FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Human Rights Violations of Muslim Migrants in Greece

In September 2002, I traveled to Turkey to follow the men and women from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other Muslim countries in their journey for a better life, a life with dignity and safety on far away lands. Fleeing war and political conflict, and social and economic deprivation, the migrants come to Turkey with a common dream: leaving Turkey for a perceived Eden in Fortress Europe.

Greece is the first entry point to their Dream Land. They pay exuberant fees to smugglers, brave the minefields and mudbanks on Greece’s Northern borders, venture into the turbulent Aegean Sea in small floats, and hide inside sealed trucks with the hope to reach the soil and seek protection from the authorities. Some leave Turkey for Bulgaria. Beaten and assaulted by the Bulgarian border police, attacked by dogs, they return to Turkey, and cross the border, soon after. The survivors reach Sofia, recuperate from the hardships of the journey, and move on to cross snow-covered mountains to Greece. Many die in the journey and never lay foot in their Eden.

I met Kenneth in a refugee camp in Sofia, in late October 2002. A young man from Nigeria, he crossed many borders to reach Turkey, and nearly faced death on his way to Bulgaria. Kind and constantly smiling, he told me of his hopes and dreams, joked, posed before my camera, and walked me to my taxi to protect me from unforeseen risks. Five days later, on the mountains between Bulgaria and Greece, Kenneth’s long journey was aborted. Caught in a storm, and unable to move, he was buried, along with his dreams, under many feet of snow. His friends left him behind to save their own lives. I wept in the historic Acropolis in Athens.

Keneth died. But, many others survived the journey, and made it to Greece. They came to Greece, only to discover new horrors in the European Union, horrors not imagined by the thousands still waiting in Turkey, or those crossing the sea and the mountains.

Athens, the capital of the nation presiding over the European Union, is host to hundreds of Iraqi Kurds, Iranians, and Afghans who sleep in parks in cold winter nights; squad abandoned buildings with no water, electricity, and toilet; and spend days in hunger, occasionally eating bread and other food donated by kind Greeks and the NGOs. They still dream to “move forward,” to reach further north in Europe. But, moving forward is not possible for many. The routes are closed by the EU migration policy, and the Greek coastguards, or “commandos,” as called by the migrants.

This is the post-September 11 Europe, a Europe unwelcoming to migrants in general, and Muslims in particular. Helped financially by the EU, and provided by the state of the art border control tools, the Greeks are assigned to protect “Fortress Europe” from the migrants by all means necessary. Greece is the gatekeeper of the EU. But, despite the tight border control in land and sea, many succeed to enter Greece. The Pakistani migrants remain in Athens, live on the margins of the society, and survive in poverty. The Iranians, Iraqi Kurds, and the Afghans leave Athens for the port Patras, the main exit route to Italy, and the scene of some of the most egregious human rights violations towards the migrants in Europe. They are brutalized by the commandos, detained in extremely sub-standard conditions, and prevented from leaving Greece.

The Afghans of Patras live in Kheimeh, the Farsi word for tent, “homes” made of cardboard and plastic on empty lots across from the harbor. Ahmad lives in a small kheimeh with five others. He escaped Afghanistan at age seven, lived in Iran for two decades, and left for Turkey in the hope of finding a home that would finally accept him as a citizen. Ahmad is stateless. After 20 years, the Iranian authorities regard him an Afghan. The Afghans consider him an Iranian. He paid all his life savings to an Afghan smuggler who cheated him, and left him penniless in Istanbul. Two years later, Ahmad managed to reach Greece. He has no money to pay the Afghan smugglers to allow him to jump the trucks and the ships leaving for Italy. He spends his days behind the fence-the thick iron bars protecting the harbor from unwelcome intruders-and dreams of a day he can be on the other side, in a ship going north.

The fence is guarded by the commandos, and controlled by smugglers from Afghanistan and Iraq. There are seven gates to the fence. The Kurdish smugglers control four gates. The Afghans have two. There is one free gate, where the commandos have their office. Except for the impoverished Iranians, no one dares escaping from that gate.

The smugglers exhort money from anyone wishing to leave for Italy. No one can escape without paying off the appropriate smugglers. “We have shed our blood for this. You have to pay your dues,” a Kurdish smuggler said to an Iranian. But, paying the dues is no guarantee for reaching Italy safely. This is a fee for access to the harbor. There, the voyagers are still in the mercy of the commandos.

Standing behind the fence by Gate One, Ali, a teenage Afghan, showed me his broken arm. Clubbed nearly to death by the commandos when he last tried to get onto a ship to Italy, Ali was hospitalized for a week. His right arm in a cast, he goes to the fence everyday, stares at the ships, and continues to dream. An older Afghan, showed me his missing tooth. He too was clubbed, struck on the face, many times, by the commandos.

The Iranians in Patras do not have a zone of their own, or their own national smugglers. Those with money use the “service” of the Afghans and the Kurds, and those without money, use most creative ways to “take the ships.” Their stories echo the tales of hunger and violence experienced by the Afghans and the others in Patras.

I sipped tea with Farshid and six other Iranians in their home in Europe: an abandoned truck covered by thick plastic, large wholes on corners, leaking rainwater. Full of rage, the men lamented about their humiliation, lack of most basic needs, and repeated beating by the commandos. A political refugee, Farshid was deceived by the Greek authorities upon entry into the country. Told to file as an economic migrant, he was robbed of the possibility of being recognized as a refugee, receiving protection in Europe.

