Painful Times

One day in September, in Athens, the capital of Greece, I do not remember the exact day or time, but I remember that the sun was gathering it’s beautiful red dress and preparing to leave. I remember being at the house of one of my friends drinking hot green tea when my phone did rang. The caller was my close friend Hamid with whom I have shared my life for four consecutive years.

Me : Hi Hamid .

Hamid : Hi Saad try to come quickly to the house i want tell you something very important.

Me : what’s happened? Please tell me .

Hamid : we have to leave Greece today walking to Holland . That is my decision.

Me: what are you saying? Are you crazy?

Hamid: No, I am not crazy, but I am so tired of this disgusting situation, a year and a half in Greece and we have not even got our confidence to prove ourselves and still we wait for the right of asylum. We must leave this tired country.

Me: But the journey is long and very difficult and we will need a lot of money that we do not have.

Hamid: My cousin will go with us and he will help with the cost of the journey .

Me: What about me ? How i will do it with you ? I have no money.

Hamid: you know that we have a small amount of money that should be enough to get to Bosnia, and after Bosnia I will ask my cousin to help and if he will not accept i will find way don’t worry .

Me: No no no this talk does not convince me. I’m afraid

Hamid: Please agree . We do not have enough time for discussion, the group is ready to go and they have decided to start today in the evening.

Me: Let me call Sam and Bob.

Hamid: I agree, call them and ask them, maybe they will give us useful advice.

I called Sam.

Me : Hi Sam, how are you?

Sam: Hi Saad, I’m fine and how are you?

Me: I’m not okay, Hamid says that we should leave Athens for Holland by walking, what do you advise us to do.

Sam: Whaaaaaat? What are you saying, how’s that? when ? And how?

Me: I don’t know the details but he said that his cousin will be with us and he will help us with some money, and that they want to go this evening; in just a few hours.

Sam: What? this fast ? What do you think of this decision? Do you agree ? are you satisfied ? Can you walk all that way?

Me : I am not convinced and I am afraid that I can not walk so far because of my asthma. And I do not have enough money and I have no idea how much this travel will cost and no idea of the seriousness of the journey and what can happen to us.

Sam: What about Hamid? What is his vision?

Me: Hamid is completely determined to go and does not want to change his mind.

Sam: I understand so try to talk with him again maybe he will change his mind and if he doesn’t accept just let him go but don’t give him any money because I’m sure he will need it later in his journey.And don’t change your mind but stay in Athens because Hamid will need your help later .

 

I put some clothes in a bag and gave it to Hamid and walked with him to the door of the apartment as the tears poured out of our eyes like rain of the last of November.

I said ‘take care of yourself, trust me and my love for you and know that my soul will accompany you on your way. I have no one in this world except you, please be strong. Trust that failure is the beginning of success and you will never fail. If you will feel for one minute that you will not be able to go on then come back and you will find me here waiting for you’.

Hamid, do not be afraid because you are a strong man, keep yourself well, remember the beautiful things and consider this trip as a journey of scientific exploration in order to get know other countries which you can share with me.

I love you so much as you are and as you were and as you will be and I will never abandon you.

He just said that I love you and trust you , he said it simply but his eyes were full of tears and his mouth drew a beautiful smile which hid so many of his feelings.

Hamid went and i closed the door quietly and in my heart I hoped that he would return after an hour or two. I did not know what to do. Should I cry until i lose all the water and the blood from my body and then fall down unconscious ? or follow him quickly ? or change my clothes and wait for Zoe and her boyfriend Nikos and my friend Ghiath who i have appointment with in my home  after one and half hours ? There was not enough time left to think . I should change my clothes and put the table and chairs on the balcony to welcome my guests.

I washed my face and attended to everything to receive my friends, but my heart was very sad because the water that washed my tears could not free my heart from its sadness and confusion.

 

Ghiath brought with him a Syrian sweet ( Halawa Tahinia ), which is one of the most delicious types of sweet whichI love so much. Nikos and Zoe brought with them flowers .

Perhaps those flowers will fill the empty space in my room or even accompany me during the night, but the dessert was the most beautiful gift from Ghiath as for a short time its taste made me forget the bitter taste of Hamid’s leaving.

We sat on the balcony and the conversation was fun, I tried to share their laughs and smile but my heart was crying.

That evening passed quickly and I was able to hide my tears and secret fears. After some hours my friends left and I stayed alone in my room and there my tears flowed safely without hindrance.

It was the longest night of my life, sitting on my bed, covered with a white cover and painted with colourful flowers.

Oh that bed now seems very very big, even bigger than the whole world and I do not know how to sleep on it; is it bigger than the distance between me and Hamid at that moment? I do not know the answer, but I am very sure that I miss him and I want him beside me now, but I do not know how.

I tried to contact Hamid more than once, but he did not answer. I do not know why, but he must answer and return back because I need him and I can not live alone without him.

The question I asked myself was ‘am I weak? Or is parting just so very difficult? ‘

I could not sleep that night, not even a minute. Tears did not allow my eyes to sleep.

With the sun shining and the sound of sparrows outside my window ,my phone rang.It is Hamid.

Me: ‘Hamid Are you back? Do you want me to open the door? I knew that you would not continue that damned journey which will grow the distance between us’.

Hamid: ‘No no darling I have not come back I just want to apologize because I could not answer your call yesterday as I was on the Greek-Albanian border. I am now in Albania and I will go after few minutes to its capital. The weather is very good here, I miss you a lot, are you okay ? Please don’t cry, you promised me to be strong, I am sorry i have to go now .

Me: ‘Hamid tell me that you love me, please’.

Hamid: ‘I love you.’

Then he broke down crying and ended the call.

I remember that I slept a lot that day and when I woke up, darkness coloured the sky .

I can’t describe that day because everything was tasteless and odorless. No, maybe everything had a taste and smell, but my senses don’t want to know anything.

Three days passed,. During those days i had many calls from Hamid as he told me about the route from Greece to Albania and tabout the soldiers guarding the Albanian border for fear of refugees. He told me about the water flowing in the rivers and crossing the land and borders without a travel document or visa and those birds that do not build factories and do not study medicine or engineering, informatics, philosophy and physics and yet roam the skies in freedom without the need for papers. Why is that fundamental right on earth only denied to (some) humans ? Especailly those who for so many reasons cannot stay in their homes?

After a week living on the streets in Albania keeping away from the police, Hamid reached the border with Montenegro. It was very hard. He had to walk two days. The weather in the border mountains was cold with snow and lots of rain. They slept outside with snow for a bed and rain as a blanket for their bodies.

Everything around him was harsh . He told me ‘I heard my heart beats calling me and shouting “enough enough”. I am so tired. I want to give up . The cold is too harsh , I can’t bear it anymore. I felt that my bones had frozen, I could not answer my heart because my mouth was frozen too and my tongue did not want to move. It was fear of the cold, and I screamed inside me “my God if you exist take me to you quickly maybe i can be warm and safe again “ That was everything he remembered before he lost consciousness.

The next morning Hamid and his friends woke up when the sun shine painted their bodies ,carrying with it warmth which entered their bones and veins and awakened their blood cells and ordered them to work.

Hamid arrived in Montenegro and the joy of victory accompanied him. He had escaped death and the police. This was the most beautiful victory of an oppressed bird.

One night I was sitting in my big room with my tears hugging me. I felt that Hamid was in danger. I tried to call him several times but he did not answer and the fear grew in my heart. I wrote him a travel poem with my pen that holds ink from my tears and blood and I told him .. .…

You, absent one, whose heart beats through my veins

Tell me – where are you, where did my tears fall?

Relieve me from this, my chest tightening, my ribs cracking.

Only my heart has escaped the tormentor.

Fleeing without wings or the will to return,

It has left me alone in my room,

to be wrestled into submission in my bed

Where are you?

Tell me frankly, without fear of my pains, my tears.

Or take me to you, lost here in the dark wilderness of deceit.

Send me your voice as thunder dragging over the foothills

And please, silence the voice of that brazen bird

who flirts daily with his false song through my window

telling me of spring, of the blossoms flowering like

a noose around my neck.

It squawks as it approaches to caress my face

alarming my innocent cat.

I do not want to hear its voice, unaccompanied by the melody

of your own.

And I do not want my bed without you, my cod and numb bed.

Can you see that picture on the wall?

It weeps daily, without knowing its tears erase

the words of reproach and guilt and longing.

I am afraid.

I am very afraid – do you hear my heartbeat accelerating?

and the tremor of my hands that pound my chest,

my feet which strike the ground like a barren tree?

Oh, despair, mine and yours

Despair that has only heightened my longing

Despair that has banished the day while the night too flees.

Speak to me, my love – tell me about the stars above your path

and about that liar, the moon.

Don’t be silent.

Tell me about the mountains long your route – are there really

wolves in their shadows?

And about the people of the prairie – do they really sleep in fog’s embrace?

Tell me about the road, about the flowers – are there really

tusks concealed in their leaves?

and about the grass that turned red

was it from the blood of the exiles that fed the soil?

And my god, tell me what has happened to your long, midnight beard?

Was it really turned white by the spite of the world?

Tell me about your body, about your youth, the beauty of your face and robes

did they really became the prey of bandits?

Tell me about your desire, about your lust – or has it too

become a currency with which you feed yourself?

Curse those people and their alien rituals

Curse the clouds that rain only filth

Curse the land sprouting tainted seeds

I am here, can’t you hear my voice?

Tell me, I am begging you – which way does the road to you lie?

And which faith will allow me to bow down at your feet?

Tell me – who am I in your absence? And who are those at your side?

Is my name still inked on your chest? Is it still the spell in your eyes?

I want nothing more.

I have no more power, to drag love from the touch of your palms

Come to me in a blink of an eye or take me to you at a glance

Or be certain – I am flesh, the worn residue of a heart,

of sallow skin and spent organs

a faded pulse

I am he whose shadow sleeps behind the sun

And the title of all the sad poems will take his name.

