Greece, the conditions of the refugees

Greece, the conditions of the refugees

Mytilene. On the island of Lesbo, the hotspot “Moria” located around ten kilometers north of Mytilene. The agreement for the control of refugees that was signed in March 2016 between Europe and Turkey transformed it into a center of detention under military custody, in the “Guatanamo of Lesbo” as exposed by the recent media debate on the subject. Today, the same media have access to the structure.

Here the refugees, around three-hundred, live in military installations made of steel poles, barbed wire and windows not much bigger than a cat-flap. There is no other choice: the only option is to wait for the Greek Internal Ministry to recognize them as refugees. The wait can range from nine to twelve months and during this period the residents must pass three inquiries before they can benefit from international protection. In Moria, families, groups and single individuals leave right at the first rays of light at sunrise: they show their document to the guard one at a time, then the bar is raised and they begin to cross the Mytilinis-Thermis, the main road that links the refugee camps to the centre of Mytilene. After a couple of hours of walking this swarm of aimless souls disperse into the city: there are those who go to fish between the piers of Akra Asfali, those who sunbathe or have a picnic on the beach of Tsamakia, those who lie on benches and those who ask for alms to the few tourists who populate the Old City.

Moria, Lesbo. Seen from outside the compound of the refugee camp.

They approach with little difficulty, happy to find ears that are willing to hear their stories. «I sorted everything before I left, directly from Algeria. Some of my friends came to Greece last year and they helped by sending me a contact. I called and then I left for Turkey […] There was about thirty-eight of us on the dinghy and we set off from Assos (Behramkale in Turkey, ndr)» . Samir Solo is 21 years old and lives as a squatter in the peripheries of the town. He is one of the many refugees who decided to escape the refugee camps to go and live – illegally – in an abandoned building or a disinhabited and run-down block of flats. This seems to be one of the scenarios for refugees arriving on the Greek islands: completing a long, dangerous, expensive and traumatizing journey, aboard make-shift dinghies to escape hell and then to simply find another, to which most however still prefer to escape from as well. «I couldn’t live in the refugee camp in Moria: it was a prizon. Even if I live illegally here at least I’m free» , continues to explain Samir while he fixes his camp-bed inside a ruined building near Asafali, which since October last year he calls “home”.

Mytilene. A first aid boat from the NGO ERCI during a patrol operation in the sea. From 2015 many non-governmental organisations received the mandate and the funds from Greece and from the EU to lend aid to arriving refugee boats. Today, there are hundred of these NGOs that work in the whole of Greece arguing over the areas of territory on which to operate.

The Greek government is about to officially declare the end of the state of emergency in the country and pause the international funding of the hundred of NGOs that work in Hellenic territory and who preside in the waters on the border of Turkey. One of the motivations that pushes a refugee to cross the Aegean sea is the awareness that they will be helped and recovered by one of the many boats that patrol the sea. Knowing that the operators and volunteers of ERCI, Refugee Rescue, International Rescue Committee and above all the police forces of the international company Frontex are all there for them gives them a positive outlook on the future. The maritime miles to cover are little, but human lives are always at risk. «We know that with all of the people who we help it is not always clear. With some, already after the first few questions about their age or origin, we have doubts. But when you find yourself with soaking wet and freezing children in your arms any political thoughts are forgotten and the humanity that we have inside of us takes over. During the last aid operation I didn’t have time to wear the emergency equipment and I grabbed a child with my hands. It was my paternal instinct to overcome the rules of engagement” says Cristian Dascalu the captain of Frontex’s Romanian vessel MIA1102, who’s team patrol the Greek-Turkey maritime border from sunset to sunrise.

Aegean sea, Greece On board the vessel “MIA1102” of the company Frontex during a patrol of the border.

The condition of the refugees rests upon a traumatising process that is at its worse when concerning the devious and dynamic methods of exile and funds for survival, but is also worsened by adverse situations that are difficult right in the country that is expected to save him. For example being in a refugee camp, the uncertainty of obtaining a residence permit, problems with adapting to a different culture, the difficulty of creating relationships with the local population and others. This vicious circle does not only affect the mental health of the individual but leads to a depressed response that will affect the person in their daily life and means that they cannot conquer their desired new life. In November of 2016 Professor Anagnostopoulos of the University of Athens wrote in the American Journal of Psychiatry that in Greece «thousands of migrants, who are the most traumatized refugees who flee from war or persecution, experience very stressful situations such as family separation, living in inadequate places, complications with legal procedures for immigration, cultural differences and other stimuli that move them away from their goal. […] They find themselves aligned to a society gravely hit by the crisis that is unable to respond sufficiently to their emergency and that does not offer economic opportunities or meet their expectations.» This key extract can help one understand why the refugees chose to stay inside the refugee camps even after obtaining recognition, as well as the international protection and a residence permit through which to find work and move towards other European countries.

Moria, Lesbo. A refugee in a refugee camp.

The prohibiting conditions of life in Moria – or in”Vial” in Chios – is certainly not the only threat to escape from, and certainly dressing in the clothes of a squatter is not an ideal situation for someone who is already fleeing. The refugees are even trapped beyond the world of the barbed wire, as they are plunged into the centre of a hostile world, economically arid and inhabited by citizens who are even struggling to live themselves. «The economic crisis is that of the refugees in Greece», continues Anagnostopoulos, «these are two overlapping and interlacing concepts that influence vulnerable individuals or groups. Unemployment, poverty, the insecurity of work and the growing social inequalities brought to the majority of the local Greek population that provoke deep psychological pain and suffering». The refugees are also affected by this and the vicious circle described just above continues to numb the whole situation.

Refugee camp Moria. Faktur. 38 years old, has a document that states his status as a refugee. Few have it. «I don’t want to go anywhere from here. What would I do out there? I’m alone, here I have all my friends».

«I don’t want to go from here. What would I do out there? I’m alone, here I have all my friends». Faktur Anwar is thirty-eight years old and comes from Pakistan. From December last year he could leave Moira and Greece, but he won’t. He is protecting the residency card in his hands as if it were a relic. He spends his days with friends from the tent on benches outside the refugee camp and on the beach, playing on their mobile phones which they charge with a solar powered battery. «I searched for a place to work. Everyday I asked if I could do something. They always told me to go, that there wasn’t any work. I have nothing else to do, I’m better off going for a swim».