Κυριακή, 27 Δεκεμβρίου 2009

Immigrants without papers - people in parenthesis

Until a few years ago, the term "immigrant" had a positive meaning and referred solely to the Greek immigrant to Germany, to Australia, to USA...
At that point, somewhere around 1990-1991, the term "immigrant" changed meaning and significance. Its meaning became negative and from then on referred to the Albanian immigrant to Greece.

The last four years, climaxing in the election for the European Parliament in 2009, the term "immigrant" re-acquired its positive meaning, in contrast with a new category and term that was created, that of the illegal immigrant.

The illegal immigrant (also known as: illegitimate immigrant or immigrant without papers, non-register migrant or undocumented migrant) is none other, in a European level too, from the “undesirable immigrant”.

Henceforth even the most progressive of governments, international fora, legislations and directives have raised an impenetrable wall from Dublin to Stockholm, between the immigrant and the illegal immigrant. As if the first, the good one, has two legs, while the second one, the bad, has three.

The first one is entitled to laws of naturalization, political rights, civil rights, citizenship. The second kind of immigrant, the “bad one”, is entitled to be repatriation, deportation, the refoulement, and the fortification the borders against them.

Is it like that though? Is this distinction so explicit? And who is the illegal immigrant, anyway?

The modern immigrant, the “good” one, before becoming legal, was also illegal, in other words, he entered in the country in an illegal way, or stayed in it with not legal ways, until the state decided to legitimize his and give him some kind of legal status.

The modern illegal immigrant, the “bad” immigrant is just someone that the state has not provided him with any legal status.

Inside this big conglomeration of immigrants one will find many categories. From the political refugee, to the environmental-induced refugee, to the developmental-induced refugee, to the economic immigrant. They mainly come from Central Africa (Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Nigeria) and Asia (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Bangladesh). The majority of them are neither pure economic immigrants nor political refugees but people “in between” these two big categories. In any way, this is a case of forced migration – where emigrating is not a luxury but a matter of pure survival. Thus, their age range differs from the pure economic immigrants. Those, are usually young people, between 20-30 years of age. In the “illegal immigrants” one can find all age ranges.

The process currently – and I hope not for long more – used by our country is the following:
Whoever enters the country without following the legitimate processes is arrested, (note that there is no possibility for someone to come with a legitimate process), and taken to the Special Areas for Housing Foreigners or detention centers (frontier centers for guarding immigrants). In these reservations, the non legal immigrant will remain for 2, 3, 4 or 5 months, depending on the availability of free space in the buildings. During that time, he remains under lock in a considerably dirty cell together with many other foreign immigrants, does not have yard time, he is malnourished, he gets sick – suicide attempts are not infrequent. Nothing will happen while he remains/is jailed in this area, nobody will talk to him about his rights and obligations, nobody will prepare him for the day after. When he is finally set free, the Authorities will provide him with the
paperwork for Administrative Deportation, with which he is allowed to stay in the country for a month, a ticket to Athens by train or boat and a map of the historical centre of Athens.

The African will end up in Amerikis Square, the Afghan will go to Attikis Square and the rest will end up in Omonoia – at the ghettos we ourselves created.

Thus the young girls will be branded “Nigerians” and will sell their bodies in Geraniou Street and other such streets, the Africans will end up as street vendors selling bags and CDs, the Pakistanis and the Bangladeshis will sell flowers and clean car windows. Lastly, unaccompanied minors will hide in Patras and Igoumenitsa, hoping that they will be able to escape Greece and end up in Northern Europe.

After the month has passed, the foreigner will be arrested and will remain for 1-2 months in a cell in the police stations of Omonoia, Akropolis, Agios Panteleimonas. When they are released they will again be provided with an Administrative Deportation paper, which allows him to stay in the country for a month, and so on and so forth.

We are content to believe that this model constitutes an immigration policy. And in a perverted way it does. The target of this model is the reduction of the flow of immigrants. It is based on the following logic: You will have such a bad time in Greece so you will end up telling your friends how ugly things are in Greece, so that they will not want to come over. Overly childish, I would say.

This model ignores the fact that these people neither do they choose with any rational criteria to leave their country, nor has Greece been their choice. The right to life is what they seek, when they leave in the middle of the night with a baby in their arms, for a destination anywhere in Europe, except Greece, (they know well what kind of hell Greece is), but Greece is the first gate of the European Union. So they end up trapped here, because the gate to the other European countries is hermetically sealed.

These people being in fact hostages we, both as individuals and as a state, choose to exploit them in various ways, with mischief.

The main sector is labour. By maintaining a high number or workers without a legal status, we strengthen “black” labour. This in fact constitutes a state policy of giving an indirect benefit to the middle class. Considerably benefited are the owners of houses, which rent their half-demolished tenements for exorbitant prices. But the various bosses that will have them perform work, only to call the police to arrest the illegal immigrants when the time for paying salaries comes, are benefitted too. Finally, there will always exist the few lawyers that will approach them and will offer them false hopes, in exchange for a hefty amount of money, before they disappear.

In reality, there, in the ghetto, the immigrants constitute a giant curtain behind which illegal economy and illegality in general flourish. For him, the resort to fringe behaviour is a rational choice – the only way of survival. For us though, it is a successful model of economy: drugs, prostitution, black work market.

The greatest profit though is they constitute an easily handled population for the intimidation of society – the victim of Western politics, in Greece constitutes the absolute offender. They are responsible for everything.

It is an old story: from the leper to the mad and then on to the immigrant and now to the illegal immigrant – The creation of scapegoats.

Everyone is exploiting the situation – each one in his own way.

Even the political forms of expression: The Right Wingers, Extreme Rightists and Nationalists face the illegal immigrants as the new subject of the revolution – the former as its apotheosis, the latter with its extermination.

The immigrants themselves though hardly understand all these Western games and the only thing they are interested in, the only thing they claim is their right to life.
EU, of course, is far from innocent: All that is a result of European choices.

For EU the illegal immigrant is a backup army of workers. They maintain it in Greece and when there is a need for it, they man a few. Cherry picking.

Are there any solutions? Obviously, there are. The first thing we have to do as a society is to stop being frightened of “the other”, “the foreigner”, “the alien”.

Immigration is like a storm. A natural phenomenon, that always took place and always will. What we ought to do is utilize policies that will maximize the benefits and decrease the costs.

I will finish with a little story – that of Manolis Delaportas.
A year ago, in a festival for immigrants, I saw a gentleman, in his fifties, evidently of African origin (black). A name card on his lapel had his name: Manolis Delaportas. I approached him, asked him and he explained: “My grandfather was from Kefalonia and he emigrated to Ethiopia. He met my grandmother. They got married. They had kids – one of them was my father. He, in turn, met my mother. They got married, had children. They gave me my grandfather’s name”. Now, Manolis Delaportas came to Greece, seeking a better life, as an illegal immigrant. It’s that simple.

Thank you.

*Speech of Ms.Afrodite Al Salech in the event hosted by Doctors Without Borders, with subject: Immigrants without papers, asking for asylum, refugees: An vulnerable population, 16/12/2009

Πέμπτη, 26 Νοεμβρίου 2009

In Saliou's own words

By Afrodite Al Salech
Photos: Manolis Papadakis
The translation belongs to Giannis

_____________________________________________________________

I met Saliou the day he was born, when his parents called me to help. Since then I observe him grow and not a day goes by that I do not think the kind of life we have condemned this kid to live, just like many other kids. That is how this text came to be - it's a narrative Saliou whispered to me...

***

Hi,
they call me Saliou, I'm fifteen months old, my daddy's called Masaba and he comes from Senegal and my mommy is... oh, my daddy says that I should not speak about my mom because he says she is illegal. Well, she's not bad, she just doesn't have the papers, (don't ask me what "papers" means, I don't know) and came to Greece in secret, because daddy loved her very much and did not went her to be away from him. Oh, I get it; "papers" is something that keeps mommy away from daddy.

my first day in this world? Oh, mommy was shouting a lot. And daddy was shouting, but on the phone. But the doctors would not come and dad left to go get help elsewhere. When first I saw my mom, she had blood all over her. She could not take me close to her because I was tied with something, which she had to cut with her teeth. Then my dad came, hugged us in tears and told us he would never leave us again.

generally speaking, I'm having a good time. I go often to daddy's store and I like it when the kids that sell bags come over. Sometimes I don't like it that much, because they return and they are sad and tell my dad they had the bags taken from them and they don't have money and then dad gives them money and we all eat together and it becomes better again.

I have no more stories from my life to tell you, but I can tell you the story of the life I will live.

in a few years I will be going to school. But there, the other kids will not be like me. The other kids will be white and they will have a mommy. I mean, I will have a mommy too, but she will not be taking me to school because mom does not have papers. In school, in the beginning, the other kids will not love me and they will not play with me, but then they will love me because I will love them too. Only the teachers won't be able to pronounce my name, but this is not so bad because all the kids will laugh with this.

then, I will go to high school. There, in the beginning, it won't be very good, but then they will love me because I will be playing football and I will be very good. Then they will not love me that much, because I have no birth certificate, (don't ask me what a "birth certificate" is, I don't know), so I won't be able to take part in the games in my neighbourhood. Oh, I get it; "birth certificate" is something that if you don't have it, you don't play football.

then, in the last school year, the teacher will tell us that we will all be going on an excursion in another country, far away - oh, I forgot to tell you my dad goes frequently to another far away country. He goes to Senegal to see my little brother. Hey, I did not tell you that I have a three-year old brother that cannot be here with us, because he has no papers. Dad goes to see him and then brings photographs and my mom cries very much every time she looks at them. Where was I? Oh yes, I will be very happy that I will be going on an excursion with my friends in another country, but then dad will tell me that I cannot go because I have no passport, (don't ask me what a "passport" is, I don't know), and then I will not be happy anymore and I will cry a little. Oh, I get it; “passport" is something that if you don't have it, you're not allowed to go on an excursion.

hey, I didn’t tell you that one day while I am with my friends, some gentlemen in uniform will come and ask for my papers. Then they will put me in an ugly place and they will tell me they will send me to another country, far away. But then my dad will come with his papers and he will get me out of there. And this will be happening very often, until I will eventually stop thinking that it is so bad to be in prison.

then I will go to the university to become a lawyer. There the other kids will be upset with me every now and then because they will be asking me who I vote for but... I won't be able to answer, because I... I'm not Greek; I mean the other kids would say that. Of course, I am going to tell them that I am, but they will then tell me there are no black Greeks and I will not be able to understand them. But in the end they will love me because I will be playing music and they will be dancing and we will be having a good time.

but then I won't be that happy because I will be unable to find a job and eventually I will not be a lawyer. I will do my daddy's job instead. Then I'll get married and I would not want to have kids so they won't be sad. But eventually I will have kids and it's only me that will be sad, because in the beginning they will not know how sad they will become later.

this is the story of the life I will live

goodbye now

with love, Saliou

***

The new government has committed itself not only before the elections but in its inaugural declarations, for the changing of the law about citizenship, so that the kids of immigrants born in Greece and - hopefully - the kids that have come to the country at a younger age and have gotten the Greek compulsory school training, to obtain the Greek citizenship. At least 250,000 kids and adults that were once kids and have already gotten their own kids, (third generation of immigrants), wait, expect, hope - once more. The legal recognition of these people as Greeks is the first step. There are many more required and difficult steps to be taken until we reach the point, as a society and as individuals, of acceptance that a Greek can have African, Asian, or Far Eastern characteristics.
There is a need for the revision of deeply rooted stereotypes and collective fears, something not easy at all for such an introvert society. This road will be traveled by each one of these kids, every single one of them traveling it alone. The least the Greek state can do, is to shield these kids with the rule of law. At least then, they won't be ashamed to be Greeks.

Τετάρτη, 18 Νοεμβρίου 2009

In the “wagons” of Patras

By Afrodite Al Salech
Photos: Iakovos Hatzistavrou
The translation belongs to Christina Melidou
__________________________________________________________

The Third International Forum on Immigration took place in Athens the previous week. Anti-racist organisations from around the world also met in Athens to demonstrate for the immigrants’ rights - discussions, lunches, demonstrations, concerts. Both the forum and the anti-forum have the exact same important meaning, for us. But it’s not the same to them, the immigrants themselves. Most of them are clueless as to what is taking place in Athens these days and, whatever that is, it will make little difference to their painful day-to-day existence.

***
Patras, fall 2009

Last February, the Ombudsman for Immigration visited the camp that hosts Afghan immigrants in Patras Port and wrote a report stating that the situation is turning into a humanitarian crisis. He then suggested to the government that special areas be set up for foreigners and care be taken, especially for those who are need of special protection, such as unaccompanied children and asylum seekers.
Last July the authorities demolished the camp, completely ignoring the suggestions made by the Independent Authority.
Three months later, history is simply repeating itself. Two new camps have appeared in Elos and Agios Andreas.

Elos Agias

In the entrance of Patras, 200-250 Afghan men of the Azara tribe have found refuge among olive trees. 70-80 of them are unaccompanied children.


They have constructed their own beds, that can’t protect them from the rain and cold, and their diet consists of onions and potatoes. Their only visitors are members of the Movement for the Rights of Immigrants and Refugees of Patras and some very huge rats. Police interference is ineffective as most of the people in the camp are either asylum seekers or have temporary residence permit or are too young to be arrested.


Some of them were injured in vain attempts to hide in trucks leaving for Italy, others are seriously ill.


The older ones are tired and all they want is a place to stay and a plate of food. The younger ones are more persistent: they don’t object to being taken to a protected area elsewhere..as long as it’s close to the port so they make their way to Italy at some point, and finally reach their friends and family.

Old cargo station in Agios Andreas (The wagons)

The station is in the center of Patras. 200 foreigners, mainly from Somalia and Sudan, have settled there. They sleep in wagons and look for food in trash bins. They are all asylum seekers. Some of them “work” in the nearby METRO supermarket. Their job is to return the trolleys that customers leave behind. For every trolley they will receive 10-20 p..if they’re lucky. The 70-men workforce is organised by one of them who makes sure that everyone has access to the income, that is that everyone will return at least one trolley a day.


I asked two brothers why it is that only one of them has the asylum seeker card and the other replied “Why bother? We sleep in the same wagon.”


None of them want to leave the country. All they want is the right to work and lead a decent life. These rights are granted to asylum seekers by law…but not by the current Greek reality.

***

The situation in Patras is turning into a humanitarian crisis. The matter cannot be solved with police measures. It takes structure and care units. Asylum seekers have no place in wagons and olive groves. They should be moved to safe areas where they will wait in decent conditions for the outcome of their asylum applications.
But for that to happen, proper committees need to be set up to decide on asylum. Adolescents should be taken to care facilities and the Charter on Children’s Rights should be implemented. The phrase “to the best interest of a child” suggests that if these children can prove that they have family in other E.U, countries they should be allowed to go there. And for that to happen we need a strong government to take the matter to the E.U. . If that cannot happen now under the new socialist government, then when?


***

Immigration is like a storm. You can’t stop it. You can only minimize the damage and increase the benefits. But it takes political will and courage to do that.



Τρίτη, 13 Οκτωβρίου 2009

Little Mahdi

By Afrodite Al Salech
Photos: Iakovos Hatzistavrou
The translation belongs to Christina Melidou
__________________________________________________________

Little Mahdi was barely one year old when his father Ibrahim, 40 years old, his pregnant mother Zahra, 22, and his older brother Maoudo, 2, decided to leave Afghanistan 18 months ago.
They were a rich family from the village of Mazar and the Afghan government persecuted them in order to confiscate their property. Ibrahim’s two brothers were murdered and Ibrahim himself has a government bullet stuck in his body.



Their first stop was Iran, where they sought political asylum. They stayed there for a year but then the authorities decided to deport them back to Afghanistan. So, they made the decision to head to Europe. Smugglers took them by truck to the Afghanistan -Turkey border. Another truck led them to a warehouse where they waited for the smuggler to Greece. Up until that point they had paid $2.000 per person, $18.000 in total. In the warehouse they were left without food for three days. The Turkish authorities then arrested them, imprisoned them for seven days and, finally, deported them.

In their second attempt they managed to board an inflatable boat along with 20 other people, mainly from Somalia. The journey lasted four hours. Upon approaching Lesvos the smuggler, with no prior warning, pinned the inflatable boat and abandoned them. As noone could swim they tried to hold on to each other. One family lost their child, Ibrahim recalls. The port authorities that arrived quickly saved little Mahdi. The cost of the “trip” from Turkey to Greece was $2.500 per person, $22.500 total.

In Lesvos they were led to the Pagani Detention centre for Immigrants. The family was separated. Men were sent to the men’s ward, teenagers to the adolescents’ ward, and pregnant Zahra with little Mahdi and four year old Maoudo to the isolation cell. That is where I met them. I remember little Mahdi staring at me through the blue rail of the yellow window of his isolation cell. They stayed in notorious Pagani for 28 days, they weren’t allowed to go to the yard, noone explained what was happening, what the future held and what options they had. When Mahdi’s mother went in labour pains the ambulance transported her to hospital at the very last minute and she was hospitalised just for one day. They then led her back to isolation along with her newborn.


They were released following the outcry caused by the United Nations Refugee Agency and humanitarian organisations and pressure from lawyers. They were only handed the deportation document with a ticket to Piraeus attached, paid for by the Prefecture.


They arrived in Piraeus early last week along with 260 prisoners from Pagani. Most were quickly forwarded away from the port and into the centre of Athens. Mahdi’s family, along with five other families with little children and elderly people, knew neither where they were going nor whom they should approach.



The municipality of Piraeus responded to the pleas of humanitarian organisations. As there was no room at the homeless shelter, they were offered accommodation for three days in a hotel where they could rest. A doctor was also sent to examine the children. According to him, they were found to be in bad health due to malnourishment and the suffering they had been subjected to.
Days in the hotel went by fast. They finally had to leave and this time they were left out on the street-at Attiki Square.
A few days later an acquaintance took them home for a few days.


Mahdi’s family wishes to seek political asylum. They have been to the Greek Board for Refugees countless times but have not yet managed to find a way to start the procedure. Besides, they are well aware that residence permit will only mean legal-yet not safe-stay in the country. The health of the newborn is bad but the can’t afford doctors or medicine. They have decided to name him “CAMP” as that was the first thing he witnessed of our world.

What is the new government planning to do with detention centres? They are a disgrace to our country, their cost is high and they offer no services to the immigrants as during their stay they are not informed on asylum procedures, families are not reunited and they are not taught greek. Upon release they are simply thrown into the black market of Athens as deportation is not possible and the door to other european countries is closed, according to Dublin II regulation.

Best Wishes

Πέμπτη, 3 Σεπτεμβρίου 2009

Pagani, Mytilini - a warehouse for souls

By Afrodite Al Salech
The translation belongs to Teacher Dude

________________________________________________________________

The special hosting areas for aliens - (EXPA Pagani Mytilini)
Once it was food warehouse – Today: a warehouse for foreign souls.

The children are hanging from the blue bars of the windows, holding pieces of paper with the words, "freedom" on them. Behind the blue barred windows the men are shouting "photo", hoping that a photograph will move someone, somewhere, somehow. The women cry behind the blue barred windows, holding their newly born babies who are barely conscious. The other children with dummies in their mouths sit staring at the blue windows – where they have learned to hold the jail’s rails like this? As infamous criminals?

EXPA Pagani

EXPA Pagani consists of six sections. Two for unaccompanied minors, three for men and one for women and their children. Also there are six containers for inmates with infectious diseases and pregnant women.

It is estimated that EXPA Pagani can hold 250 people, however, no matter what the official may say these are not suitable for human habitation. No construction has ever taken place in this warehouse so to be transformed to a place for people. Even pigs would have more adequate facilities than these.

Today Pagani holds between 900 and 1000 inmates, of every each and both sexes. Roughly 160-200 in each section.

Inside the rooms the heat is unbearable and the smell overwhelming. Next to the walls are piled the beds, 30 - 40 on each side on the room. The less lucky sleep on the filthy ripped mattresses they cover most of the concrete floor. They are soaking wet due to the water that leaks constantly from the two nearby toilets. The inmates are allowed into the yard for just a few minutes every two, three days. The rest of the time they remain locked inside their communal room. The more limber are able to climb up and look out of the barred windows to get a glimpse, to let their eyes wander freely outside.

In the women's section are children ranging in age from two to four years old. In the entrance I remember a girl 7 or 8 years old who said, "Welcome" to me; and afterwards the women tugged my arm and asked me to photograph the conditions inside constantly saying, "Thank you, madame". Their joy at my presense is the hardest to bear. Not because they haven't seen tens of others visit, take pictures and disappear afterward, but because their desperation is so great that they have no other choice but to believe that perhaps this time someone will show interest in what is happening here.

