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.



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