Refugees in Greece demand transfer to Germany, start hunger strike

A girl holds a placard reading, "where is my Mother, where is my Father", as refugees protest, some announcing a hunger strike, as they seek reunification with family members in Germany, near the parliament building in Athens, Greece, November 1, 2017.

By Karolina Tagaris and Deborah Kyvrikosaios

ATHENS (Reuters) – A group of mainly Syrian women and children who have been stranded in Greece pitched tents opposite parliament in Athens on Wednesday in a protest against delays in reuniting with relatives in Germany.

Some of the refugees, who say they have been in Greece for over a year, said they had begun a hunger strike.

“Our family ties our stronger than your illegal agreements,” read a banner held up by one woman, referring to deals on refugees between European Union nations.

Refugees, some announcing a hunger strike, hold placards during a protest as they seek reunification with family members in Germany, near the parliament building in Athens, Greece, November 1, 2017.

Refugees, some announcing a hunger strike, hold placards during a protest as they seek reunification with family members in Germany, near the parliament building in Athens, Greece, November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Greek media have reported that Greece and Germany informally agreed in May to slow down refugee reunification, stranding families in Greece for months after they fled Syria’s civil war. Greece denies this.

“What we’ve managed to do on family reunification is to have an increase of about 27 percent this year compared with last year, even though we’re accused of cutting back family reunification and doing deals to cut back family reunification,” Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas told reporters.

Mouzalas said Greece had assurances from Germany that refugees whose applications have been accepted will eventually go to Germany even if there are delays. He denied that refugees had to pay for their flights.

Applications for asylum, reunification and relocation to other European countries can take months to be processed.

“I have not seen my husband, my child, for more than one year and nine months,” said 32-year-old Syrian Dalal Rashou, who has five children, one of whom is in Germany with her husband.

“I miss him and every day I am here in Greece I cry. I don’t want to stay here, I want to go to my husband” she said.

About 60,000 refugees and migrants, mostly Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis, have become stranded in Greece after border closures in the Balkans halted the onward journey many planned to take to central and western Europe.

Nearly 148,084 refugees and migrants have crossed to Greece from Turkey this year – a fraction of the nearly 1 million arrivals in 2015 – but arrivals have picked up in recent months.

An average of 214 people arrived each day in September, up from 156 in August, 87 in July and 56 in March, Mouzalas said.

The rise has stretched Greek island camps, which are struggling to cope with numbers two to three times their capacity. Most new arrivals are women and children, according to United Nations data.

Mouzalas said the government was in talks with local authorities to move refugees and migrants to local accommodation, including hotels, and it also planned to increase the capacity of some facilities.


(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris and Deborah Kyvrikossaios)


Turkey begins trial of hunger striking teachers amid protests

Riot police detain protesters during the trial of two Turkish teachers, who went on a hunger strike over their dismissal under a government decree following last year's failed coup, outside of a courthouse in Ankara, Turkey, September 14, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

By Ece Toksabay

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish police used tear gas to disperse protesters outside a courthouse in Ankara on Thursday at the start of the trial of two teachers who have been on hunger strike since losing their jobs in a crackdown following last year’s failed coup.

Literature professor Nuriye Gulmen and primary school teacher Semih Ozakca have been surviving on liquids and supplements for six months, and doctors have described their condition as dangerously weak.

They were detained in May over alleged links to the militant leftist DHKP-C group, deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey.

Neither they nor their original lawyers were in court at the start of the hearing. The gendarmerie said the defendants might try to escape from the courtroom, despite their weakened state, and arrest warrants were issued this week for 18 of their lawyers.

Police attempted to break up the protests using tear gas, and riot police were present inside and outside the building. At least 20 protesters were detained, being dragged along the ground in the process.

“The first obstacle before a fair trial was the detention of their lawyers, which also served as a veiled intimidation attempt at the judges trying them. Now they are not brought to court, in an open breach of their right to defend,” said Baris Yarkadas, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

At least a hundred lawyers were present at the courthouse to defend the teachers, along with CHP parliamentarians and the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

The teachers have said their hunger strike aimed to draw attention to the plight of roughly 150,000 people suspended or sacked since last July’s failed putsch, which President Tayyip Erdogan blames on followers of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen denies any involvement.

Last month, the European Court of Human Rights rejected a request by the two teachers to order Ankara to release them on health grounds.

Since the failed coup attempt, some 50,000 people including journalists, opposition figures, civil servants and others have been detained in the crackdown.

Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies accuse the government of using the coup as a pretext to muzzle dissent.

Ankara says the purges are necessary due to the gravity of the threats it faces.