Mohammad, along with 35 other Iranians, lives in a two-story abandoned building. The men use the bathroom in the train station, burn wood on the first floor, boil water, and wash in the open every few days. No electricity, I sat in a room lit by four candles, and heard tales of disappointment, shame, and police brutality. I photographed the bruises on Hamid’s body. Arrested and punished after a failed attempt to leave for Italy, he had howled, and cried for mercy for an hour, witnesses told me.

After 11 failed attempts, Mehran, an Iranian in his mid twenties, is resigned to stay in Patras indefinitely. Deported to Greece by Italian authorities, beaten by the commandos, he has lost hope. He is too scared to approach the fence. There is no returning home for Mehran and many others in Greece. They are trapped. None have told their families of their status and living conditions. “My son lives in Europe,” their parents boast to neighbors and relatives. “My family thinks I am in Paris,” said a man in his late twenties. “My brother asked me for a pair of sneakers three months ago,” he continued, feeling ashamed for not fulfilling his brother’s simple wish. “We will never be normal again,” said the 23-year-old Iranian, walking me to the bus station to leave for Athens.

Welcome to the land of Plato, Europe in the new Millennium

BEHZAD YAGHMAIAN is an international political economists and the author of Social Change in Iran: An Eyewitness Account of Dissent, Defiance, and New Movements for Rights (SUNY Press, 2002). He is currently in the Middle East researching for his upcoming book, Embracing the Infidel: The Secret World of the Muslim Migrant (Verso Books). He can be reached at behzad_yaghmaian@hotmail.com.

 

More articles by:

November 13, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Midterm Results are Challenging Racism in America in Unexpected Ways
Victor Grossman
Germany on a Political Seesaw
Cillian Doyle
Fictitious Assets, Hidden Losses and the Collapse of MDM Bank
Lauren Smith
Amnesia and Impunity Reign: Wall Street Celebrates Halliburton’s 100th Anniversary
Joe Emersberger
Moreno’s Neoliberal Restoration Proceeds in Ecuador
Carol Dansereau
Climate and the Infernal Blue Wave: Straight Talk About Saving Humanity
Dave Lindorff
Hey Right Wingers! Signatures Change over Time
Dan Corjescu
Poetry and Barbarism: Adorno’s Challenge
Patrick Bond
Mining Conflicts Multiply, as Critics of ‘Extractivism’ Gather in Johannesburg
Ed Meek
The Kavanaugh Hearings: Text and Subtext
Binoy Kampmark
Concepts of Nonsense: Australian Soft Power
November 12, 2018
Kerron Ó Luain
Poppy Fascism and the English Education System
Conn Hallinan
Nuclear Treaties: Unwrapping Armageddon
Robert Hunziker
Tropical Trump Declares War on Amazonia
John W. Whitehead
Badge of Shame: the Government’s War on Military Veterans
Will Griffin
Military “Service” Serves the Ruling Class
John Eskow
Harold Pinter’s America: Hard Truths and Easy Targets
Rob Okun
Activists Looking Beyond Midterm Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Mid-Term Divisions: The Trump Take
Dean Baker
Short-Term Health Insurance Plans Destroy Insurance Pools
George Wuerthner
Saving the Buffalohorn/Porcupine: the Lamar Valley of the Gallatin Range
Patrick Howlett-Martin
A Note on the Paris Peace Forum
Joseph G. Ramsey
Does America Have a “Gun Problem”…Or a White Supremacy Capitalist Empire Problem?
Weekend Edition
November 09, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Louis Proyect
Why Democrats Are So Okay With Losing
Andrew Levine
What Now?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Chuck and Nancy’s House of Cards
Brian Cloughley
The Malevolent Hypocrisy of Selective Sanctions
Marc Levy
Welcome, Class of ‘70
David Archuleta Jr.
Facebook Allows Governments to Decide What to Censor
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Zika Scare: a Political and Commercial Maneuver of the Chemical Poisons Industry
Nick Pemberton
When It Comes To Stone Throwing, Democrats Live In A Glass House
Ron Jacobs
Impeach!
Lawrence Davidson
A Tale of Two Massacres
José Tirado
A World Off Balance
Jonah Raskin
Something Has Gone Very Wrong: An Interview With Ecuadoran Author Gabriela Alemán
J.P. Linstroth
Myths on Race and Invasion of the ‘Caravan Horde’
Dean Baker
Good News, the Stock Market is Plunging: Thoughts on Wealth
David Rosen
It’s Time to Decriminalize Sex Work
Dan Glazebrook
US Calls for a Yemen Ceasefire is a Cynical Piece of Political Theatre
Jérôme Duval
Forced Marriage Between Argentina and the IMF Turns into a Fiasco
Jill Richardson
Getting Past Gingrich
Dave Lindorff
Not a Blue Wave, But Perhaps a Foreshock
Martha Rosenberg
Dangerous, Expensive Drugs Aggressively Pushed? You Have These Medical Conflicts of Interest to Thank
Will Solomon
Not Much of a Wave
Nicolas J S Davies
Why Yemeni War Deaths are Five Times Higher Than You’ve Been Led to Believe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail