Τρίτη, 13 Οκτωβρίου 2009

Little Mahdi

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

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