(Writing by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Weakened but defiant, Turkish hunger strikers protest purge

Nuriye Gulmen, a literature professor, and Semih Ozakca, a primary school teacher, who have been on hunger strike after they both lost their jobs in a crackdown following a failed July coup against President Tayyip Erdogan, take part in a protest against a government purge in Ankara, Turkey, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Alp Eren Kaya

By Ece Toksabay

ANKARA (Reuters) – Painfully thin and walking with care after two months on hunger strike, Nuriye Gulmen and Semih Ozakca arrive in a central Ankara square to protest a government purge which has cost them and tens of thousands of other Turks their jobs and livelihoods.

Arriving to applause at their daily demonstration, they don surgical masks to reduce the risk of infection in their weakened state, before raising their left fists in the air and chanting: “Victory belongs to those who resist!”

Gulmen, a literature professor, and Ozakca, a primary school teacher, have been on hunger strike for 64 days after they both lost their jobs in a crackdown following a failed July coup against President Tayyip Erdogan.

Surviving on a liquid diet of lemon and saltwater and sugar solutions, Gulmen and Ozakca have protested the purge with a simple campaign slogan: “I want my job back!”

But their defiance it taking its toll, and doctors say their health is seriously deteriorating.

“Both of them are experiencing issues regarding perception, mood disorders, mental and motor activities,” said Vedat Bulut, board chairman of Ankara Chamber of Medical Doctors.

He said those symptoms were early signs of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a condition which leads to death in 10-15 percent of patients. “Seventy-seven percent lose their lives due to infections in the long run,” Bulut added.

Gulmen, who has lost 8 kg (18 pounds) and Ozakca, who lost 17 kg (37 pounds), have refused treatment, saying they were aware of the consequences of their resistance.

“We have lost weight, our pulse and blood pressure has dropped, we have problems walking and we are exhausted,” Gulmen told Reuters at the square where she first started protesting six months ago, several months before she stopped eating.

“We were always aware of the risks. We don’t want to stay hungry for another minute. We are calling on everyone concerned to solve the problem with those responsible.”


So far, 145,000 state employees including civil servants, academics and security personnel have been fired since the coup attempt, which Erdogan blamed on followers of U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen denies any involvement.

Critics accuse the government of using the coup as a pretext to purge dissident voices from public institutions.

Victims of the purge complain that the stigma which comes with losing their jobs makes it almost impossible to find work that matches their qualifications.

Job seekers say that potential employers are notified on the social security network that the applicant has been purged – making them reluctant to take him or her on.

Some try to find their own work to make ends meet – selling food on the streets or going from door to door in major cities selling goods brought from rural provinces.

“The doors are closed on you when you are purged by a decree. You can’t be employed. They are trying to discipline people by hunger, by isolation, by shame,” said Ozakca’s wife Esra, who also lost her teaching job teacher.

Gulmen was an academic at Eskisehir Osmangazi University, one of more than 7,880 academics who have been sacked by executive decree without chance to appeal.

Since they started their protest, she and Ozakca have been detained and released more than 30 times. She goes to Ankara’s Yuksel Street and, banner in hand, demands her job back from the foot of a sculpture that features a woman reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

While their protest remains isolated for now, they were joined this week by four parliament members from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who staged a symbolic 24-hour hunger strike in solidarity with them.

“We are not only trying to get our jobs back, we are also in a struggle for our honor,” Semih Ozakca told Reuters.

“If we act together, we will definitely win. Our victory will mean the break up of the fear atmosphere the government is trying to create in Turkey.”

(Editing by Dominic Evans and Pritha Sarkar)

Palestinian hunger strike heightens tension with Israel

Palestinians take part in a protest in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, in Gaza City May 9, 2017. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

By Luke Baker and Nidal al-Mughrabi

JERUSALEM/GAZA (Reuters) – A hunger strike by more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners over their treatment in Israeli jails has turned into a heated dispute over whether the leader of the protest secretly broke the fast, and whether Israel tempted him to do so.

The strike, which began on April 17, followed a call by Marwan Barghouti, the most high-profile Palestinian in Israeli detention, for a protest against poor conditions and an Israeli policy of detention without trial that has applied to thousands of prisoners since the 1980s.

Barghouti, a leader of the Fatah movement, has seen his popularity grow among Palestinians since he was convicted of murder over the killing of Israelis during the second intifada and sentenced in 2004 to five life terms. Surveys show many Palestinians want him to be their next president.

While hunger strikes are not uncommon among the 6,500 Palestinians in Israeli jails, many of whom were convicted of attacks or planning attacks against Israel, this is one of the largest yet. If sustained it could present a challenge to Israel ahead of a visit by U.S. President Donald Trump on May 22.

It is also likely to raise tensions between Israel and the Palestinians as the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem approaches in early June.

At the start of the strike, a group of Israeli settlers held a barbecue in the parking lot of one of the prisons, an apparent effort to taunt those inside who were not eating.

