  Volunteers from the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway are among the people who provide water, dry clothes and assistance for the newly arrived refugees. Around 2.000 refugees arrive on Lesbos island on most days.  
The summer of 2015 saw a huge increase in the number of migrants and refugees arriving in Italy and Greece, wanting to enter the European Union and make their way to Northern Europe to find work or claim asylum. Greece has become a major transit country for people making the short crossing from the Turkish mainland to Greek islands near the Turkish coast.

In Greece in 2015, and especially in the North Aegean, we saw an amazing wave of solidarity among Greeks and foreigners working together to help to manage the huge wave of refugees arriving on the shores. In recent days in the Greek islands we are seeing things change as paranoia emerges along with cries to “control” the volunteers and the NGOs. This common sentiment, which is echoed throughout the European Union, is expressed in headlines reading: “Our Islands Are an Unfenced Vineyard” and “Volunteers and NGOs Roaming Free.”

In Molivos-Petra, the touristic heart of the island and also the place where the majority of the refugees are arriving, groups of business people and other individuals have demanded that the Municipal Council of the island forbid any activities to help the refugees “within the settled areas” of the island. The problem is that boats will continue to arrive in these areas. These groups also asked the Municipal Council to forbid all but a few of the major volunteer groups from working in the island because, they said, the presence of many volunteers creates a bad impression for tourism.

Cracking down on aid

There is no doubt that the refugee crisis has affected tourism on the island. Nor is there any doubt that groups of volunteers working to save lives have had little extra time to meet to co-ordinate their efforts. At the same time, to diminish the numbers of volunteers will most likely result in death and could return the island to the situation of chaos it experienced last summer when refugees were camping on street corners and walking along the side of the roads to reach the capital city. Instead of blaming the volunteers, efforts should be made to help them to coordinate their efforts so that they can do an even better job.

Instead, the Greek government authorities with the support of Frontex have begun to assert legal control over the volunteers. Last week the Building Department sent inspectors to visit the emergency camps set up along the north coast of Lesbos to provide medical assistance, dry clothing, food, and temporary shelter to refugees arriving along the shoreline. The inspectors indicated that they would be issuing fines for any structures built without permission from their offices. In the same days, the Coast Guard with the aid of Frontex arrested seven foreign volunteer lifeguards patrolling the sea in order to save refugees when their boats capsize or their boat’s motor fails. They were charged with aiding the illegal immigrants to enter Greece. Following a twelve hour preliminary hearing, they were released on bail and ordered to return for a trial that could lead to fines or imprisonment. At the same time, three volunteers were apprehended by the police for removing abandoned life jackets from the town dump in order to use them to make mattresses for the refugee camps. Though charges were not pressed, the volunteers were informed that everything in the town dump belongs to the Municipality.

This process, if continued, will only demonstrate the inability of the Greek government and the European Union to manage the refugee crisis in appropriate ways. If the letter rather than the spirit of the law is followed, all of the volunteer efforts and all of the volunteer groups can be declared illegal. Given the archaic nature of the legal system of Greece, it is likely that ways can be found to block every effort to aid the refugees.

Criminalising the provision of basic human rights

Fishermen who rescue refugees from the sea can be charged with aiding illegal immigration. Volunteers who cook in public spaces can be charged for not having secured public health permits. Volunteer doctors can be charged with working in Greece without having their licenses to be reviewed and approved by the national government. Volunteers who pitch tents in public spaces can be charged with violating laws forbidding camping in public spaces. Volunteers who help to change the wet clothes of shivering children might be charged with molesting them. Photographers could be charged with violating military space on the coastlines. Those who donate food, clothing, and other supplies could be charged for not providing receipts. And finally, volunteers choosing to work in small groups without large donor bases, high overhead, bank accounts, and tax numbers can be prohibited from offering to help.

Instead of looking for ways to deter the volunteers, the Greek and European Union authorities ought to consider the illegality of their own activities. They are required by European law to offer asylum to refugees of war. Is it ethical to close the Schengen borders? Should they be harassing and arresting volunteers, whose work is necessary to save the lives and dignity of refugees protected by European law?

It is short-sighted to blame the refugee crisis on the volunteers or to imagine that the refugees will stop coming if there are no volunteers to meet them. The refugees are leaving their homes because their homelands have been made unsafe by war. It is time for all of us, Greeks and other citizens of Europe, to stop complaining about what the refugees are taking from us and to join together with others to help them. Then, when this crisis is over, even if we are still poor as when it began, we will be able to say that in the time of a great humanitarian crisis, we did what we could to aid those who were suffering.

Date Published


Authors for this article


This Article is In The Debate

See all articles In the debate


  1. Wow – this is so sad. The people act with love and compassion and the governments seek to enflame hate in our hearts. My heart is with everyone in Lesvos, working so hard to help those fleeing war and terror.

  2. There are 2 billion people living in extreme poverty and/or in war. The greens will be totally satisfied when Europe also will become a third world country with millions of hungry people, due to immigration. I thought the greens new better than any other political party how resource scarcity and overpopulation can destroy a country. It looks like this is not the case.

  3. […] medical tent and pushing for local government to ban independent volunteers from the island and to forbid any aid work ‘within settled areas.' Following the crackdown on volunteers was a blockade against the […]

Write a comment

“We Cannot Support Violence of Any Kind” – The Challenge of Doing Politics in the Midst of Conflict

In the debate, 08/02/16


“We Cannot Support Violence of Any Kind” – The Challenge of Doing Politics in the Midst of Conflict

The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a coalition of Left-wing, Kurdish and progressive parties, was founded in in 2012 in order to help smaller parties amplify their voices and gain access to the Turkish Parliament, where the electoral system stacks the odds strongly against them. In both the 2014 and subsequently recalled 2015 parliamentary elections, the party succeeded in winning over 10% of the vote, the necessary threshold for entering Parliament.

Decision Making: Living in Sympathy with Our Human Environment

In the debate, 16/02/16


Decision Making: Living in Sympathy with Our Human Environment

No-one has the right to rule by force of arms, violence; and no one has the right to dominate others by force of numbers: majority voting. So how should the Greens in particular, and society in general, make democratic decisions? Obviously, any minority diktat is unacceptable. But is majority rule the best alternative? And how best should the will of the majority be determined?

Social Web
  • Subscribe
    to the Journal

    Please submit your contact details if you wish to receive updates on the GEJ. You will receive an online version of our quarterly and a monthly update on our latest articles.

    Rest assured your information will not be transmitted to any third party.

    Foundation behind
    the Journal

    The Green European Foundation is the European level political foundation affiliated to the Green political family.

    GEF aims to contribute to a lively European sphere of debate and to ‘Europeanise’ the political debate within and beyond the Greens.

    The views expressed in the Green European Journal are those of the authors alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the Green European Foundation or the Green European Journal.

    Green European Foundation

    The Green European Foundation is the European level political foundation affiliated to the Green political family.
    With the financial support of the European Parliament. Contact Us: