Πέμπτη, 26 Νοεμβρίου 2009

In Saliou's own words

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

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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
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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.