On Sunday, Israel’s public security minister, who says the strike is politically motivated, accused Barghouti of secretly consuming cookies and chocolate bars, and the government released footage from the Israel Prison Service.

“He lied to the Palestinian public when he claimed to be striking,” said Gilad Erdan. “Israel will not give in to extortion and pressure from terrorists.”


The footage, two videos shot days apart from a camera mounted on the ceiling of the cell, do not conclusively show that the prisoner is Barghouti, 58, and it is not entirely clear what he is eating or whether he is doing so.

On Monday, following questions about how the video came to light, Erdan suggested Israeli prison guards had tempted Barghouti with the food. Since he is held in solitary confinement, he would not have been able to smuggle it in.

“You’ve got to understand, without me going into detail, that in order to lead him to this situation, a great many actions were taken,” Erdan told Army Radio. “They got results.”

Barghouti’s wife, Fadwa, has denounced the video, saying it is an effort to discredit her husband, and suggested the footage may well have been taken in 2004.

“It was not surprising what the occupation did and the fabrications they have tried to spread,” she told Reuters. “Such an act has unveiled the ugly face of the Israeli occupation.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the health of the strikers was deteriorating and Israel needed to act.

“I am afraid some unfortunate things could happen to those prisoners which may complicate things further, therefore, I urge the Israeli government to accept their humanitarian demands,” he said during a news conference in Ramallah.

Fadwa and other wives and relatives have had no access to the hunger strikers, a situation the International Committee for the Red Cross, the United Nations and other organizations are trying to resolve with Israel.

She said ICRC officials told her the Israeli prison authority had prevented them from seeing her husband.

Suhair Zakout, a spokeswoman for the ICRC in Gaza, said the group had visited most of the prisoners taking part in the strike to check on their health and ensure Israel does not try to force them to eat.

Israel has resorted to force-feeding in the past, even though Israel’s Medical Association opposes the policy as a form of torture. It has urged Israeli doctors not to carry it out.

(Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails begin hunger strike

A Palestinian protester hurls back a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during clashes following a protest in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ali Sawafta

GAZA/RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails began a hunger strike on Monday in response to a call by prominent prisoner Marwan Barghouti, widely seen as a possible future Palestinian president.

Palestinians termed the open-ended strike a protest against poor conditions and an Israeli policy of detention without trial that has been applied against thousands since the 1980s.

Israel said the move by the prisoners, many of whom were convicted of attacks or planning attacks against Israel, was politically motivated.

The protest was led by Barghouti, 58, a leader of the mainstream Fatah movement of the Palestine Liberation Organization, serving five life terms after being convicted of murder in the killing of Israelis in a 2000-2005 uprising.

The strike, if sustained, could present a challenge to Israel and raise tensions between the two sides as the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip approaches in June.

Israeli troops and settlers pulled out of the Gaza Strip, now run by Hamas Islamists, in 2005, but peace talks on the creation of a Palestinian state collapsed with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2014.

In an opinion piece in the New York Times on Monday, Barghouti said a strike was the only way to gain concessions after other options had failed.

“Through our hunger strike, we seek an end to these abuses … Palestinian prisoners and detainees have suffered from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment and medical negligence. Some have been killed while in detention,” he wrote.

Israeli and Palestinian media reports said Barghouti had been moved from the prison where he was being held in central Israel to another in the north and was isolated from other prisoners. The Prisons Service did not initially comment on his status.


Israel denies Palestinian inmates are mistreated, and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said the Barghouti-led protest was “prompted by internal Palestinian politics and therefore includes unreasonable demands”.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “The Palestinian prisoners are not political prisoners. They are convicted terrorists and murderers. They were brought to justice and are treated properly under international law.”

Palestinian officials said some 1,500 inmates affiliated with all political factions including rival Fatah and Hamas were taking part in the protest. An Israel Prisons Service spokesman said some 1,100 inmates at eight jails had joined the strike.

Almost 6,500 Palestinians are being held in 22 Israeli prisons, said Qadoura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club that advocates on behalf of the inmates.

The Prisoners’ Club said a main demand was for Israel to halt detention without trial for some 500 Palestinians currently being held, and for an end to solitary confinement.

The strikers also want better medical treatment and that disabled inmates or those suffering chronic illness be freed, access to more television channels and more phone contact with relatives and more family visits.

The strike prompted a large rally in Gaza and a protest broke out near the occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem where Palestinian demonstrators clashed with Israeli forces.

Palestinians consider brethren held in Israeli jails as national heroes. Long-term mass hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners are rare, but in past cases of individual inmates who stopped eating for weeks, detention terms were shortened or not renewed after they were hospitalized in critical condition.

Erdan said a field hospital would be erected next to one prison – an apparent move to pre-empt transfers to civilian medical facilities, which could draw wider media attention.

Abbas, 82, said in a statement that efforts would continue to secure prisoners’ freedom. He condemned what he called Israel’s intransigence in the face of “fair” prisoner demands.

(Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Ori Lewis, Jeffrey Heller and Alison Williams)

Doctors turn militant over Venezuela’s health crisis

Patients lie in hospital beds in the hallway of Venezuelan hospital

By Corina Pons

MERIDA, Venezuela Reuters) – A dozen doctors hold a hunger strike in the corridors of an Andean city hospital. In another provincial city, hundreds of protesting medics suspend appointments.

In the capital, staff from a pediatric hospital wave placards at the entrance to a hospital pleading for aid.

Not usually active in politics, many of the OPEC nation’s 40,000 doctors are becoming increasingly militant over drastic shortages of medicines, equipment and personnel amid a punishing economic crisis.

With eight out of 10 medicines now scarce, according to the main pharmacy group, protesting doctors are demanding that President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government declare a national health crisis and allow foreign humanitarian aid.

“I started to see patients, both in the operating theater and in the emergency ward, dying for lack of medicines,” said David Macineiras, a 30-year-old orthopedic surgeon and one of 12 doctors who went on hunger strike at the main state hospital in the western highland city of Merida.

“They arrive in bad conditions and we can’t even get adrenaline to deal with a cardiac arrest,” he said, describing the case of a woman who died for lack of adrenaline. Macineiras himself was hospitalized for four days after his hunger strike.

The protests involve a small percentage of doctors, in part because medics – especially younger ones – depend on the state to complete their residencies and studies and so have good reason to avoid conflict.

Doctors who hold high-ranking positions in public health acknowledge there are problems, but insist that none are sufficiently severe as to put patient lives at risk.

Christian Pino, a surgeon at the Merida hospital who also joined the strike, insists the opposite is true.

He recently operated on an elderly woman who due to chronic hospital shortages had to bring her own supplies, including saline solution. It ran out before the operation finished.

“In post-op, we didn’t have any serum to hydrate her, so the patient died,” he said at the hospital where stretchers packed corridors and incubators stood abandoned with handwritten signs saying they were out of service.

In June, Pino read a list of doctors’ demands in Venezuela’s National Assembly before the opposition-led legislature declared a state of medical emergency and approved channels for foreign humanitarian aid.

“I prefer to raise my voice with my colleagues than be an accomplice to this,” Pino said.

But the government-leaning Supreme Court shot down the assembly’s proposal. Government officials deny Venezuela is facing a humanitarian crisis and say there is no need for humanitarian assistance.

Maduro is fiercely proud of health advances under the 1999-2013 rule of socialist leader Hugo Chavez, and he says adversaries are exaggerating the problems now.

“There is no humanitarian crisis, I say it with absolute responsibility,” Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez recently told an Organization of American States meeting on Venezuela.


Up-to-date data is hard to find, but what little is available points to a severe deterioration.

Health ministry statistics show that in 2015 for every 100 people discharged from state hospitals, 31 died – a rate six times higher than the previous year. Infant mortality was 2 percent of births last year, 100 times worse than 2014.

It is a huge challenge for the ruling Socialist Party which, under Chavez, ran enormously popular free health projects such as Cuban-staffed clinics in the slums but is now finding its welfare programs stretched.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Venezuela and Guyana were the only countries in South America to see maternal death rates worsen last year.

Health Minister Luisana Melo recently recognized health sector problems but said authorities are working to reduce the rates of infant mortality and death during childbirth.

She said shortages only affect around 15 percent of medicines and that Venezuelans tend to consume more medicine than they need to.

The government says a U.S.-backed “economic war” by political opponents and hostile business groups has caused the crisis, exacerbated by a plunge in the price of oil, which accounts for 95 percent of export revenues.

Huge lines snake around most pharmacies from before dawn, with some people staying all night to stake a place. Rowdy scenes are common, and soldiers guard the crowds.

In Merida, orthopedic surgeon Carlos Hidalgo said he joined the hunger strike after a patient arrived with an open fracture of the tibia and femur and there was no saline solution to clean the wound.

“They went to a kiosk and bought water to wash him with that,” he said. An infection set in and the patient’s leg was amputated.

“That’s why we protested, not because of our working conditions,” said Hidalgo, who makes 16,000 bolivars a month, equivalent to about $25 at the weaker of two official exchange rates and just $16 on the black market.

Some doctors are also worried about their legal liability. Medics in the city of Barquisimeto decided to ask patients’ relatives to sign a permission slip acknowledging the poor conditions they were working under.

At hospitals there, medics have held two strikes this year. Surgeries were halted on a recent day due to lack of gloves.

Idabelias Arias, the head of the emergency ward at a pediatric hospital in Barquisimeto, has had to use basic CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) to revive children for lack of adrenaline. “Doctors are doing war medicine here.”

(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Kieran Murray)