Laying on the filthy mattresses strewn on the floor the babies do not react, they sleep all the time, if their mothers feed them they eat, otherwise they keep on sleeping.

Detention centres : Reasons for their exisitence.

According to amendment 37772/2009 foreigners who do not enter Greece legally can be kept in detention centres (EXPA) for up to 6 months. The problem is real and no easy solution exists. In Mytilini alone during the summer months 100 people per week reach the islands from the Turkish shores just opposite. The situation is the same in other Greek islands such as Chios, Samos and Leros which lay just off the Turkish coast. The majority of people come from Afghanistan and Somalia. Even if Greece wanted to welcome all these people with dignity it does not have the facilities to do so.

However, the reason for the existence of detention centers is not at all obvious. People are stacked one on top of the other there for one or two months and then released. No procedure is taking place during their detention. Moreover, the cost of keeping these people locked up is extremely high.

Once they have been released the refugees cannot be deported as they are from countries that are considered high risk. After "serving their sentence" they are given a deportation order which, as the police themselves admit, cannot be implemented; and, they are encouraged to go to Omonia, in the centre of Athens. Often the local authorities cover the cost of the ticket. However, what awaits them is in the best case work on the black market, otherwise a life of crime.

If this is our goal as a nation then it could be achieved without the need for the expensive detention of these people and the smearing of the country's reputation abroad. The video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lP2yT6EjBX) which was taken by the Pagani inmates themselves has been seen around the world as have the photographs of the three year old child with the dummy in her mouth behind the barred windows. Is this our country? No.

Local communities have reacted and many of them have tried to help with what little they have both the newcomers and those held in the Pagani centre. Even when they heard that such charitable efforts could get them into trouble with the law. Employees in the Pagani centre count the days till they can leave and the police has admitted that they cannot enforce the law. "As soon as I retire I'm going to go out into the streets and call for Pagaini to be shut down", confided in me one of the island's police officers.

The question remains the same. Why do we have these detention centres ? Indeed more are being planned: No answer.

Thoughts - suggestions

First of all, Pagani and other such centres have to be closed down immediately. They offer nothing, the costs of runing them are very high and the smear the name of the country internationally.

Secondly, issues concerning Turkey have to be dealt with. It seems that Turkey is using the flow of people through its territory as leverage in its bid to join the European Union. People smuggling is extremely profitable . As they told us, "on the shores opposite the people smuggling business brings in almost 8 billion a year. There are even shops selling equipment needed to smuggle immigrants". It's unrealistic to believe that Turkey will apply repatriation protocols. The issue with Turkey is not one of Greek-Tukish relations or borders but one of European - Turkish relations and borders. The EU should be negotiating.

Of course the country is not winning any arguments when asylum applications are granted to so few (0.04%). There is no logical explanation for this, especially then the majority of these people wish to move to other EU countries where they have friends and family. To be exact, political asylum as set down by the 1951 Geneva Convention applies to very few asylum seekers. The countries which grant asylum usually interpret the Convention broadly. Greece could seek arbitration by the UN over the matter of Afghan and Somali asylum seekers. If the UN decided that refugees from these countries are political refugees (prima facie recognition) then Greece would be obliged to recognize their claims and so would share responsibility and cost with other western governments.

Naturally, every effort should be made to re-negotiate the terms of the Dublin II Regulation. Most of them hesitate to apply for asylum as they know about the Regulation as so do not wish to be trapped in Greece for years. What they are not aware of is the wider interpretation of Dublin II. Despite the fact that Dublin II states, theoretically, that whoever applies for asylum in the first country they reach they are obliged to remain there until a final decision has been made concerning their application, in reality foreigners are stuck in Greece once they have their fingerprints taken by the authorities.

The reasons why the authorities showed Zan Baro the Samos detention centre, which is
in reasonably good condition but not the Pagani centre are not at all clear as Pagani is the logical outcome of Dublin II.

Greece is carrying out EU decisions and so would benefit from not having to be defending itself as if on trial in international debates. Pagani is not just the result of Greek policies but mainly those of the EU. The flow of immigrants is not a rootless phenomenon but rather the result of political and economic causes.

In the international game of power and influence over the flee of people, Greece needs to carve out a strategy and act according to its interests. Till then someone most give an answer to the child with the dummy in its mouth held behind the barred blue windows and to our own children when they ask us why we permitted the existence of concentration camps (again)

Τρίτη, 1 Σεπτεμβρίου 2009

New humanitarian crisis with the government’s blessings

With its persistent efforts the NO BORDER CAMPING team managed to do what the appropriate authorities should have already done: release 500 prisoners from the immigrants’ detention center in Pagani.

On Saturday, August 29th, a team of NO BORDER lawyers managed to extract a decision from the police and the local authorities for the immediate release of children, women and their husbands, 150 adolescents who were not accompanied by their parents as well as prisoners that should have been released last week. This came following the rebellion of prisoners inside the detention center. As immigrants were being released, 40 activists organised a protest in the port of Mytilini and even managed to open up a banner at sea reading “FRONTEX KILLS”. At the same time other protesters were marching through the city. As the day came to an end, prisoners were transferred to a hospital in Neapoli, Mytilini where they will remain temporarily and protesters clashed with special police forces.

So far so good.

But problems have only just begun. Any group of activists, no matter how well organised, cannot substitute the work that should be done by authorities.

All released prisoners received a document for their deportation (non-executable) and a ferry ticket to Piraeus and therefore to Athens. The Ministry of Health has promised to transfer unaccompanied adolescents to a special facility but no provision has been made for other prisoners - or for those that continue to arrive at the Pagani Special Detention Center for Immigrants.

The 500 prisoners that have been released from Pagani – families, women with babies, children and elderly – are condemned to even worse living conditions than those they experienced in Pagani. Without food, shelter or medical care. The roads to Europe are closed and returning to their own countries is not an option. 500 more people are simply pushed into the black market and a life as outlaws. The humanitarian crisis of Pagani is simply carried to the streets of Athens and managing that responsibility is passed on from the authorities to the citizens of Athens.
This never-ending cycle is to continue and new souls come to take the place of those already residing in parks and squares in Athens. Police patrols organising operations to pick up illegal immigrants fail to provide a sustainable solution both for the immigrants as well as for locals.
Transferring the problem from the islands to the capital and from one square to another certainly doesn’t indicate the existence of any immigration policy.

Within days the center of Athens will face yet another humanitarian crisis and any notion of social integration or coherence will vanish in thin air thanks to the decisions of the government.

Δευτέρα, 31 Αυγούστου 2009

Photographs from activists demonstration in the port.

Article & photos: Afrodite Al Salech
The translation belongs to Teacher Dude


The operation was excellently organised with 40 dinghies launched into the waters of the harbour manned by the German rowers who sped towards the open sea.


The port authorities rushed to stop them as a ferry was departing at the time.

As if part of a performance, the port authorities started to repel boarders in exactly the same way they do when they want to prevent rubber boats entering national waters, though more mildly, perhaps.

Afterwards, the sailing demonstrators managed to form the slogan, “Frontex Kills” using letters mounted on their boats.


Demonstrators on the seafront along with passers - by from Mytilini clapped and shouted slogans as well.


They were claims that the port authorities punctured one of the rubber dinghies but as I did not see this with my own eyes I am keeping an open mind on that.



After reaching the harbour the sailing protesters continued their demonstration march with their dinghies slung on their backs.


It was an excellent operation with both symbolism and humour, but the cost of buying 40 rubber boats meant that it was expensive.



***

At the same time a group of lawyers, (with Kourtovik, Tzeferakou and Strahini amongst them) managed to free 150-200 inmates from the Pagani detention centre after many hours of negotiations with the police and the municipality.

Παρασκευή, 21 Αυγούστου 2009

Pagani, Mitilini island , Greece

Article & photos: Afrodite Al Salech
The translation belongs to Christina Melidou

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In an old warehouse in the outskirts of the city of Mytilini, in Pagani, the Special Center for the Detention of Foreigners has been established.
It is built to accommodate 250 people.


Today there are 900 people held there. 300 of them are children aged 7, 9, 11, 12, 13 years old who are not accompanied by their parents.I have visited other detention centers. Everyday I face the harsh reality of human shadows walking around the historic center of Athens. I thought I had seen it all. But what I witnessed today in Pagani is overwhelming.

Hundreds of children stand by the windows, begging you to take their photo in the hope that people, kind people, will learn of their sufferings, will feel compassion and perhaps even help them…
Begging for help and handing us pieces of paper with the word FREEDOM written on them.

Many of these children have been held there for 2-3 months. They can’t go out in the courtyard, not because they are forbidden to but because there’s simply not enough room.

Several children aged 7, 9, 12, 14 started a hunger strike yesterday.
One of them fainted and was taken to hospital today.

It is not just a sence of humanity and duty, it is not a feeling of love towards Iranians, Afgans or any other human being.
It is something else that makes me write this : a deep sense of patriotism. Yes.
It is not just a question of what will happen to little Mohamed, Asman or Ali but also what will happen to little Katerina, Christina or Kostas – our own children. What kind of a country will they grow up in? What will we reply to their questions? What kind of role models will we provide them with?



And I want to ask our politicians and each one of us separately: Do we intend to go down in history as the first country to reinstate concentration camps after the end of WWII?

Σάββατο, 15 Αυγούστου 2009

The Greek Guantanamo and the right to pee

By Afrodite Al Salech
Photos: Iakovos Hatzistavrou
The translation belongs to Teacher Dude

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On Sunday 9th August, 30 foreigners, the majority of them asylum seekers where force to board a ferry and taken in secret from the island of Chios to an unknown destination. This happened as part of a series of “curious” transfers that have taken place lately, as August offers the perfect conditions for such moves(1).

The NGO LATHRA (http://www.lathra.gr) has informed us that 16 of those who sailed from Chios are being held in the Petrou Ralli police station (2), Athens. Other have been sent to Lamia, while some have gone missing.

Those recently brought to Petrou ralli have been kept on the rooftop of the building which is open to the elements. They have been kept out in the open without any form oif protection from the August sun or the sudden downpours. The have only minimal amount of food, no beds nor any toilet facilities.

We have been informed that the tensions which have understandably built up given the conditions were “neutralised” in the usual manner when two police officers armed with batons beat people protesting. The reason for the complaints was the request that the people on the rooftop be allowed to use the building’s toilets instead of having to relieve themselves in front of every one else.

It is definite that those being held on the roof will not remain there for long. The question however, remains where they will be taken next and to which country?

August and especially on the eve of the day of the Madonna(3) offers the ideal cover for every kind of barbarity and the swift “solution” to many problems. I call upon everyone who hasn’t decided to go on holiday to spread the news of these events.

If you wish to join us we will be outside Petrou Ralli police station tomorrow.

Thank you.
_________________________________________________________

1 - Traditionally, August is the time when most Greek employees take their summer vacations. This means that many state organisation remain closed.

2 - The police station houses the Athens Aliens Bureau.

3 - A public holiday.

_______________________________________________________________________

Note: I am informed that the authorities have freed the 16 foreigners. The main problem is that they will be absolutely destitute, sleeping at abandon edifice at the center of Athens, without papers and without any way to survive. That means more workers for the black market.
Profoundly that has nothing to do with migration policy and is totally against not only the human rights but also the Greek state itself.

Attiki Square

By Afrodite Al Salech
Photos: Iakovos Hatzistavrou
The translation belongs to Christina Melidou
__________________________________________________________________

Contrary to what has happened in Agios Panteleimonas, where closing down the playground has driven all the children-local and foreign alike-away, a few blocks away, Attiki Square, is full of life. Dozens of children, mainly from Afghanistan, play around the fountain while their mothers sit on one side of the square and their fathers on the other. A few metres down the road there are two cafés and a kebab shop. People who hang around these establishments do not approach the square but they discuss the immigration matter a lot. Some other Greeks, either more brave or more tolerant, share park benches with Afghan residents.


Most Afghan residents of Attiki Square are different to the immigrants one is accustomed to in the center of Athens. We spoke to them.


Family people

Most of Attiki Square’s Afghan residents are family people and in fact some are quite elderly. This however does not affect the way they are being treated by Greek authorities, as they remain hostages.

They have all been handed a deportation document but the road to other E.U. countries and the road home are both closed. Their first choice was Iran, where they seeked political asylum. Iran sent them to Turkey and Turkey sent them to Greece. It’s hard to believe that these people left their home in search of a better quality of life. Who would abandon home at such an age if his life was not endangered? These people are without doubt refugees.


Dublin II Regulation

Some of the people who reside in the square come from Patras. They arrived here having been forced to leave Patras port. All they want is to leave for another E.U. country. This is very difficult considering that other E.U. countries will arrest them at the border and take them back to Greece , as ordered by the Dublin II Regulation. Of course, other E.U. countries don’t just send to Greece only those who have seeked asylum in Greece. Often they also send those who they deem undesirable in the sence of selective migration which was proclaimed in the European Declaration for Immigration and Asylum.


Take for example Asaf. Asaf had applied for political asylum in the U.K. in 2001. He remained there legally for five years. He then returned home to marry and stayed in Afghanistan for three years but eventually had to return to the U.K.. This time authorities chose not to allow him back in. They deported him to Greece, in the name of the Dublin II Regulation, even though he had never gone through Greece. Today he sleeps in parks and squares. “In England I had a job, friends, a home. I don’t know why they sent me to Greece. Here I have nothing. Why won’t Greece let us go?”. It’s clear that this regulation keeps these people, as well as our country, hostages.


