The grimness grinds on for the world’s 80 million forcibly displaced persons, 34 million of them children. Covid-19 is proving to be hard to beat, putting severe, months-long restrictions on activist support for refugees in transit and host nations alike. Ali (not his real name), who spoke to us from Ritsona camp in Greece, has been contributing to camp life as a volunteer educator.
The psychological and educational toll of living as a refugee child is a blight on young lives. With education services often overstretched even in refugee camps where agencies have easy access, teaching the young is vital activist work for many asylum seekers who despite their own tough circumstances, seek to better those of others, particularly the young.
Ali is a well-educated Afghani who has negotiated a perilous path to Europe alongside his wife. In this first interview, he spoke to Ahmad Soheil Ahmadi about the terrible conditions of his journey.
ASA: Mr Ali, you spent time in Iran and studied at one of Teheran’s colleges. How did you get to Greece?
Like many Afghan refugees, we travelled overland to get to Greece. I want to share two bitter experiences we had along the way. While moving from Turkey to Greece, illegally, the Turkish police arrested my wife and I and we spent that night in detention. However, by the next day my wife had been taken elsewhere and I could not find her. I asked the officers where she was and they told me they’d taken her to a migrant camp and that I’d join her there soon.
I was taken to the camp, but it was for male migrants only and there were no women there. I asked the police why my wife was not there and they said they didn’t know. During the anxious week I spent in that camp, I could not find out where my wife was located. No one would answer my questions, and our phones had been confiscated.
Because the authorities were going to deport me back to Afghanistan, I had to escape, though it was very difficult. However, when I asked the police where my wife was, they still gave me no answer and claimed not to know of her. After three days, I discovered that female refugees were being held in a separate camp. When I went there and gave officials my wife’s details, they said she was indeed there but that I needed an official legal document to release her. I asked them how I could get one of these as a foreigner in Turkey, but they could not assist me.
After three days of continuous attempts, I was able to save my wife, who by then was suffering greatly from grief and anxiety. During all this time, neither of us had heard from the other.
While I was separated from my wife, they took her to the Afghan embassy several times to pressure her into signing up to a voluntary return to Afghanistan, but she resisted and said that she would not allow herself to be deported without her husband. Many refugees and migrants have experienced this tactic, and it is among the worst misfortunes that can happen to migrants in Turkey.
My second unforgettably bitter memory is of our attempt to reach Germany via Greece. Among refugees, Croatia is notoriously brutal in dealing with defenceless asylum seekers, and there have been numerous reports of assault and violence by the Croatian border police. We tried to make this journey in a truck full of sheep, which was very uncomfortable, smelly, and dirty. However, the Croatian police stopped the truck and found us. They beat us viciously, without asking any questions and without assessing out situation, and regardless of gender. Unfortunately, this happens to many migrants.
I passed out. When I woke up, I saw that I was in the emergency room. A nurse came to my bedside and checked whether I was concussed. He asked me if I needed anything, and I asked him how I came to be there. He replied that I had been unconscious for two days. I was hospitalized there for another two days. I asked them to feed me but they made fun of me and laughed at me. Sometimes they even went so far as to say, ‘If you are hungry, why did you come here?’ I told them that we were all human, and I had not eaten anything for a week.
On the last day, after much insistence, they gave me apple juice. They were standing and laughing while I was drinking. They insulted me and my human dignity. We experienced many misfortunes on our journey to Germany.
ASA: Why did you want to make it to Germany from Greece?
Although the Greek people are good people, there is no economic security there. From the beginning, we wanted to go to Germany and I did not want to stay in Greece. While I was living in Greece for ten months, the government not only did not grant me a residence permit, but also withheld financial aid from other refugees.
They did not give me shelter when I was vulnerable. Camp officials stated that they did not accept me as a refugee on the pretext that I had not initially resided on the Greek islands and had entered directly into mainland Greece. If I protested, they would definitely have deported me. I know refugees whose applications were accepted but who fled because of the bad situation in Greece, so I had no reason to stay there even though I was not recognized as a refugee.
This interview first ran on Maqshosh.