Square slumdogs

But the most tragic victims are children, aged five to twelve. Ali, Musaraf, Mahti, Uali, Ali Nezar…Their parents cannot take care of them so they try to find means of survival alone. They spend all day in the square playing. When they feel hungry they stand outside cafés and kebab stands searching for empty bottles which they will sell in a nearby shop. At night they will seek a bench on a square to sleep, either alone or with their parents. It’s noteworthy that none of the locals have ever accused the children of stealing or begging. These children are just trying to make ends meet. And this occurs in full sight of the police which patrols the area 24 hours a day. Nedless to say that authorities violate international agreements for the protection of children.


Locals

“They have destroyed our neighborhood” says one of the people who hang out in one of the cafés and offers to show us around so that we see what’s happening with our own eyes. After a short walk around Attiki Square we have come to the conclusion that “social integration” has largely been achieved as many shops-chinese, pakistani, african, albanian, romanian-contribute to the economic and social life of this small part of the world. Vassilis’ kiosk has just changed hands and name and is now Mohamed’s kiosk. Unless we prefer the “Manolada social integration plan” where immigrants work 15 hours a day for 5 euro and are tied to motorcycles are dragged around the village when locals feel so inclined. Nevertheless, somewhere in between the “take over” integration model and the “Manolada” model there is a third way, the way of interactive coexistence.


Local shop owners are far less tolerant and violent outbreaks have occurred. According to them, their living is compromised by foreigners. However, one should mention that both staff and customers are mostly foreigners from balkan countries.


There are those of course who have no problem sharing a park bench with an Afghan and appreciate the happy voices of children playing. “It’s not that bad” says one lady, “a few years ago there were no children in the playground and it was sad. Now things are different. Afghans are kind people who have suffered. They don’t steal and they don’t cause trouble. The only problem is that police is everywhere and they arrest them all the time”.

Is Agios Panteleimonas setting the pace?

Others confess that they don’t see a problem now but they are afraid that Attiki Square “is going to follow the pattern of Agios Panteleimonas”. This is not coincidental as “outraged” locals in Attiki Square are the exact same people we met in Agios Panteleimonas-members of the local residents’ committee. When we confronted them about that fact they refused it. They proclaimed their right to help other areas that share the same problem.


The danger of having Agios Panteleimonas become an example of problem solving with locals taking law and order in their hands, with the silent acceptance, if not encouragement, of the authorities has been debated. The experience of Amerikis Square, an area with a significant population of African immigrants, that never experienced problems in the past, proves such. Last week, we spoke to Greek residents and many older ones proclaimed that they don’t mind foreigners but they “would rather see them leave so as not to have the same problems as Agios Panteleimonas”. A 68-year old respectable citizen went as far as to carry a knife “just in case”. Some however mention that members of “Chrysi Avgi” (The fascist/nationalistic party of Greece) speak to local shop owners and try to convince them to protest against immigrants.


The question is what is the governement going to do about this situation? Laws, such as the one put forward by the deputy minister of the Interior, are certainly not the answer. This law introduces 18-month imprisonment, and suggests that not everyone is innocent until proven guilty, as foreigners are presumed to be dangerous for public order.

The government should:

1. Condemn the Dublin II Regulation
2. Improve the procedure for granting asylum, so that people who are entitled to protection according to international law receive it.
3. Understand that police measures do not solve the problem but rather transfer it from neighborhood to neighborhood and from city to city
4. Define the notion of “social integration” so that local owners of business don’t feel threatened and foreign workers are not be exploited


Foreigners have their say

Mr. Ali is 67 years old. He came to Greece three years ago with his wife and three children (aged 13,15 and 7) following the usual route: Afghanistan, Turkey, Greece. The Greek Council sent him to Sperheiados welcoming center in Lamia, where they stayed for year and a half. They were then sent to Athens. Today they live in a one-bedroom basement. Mice and cockroaches keep them company at night. Noone speaks greek so they have trouble finding their way around. They can’t afford their 300 euro rent anymore so they are afraid they will soon be evicted. They welcome us in their home and offer tea. The two older children sit silently at the corner. “They never leave the house” says their mother “They are afraid”. The third child, 7-year-old Maadi roams all day in the square. Playing is the only thing that makes him forget his hunger. “We didn’t want to leave. We are refugees. The Talibans took our home, Iran and Turkey kicked us out” On the wall stands a phorograph of their national hero Abdul Mazari, leader of the Hazara tribe, who was brutally tortured and murdered by the Taliban in 1995.


Mr. Fahran, 55 years old, came to Greece with his wife and two children, aged 17 and 20, four months ago. They had to leave home due to the conflicts with the Taliban. Their first destination was Iran. Iranian authorities sent them to Turkey and Turkey sent them to Greece in an inflatable boat, along with 67 other people. It was very dark when another boat-one with an engine-crashed on them intentionally and they found themselves in the waters of the Aegean. One of their guides however seemed to have the phone number of the greek port police authorities and called them. The port police arrived to their rescue (we have reservations as to that account of events which we have heard many times before. We could assume that illegal immigrant smugglers sink the boats themselves to take advantage of international regulations that force local authorities to save all those who are overboard. Also one cannot exclude the possibility that the greek port police sinks the boats). Mr. Fahran and his family were held in the Mytilini welcoming centre for a fortnight and they were then handed their deportation document and their tickets to Peiraus. As of lately, they have found themselves in Attiki Square. They sleep with a dozen other Afghans in a house and they are waiting for money to be sent to them so that they can flee illegally to Norway where, they’ve been told, refugees are taken care of. Returning to Afghanistan would equal death.


Mr. Orbun is 76 years old. He came to Greece via Iran and Turkey with his wife and children 10 months ago. He occasionally tries to apply for asylum but has not managed to so far. He spends all day at the square and at nightfall returns to his home in Fylis where he lives with many others. He can’t afford food or rent. He expects Greek people to help. He says that he would have never left home had it not been a matter of life or death. He had to save his children.

_________________________________________________________

P.S. Interviews materialized with the valuable help of Abas who has lived in Greece for three years now and is fluent in greek. We thank him

Mc Yinka, Jerome a.k.a. The Source and El Jeraw

[Three Greek black wizards of hip-hop]

By Afrodite Al Salech
Photos: Iakovos Hatzistavrou
The translation belongs to Christina Melidou
__________________________________________________________________


They play hip-hop, they have fun and people love them – but do people really know them?


Manolis, known as Mc Yinka (short for olayinka =all around you are blessed), was born in Greece to Nigerian parents.

Gerasimos, known as Jerome a.k.a. The Source, was born in Greece. His parents come from Congo.

Zero, known as El Jeraw, came to Greece at the age of five. His parents come from Zimbabwe.


All three, each in his own way, style and personality, have managed to have a career in hip-hop, despite the constant obstacles placed by the Greek legal system. They are, you see, what we not-so-successfully describe as, “second generation immigrants”!


How difficult is it for a black person to grow up in Greece?

Zero: We grew up just fine. We had no problems as children. Problems started when we turned eighteen and realised that, legally speaking, we were not equal to other Greeks.

You were top of your class, weren’t you?

Zero: Yes, but we shouldn’t talk about that!

At an age when most people dedicate themselves to finding their own path in this world and try to find their identity both in personal and in public life, Manolis, Gerasimos and Zero had to face an additional problem: the Greek paradox. They had to constantly battle the immigration authorities for a residence permit, as if they were immigrants, even though they had never left the country, not even for a holiday abroad.

All three use greek lyrics for their songs. They claim it is a challenge to create hip-hop in greek but still “we express ourselves better in greek despite the musical difficulties”.

Do people who hear you and dance to your music realise that you are Greek?

Manolis: Look, image is stronger. While they hear you speak greek on stage, they come and talk to you in english backstage. Or sometimes I talk to a waiter (in greek of course) and he doesn’t understand me! That’s always strange for me but it’s also funny.

Zero: I’ve been criticized for my greek! They told me I don’t speak greek well! (they all laugh). They’re stuck. You ‘re black, therefore you don’t speak greek, you are not greek! End of story.

You must be amongst the first black people in Greece.

Manolis: Our parents are. In the mid ‘80s the first Africans came to Greece. But they were few.

Zero: I remember at school, on the first day of every school year, people would stare, even teachers. I remember that Africans at high school would place a bet on who would be the first to date a white girl.

Gerasimos: It was Nikos Ontoubida, Manolis’ cousin, wasn’t it? (laughter)

What are the main problems for a black person in a country of white people such as Greece?

Zero: Various things. We don’t show up when we want to rent a house. We send a white friend. Or if we’ve made a deal on the phone as soon as they see us they go “Look son, I don’t mind, you’re fine young men. But the other tenants don’t want foreigners”. It’s always the others! Never them! What can you say!

Gerasimos: Or you tell them straight away over the telephone: “Hello, I’m African”. And, if they don’t hang up, you go and take a look at the flat.

Zero: There are of course cases when you tell them “Hi, I’m African” and they reply “And why do you tell me son?”. But that is the exception. There were also times when we couldn’t get in nightclubs. Skin control! Once I played in a club and the following night I wasn’t allowed in! Very popular club. I’ll reveal its name when the time is right. These things still happen but it’s easier for us because they know us.

Gerasime, I have heard some remarks that were not politically correct regarding your participation in Speira Speira (translator’s note: group of performers).

Gerasimos: Yes, yes, but I don’t bother.

Zero: Let me tell you something, it’s not rare for the most racist comments to come from left-wing/progressive people. We have experienced left-wing fascism. Last year, for example, left-wing people didn’t allow us to sing at a festival against racism in Petroupoli because they deemed one of our older songs as insulting. I grant you that the song had some lines that could be misunderstood, it was titled “Shake it”. But we haven’t been allowed in this festival since. I don’t give a damn but all these so-called progressive people often cross over to the other side.

How do you perceive the latest developments in the immigration situation?

Manolis: Look, everyone says that there are fewer immigrants in other countries. One reason why this happens is that other countries grant citizenship. In Greece, even people like us who were born here are considered immigrants!

Do you consider yourself an immigrant?

Manolis: Of course. The system forces me to think so, since I am treated as one. Someone like me in the U.K would be a British citizen.

Gerasimos: I consider myself neither a Greek nor an immigrant. I am a citizen of the world. I am tired of trying to prove the obvious.

Zero: But they don’t allow us to define ourselves as Greeks. I used to feel like a Greek. But every time I had to deal with public services, banks, the police…they always put me in my place. And there came a moment when I told myself “boy, you are an immigrant. End of story.”. I had to do this to move on and be calm.

What’s your status at the moment?

Manolis: I had a residence permit up until now. Now I am waiting for my new “child of immigrants” card for people who have been residing in Greece for a long time.

Are you happy with this card?

Manolis: Of course not, but it’s something. At least I can stop queuing for a residence permit. And finally I can travel. You know, I couldn’t go on concerts abroad. Obviously what we really want is citizenship. That’s fair. I want to have a voting right.

Zero: I’ve applied for citizenship since 1997. But there was a problem with my residence permit. What could I do, I always received it after it had expired! You know we apply and then we receive it two years later, on the month it expires! It’s hell! So I couldn’t file my application. Now, I have a card but I don’t know where I stand with my passport. If it expires I’ll have a problem as I can’t travel to Zimbabwe to renew it. Last year the government there murdered my father for being a member of the opposition. They mutilated him and threw him in the river. I can’t go. I don’t know what will happen when I land at the airport.

You have a sister as well…

Zero: Yes, Athina. Athina was born in Greece. But my sister’s existence is not acknowledged. For all intentions and purposes she is without country and citizenship. We’ve been trying for years but nothing happens. The government doesn’t care.

Gerasimos: Finally, I am beginning to see some light with this card for people that have been residents for a long time. Look, the situation sucks. I often ask myself if my only purpose in this world is to stand in a queue with a handful of documents. What does any person really want? To be allowed to live in decency, to travel, to have an internet connection at home. Can I do these things? Up until now, I can’t. Those who govern have a short memory. Greeks were immigrants for at least twenty years. Are they kidding us? It’s all about who gives bragging rights to Greece. If you win the eurovision song contest,or play basket ball or bring olympic medals then they acknowledge your presence.

Zero: Sofoklis (translator’s note: they refer to a basketball player) is not a black man. He’s Sofo. That’s it.

Go to the Eurovision Song Contest then.

Gerasimos: That’s tricky. If we go and win, we’ll be good. If we lose, we’ll have to disappear off the face of this earth! (laughter)

Enough about the law system. How about everyday interaction with people?

Manolis: Greeks are fine. No problem.

Gerasimos: It’s only when others started bringing up the notion that people should not be fine with it that things changed. After the european parliament elections I first noticed “looks”. Look, it’s simple. If mass media spent a week saying that black is cool, people would run to self-tan beds. “Africa look” would be all popular!

Zero: They frighten people. Those on top give instructions for mass media to follow. Now immigrants are the enemy, because that’s convenient. They control our minds, they turn our attention elsewhere so they can go on with their business.

Gerasimos: Half the forest surrounding Athens burned down. Who knows? It was all about the immigrants at the time this happened. Burned trees will turn into houses. It’s organised crime really.

Zero: The last thing on a Greek’s mind now is immigration policy. Greeks are drowned in debts. But they control your mind so that you think of immigrants rather than the financial situation that government policies have brought about. And I’ll tell you one more thing: Say, that tomorrow morning all immigrants disappear from Greece. Will the average person have a better life? Increased salary? Quality of life? Better health care? Better education? Of course not.

Gerasimos: I have an idea. Let’s send all immigrants home and let’s bring back all Greeks living abroad. These people are twice the greek population. Do they want that?

And what do you do for things to change?

Manolis: Our music is our means. We have no other way. In my last album I have a song called “Xairetismos”. I sing for what I believe, the way I see things. “Greece 2000 plus immigrants, weak links on a social chain of xenomaniac xenophobiacs”

Gerasimos: I have a song called “What I live”. I speak my truth for the children of immigrants. I’m not interested in accusations. I’m interested in giving people an incentive to discover the truth. The first verse goes “another song, another wound, another soul, another cab gone” like when you hail a cab and it doesn’t stop. Someday some cab will stop but it’s all about all those that didn’t stop because we were black.

You use cabs as a symbolism?

Zero: What are you talking about? I don’t know what’s up with cab drivers. They don’t pick up black people. And if a kind person finally dares to differ he’ll always say “you blacks are fine people”. And I tell them “no, not all of us are”. That’s just another stereotype.

The right to not be “a nice person”?

Zero: Of course! Imagine if we dare to not be nice? It will condemn our entire nation! (laughter)

How about Barrack Obama’s election?

Gerasimos: People were optimistic even if it was just for a day. For a little while people on the planet felt there was hope. That is enough.

How about the possibility of electing a black person to the greek parliament?

Zero: People in Crete call me the “cretan Obama”

Gerasimos: It’s not unlikely. But it will just be for appearances. A symbolism. Everything in Greece is sumbolic.

Manolis: You can’t make sense of it. Which is why we keep singing “I salute your struggle with respect. I take up light and sing your icon”


Thank you!
________________________________________________________________

Learn more:

Mc Yinka
http://www.myspace.com/mcyinka
http://www.facebook.com/people/Mc-Yinka-manolis-Afolanio/1618149541
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Athens-Greece/Mc-Yinka/82597707484


El Jeraw
http://www.myspace.com/subzeraw
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=102205411100&ref=mf
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=101818665706
http://www.facebook.com/zeraw


Jerome a.k.a. THE SOURCE
http://www.facebook.com/jerome.kaluta
http://www.myspace.com/jeromethesource
http://www.facebook.com/pages/JEROME-aka-THE-SOURCE/17999764747


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Δευτέρα, 3 Αυγούστου 2009

Malalai Joya: The woman who will not be silenced


A highly recommended article: Malalai Joya: The woman who will not be silenced

Click here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/malalai-joya-the-woman-who-will-not-be-silenced-1763127.html

Manos or Hassim. Number 481352 - Born in Greece

By Afrodite Al Salech
Photos: Iakovos Hatzistavrou
The translation belongs to Teacher Dude

_____________________________________________________________

Manos was born in Greece in 1977, his parents immigrants from Iraq. He studied in the 17th primary school, Peiria and the 2nd junior high school, Renti. Everything went smoothly until 1992 when his father died. Manos was just 15 years old when his mother, unable to deal with the loss of her husband alone in Greece made the fateful decision to take her children to visit her home country, Iraq. It took just a few days for her to realise that this was a mistake, however, there was no going back.


The regime of Saddam Hussein welcomed them then slammed the door shut. Despite the fact that Manos was a stranger in his country of origin and didn’t even know the language he found himself doing his military service in the Devil’s Triangle, on the border between Iraq, Iran and Kuwait. He lasted just six months before deserting. However, luck was not on his side and he was arrested by the Iraqi authorities and subsequently spent 3 years 8 months in jail.

We asked him what it was like there. He falters, words are not enough,

“A fellow prisoner couldn’t take it anymore and killed himself in the the only why he could by banging his head against the wall until he passed away. Right there, in front of our eyes”. he explains.

And his own experiences? He shows us the scars on his face and body a from cigarettes burns. “They would put us in a crate 1.5 by 1.5m and keep us there for 2 months”. And for the rest of the time? “15 of us lived in a cell, 5m by 3 with cameras everywhere. They would make us beat fellow prisoners, If we refused they would kill us.”

When he was released in 2000 he couldn’t remember his name for many hours. “In prison, you see they call us by a number, mine was 481352.”

“When did you return to Greece, we ask?” “A few months later I applied for a visa from the embassy in Greece but they never gave me one”.

So he decided to come to Greece, his own country, illegally. During his first attempt he only reached as far as northern Turkey before being arrested by the Turkish authorities. After spending 17 days in jail in Kurdistan he managed to escape.

During his second attempt the same thing happened again, however, his third attempt was more successful when he managed to cross into Greece via the Evros river. Unable to pay smugglers he used a dinghy to cross the river, however he was picked up by border guards in Mandri, near Soufli. He explained his story at the local police station but the police accused him of smuggling and sent him back to Turkey illegally.



There he claimed that he was from Palestine and after spending five days in jail managed to re-enter Greece, this time getting all the way to Athens via Alexandroupoli in 2005.

We asked him about the gangs that smuggle people into the country. “I didn’t have any money so I came on my own. However, when I was in Turkey I made sure I found out everything so as to follow the same routes and tactics they used. Google maps helped me a lot.

A good spot in Turkey is in Istanbul, in Kourtoulous (Tatavla) 2km from Taxim square. From there people smugglers drive 20-30 immigrants to Evros. They take them across the river in dinghies and with the help of Greeks send them to Athens. There they are kept hostage in some home until they pay the smugglers. If the border patrols catch them they are secretly sent back to Turkey with the help Turkish authorities and Greek hunters. Otherwise they are imprisoned for three months and sent to Athens where they are served a deportation order.

A second route is from Turkey to Greece is via Bulgaria and then through Pomak villages. The third route is by boat from the Turkish coast to Greek islands such as Mytilini, Samos and Chios. These journeys cost between 2000 and 5000 euros.”


“How exactly did you you enter Greece the last time?”

“I found somebody to take me as far as the border, on the Turkish side of the Evros river. I gave him 200 euros. I had got myself a dinghy and clean clothes which I put inside a waterproof bag. This bag, along with another inflatable one served as a life belt. I crossed the river then changed into my clothes. I knew about the police road blocks in Mandra and so I avoided them. Another serious danger are the minefields but they’re further north in Didimoteixo. If you know that you’re not in danger.”



“Once I was in Athens I looked for a lawyer in order to become legal”. The lawyers, as he explains to us, are not so different to the smugglers, they ask for money for everything. From 2000 euros for a residence permit to 10,000 for full Greek citizenship. I started to work on the black market and 2 years later I met my girlfriend, Christina who persuaded me to apply for political asylum.”

“I went to the aliens bureau in Petrou Rally street. when I got there at the crack of dawn one Saturday a fewe months ago the only thing I could see were thousands of heads. It was raining and the police kept on hitting us with clubs and shouting at us to sit down. One cop started to threaten me but changed his attitude when he saw that I could speak Greek. I told him that I was Greek and so he took me to an office where I explained my story and got an appointment to claim a pink asylum seekers card immediately.”

“What will you do now?”

“I don’t know, he answers. The card runs out in one month and I hope that they will re-new it. However, I’m not sure at all about that”.

Manos is one of the hundreds of thousands of who were born in Greece who studied in Greek schools, who think, dream and fall in love in Greek. But Greece, their de facto homeland does not recognise their right to be Greek.

If Manos had Greek citizenship he probably wouldn’t have gone to Iraq and would have avoided what happened to him there. He would have been dealt as a ward of the state and a special case and not be just an asylum seeker with a pink card. A card that will probably run out. And so having no other choice he will remain an outlaw in his own country. A Greek illegal immigrant in Greece.