Saad Abdullah

Nea Kavala Camp: Hell in Northern Greece

Leaving Lesbos for Nea Kavala ” Sept 2nd 2019 Ekathimerini photo

I  cried when I heard that the Greek government said  that it is going to send 1000 refugees from Moiria camp on Lesbos to Nea Kavala on the mainland. They want to relieve the pressure on the camp with all its new arrivals. I heard that the refugees to be moved were all seen as ‘vulnerable’.

I want to shout out “Don’t Go”, “please don’t go”.

I was a ‘vulnerable’refugee on Samos and In March this year I was moved to the mainland with over 300 refugees from Samos. I was sent to the Nea Kavala Camp.  I lived there for 4 months.

It is HELL.

It is CRUEL

It is SHIT

If I had known what was waiting in this desolate camp in northern Greece I would not have moved. They would have had to carry me there by force. But I knew nothing of this camp. They told me nothing. They never asked me if I wanted to move.

When you are held on the islands like Samos you get the idea that the mainland is a better place to be. They say this a lot on Samos. The mainland has better resources and facilities than the island. This is what we hear.

As I quickly learned THIS IS NOT TRUE AT ALL. And yes, I want to shout this out. Please listen.

Nea Kavala Camp is one of hell’s chosen spots in Greece. And to think that this government sees it as a suitable place for vulnerable refugees shows to me how much it must hate us. Nobody should be expected to stay there.

Shock! All of us from Samos were shocked by what we found there. It was so unbelievable. In just a few days many I traveled with left the camp, disappearing in the night to try and find a better place to stay in Thessaloniki or Athens. They had nowhere to go to. Most had little money. But they wouldn’t stay.

An old photo but shows lack of shelter

First, Nea Kavala Camp is an old military airfield. It is in flat and boring countryside. There are no trees. It is isolated. It is at least a 20 minute walk to the nearest shop. The nearest village is a 40 minute walk . What you see are lines of tents and cabins with no shade and no protection.

I was in my own room in Samos town. I shared a bathroom and a kitchen. It had a washing machine. It had electricity. It had wi fi.

In Nea Kavala I was given a tent. On my own which was something ok. But no bed, no electricity, no reliable wi fi, no personal security ( my tent was robbed 4 times of food and clothes). Now I faced long queues for the toilet, for the shower and days waiting to wash my clothes. Because I was given the tent and food my monthly allowance was cut

my tent

from 150 to 90 euros. The food from the army was disgusting. I couldn’t eat it or face the queues and stress in getting the food so lived for most of the time on croissants, bananas and milk from the supermarket.

Of course I had to stop my Greek classes on Samos. But in Nea Kavala there was NOTHING like that. None of the people responsible for the camp stayed at Nea Kavala. Even the Camp Manager who I got to know only came for a few hours a day. She told me she was frightened by the place. The only people there all the time were some soldiers involved with the meals and some police. The police could not be bothered with  us. I reported my thefts each time to be told to go away. They were always rude and aggressive.

Nea Kavala is in the north of Greece near the border with Macedonia. It has long and cold winters. In the first few weeks it was  very cold at night and we had a lot of rain. On the second night an old woman in the next tent died and I am sure the cold finished her life. We had just one blanket each. Over Easter the sewage system broke and I found a river of sewage flowing past my tent. It took days to repair because of the holidays.

Then came the summer. We cooked in our tents. No shade. No where to get cool. Torture.

This is where they are sending over a thousand vulnerable refugees. There will be many children and older people. Their tents are waiting!

I am sure that there are other mainland camps just as bad. I just know Nea Kavala. It is not a place for human beings. The refugees being moved there must be told. The world must be told. When you now hear that refugees are being moved from the islands to the mainland don’t assume that they are going to a better place. Listen to us! Don’t stand by in silence. Please.

 

Abshir, (Somalian, 26 years old)

 

They have arrived now. See

Migrants deplore conditions in new Greek camp

(https://www.france24.com/en/20190904-migrants-deplore-conditions-in-new-greek-camp)

“We left Moria hoping for something better,” said Sazan, a 20-year-old Afghan, referring to the main camp on Lesbos.

“And in the end, it’s worse.”

 

 

 

 

 

Moving Stories

Abshir’s

Just over a week ago Abshir, from Somalia, was transferred from Samos to a mainland refugee camp at Nea Kavala in northern Greece. He was part of around 350 refugees taken that day from Samos as part of the Government’s attempt to ease pressure on the massively overcrowded camp in Vathi. All of them left on the ferry to Athens and in Abshir’s case with some others, he was bussed north. In all a journey of nearly 24 hours. No food or drink provided.

Abshir was very nervous about this move. He did not want to leave Samos. After 5 months this shy gay young man from Somalia was at last feeling more comfortable. UNHCR had recognised that it was not safe for Abshir, on account of his sexuality, to stay in the camp which led to the Greek NGO, Arsis, funded by the UNHCR, to provide him with a single room in a modern shared apartment. It was not five star but it was a million times better than the tent he had in the jungle around the camp. He had access to a shower, washing machine, kitchen, wi fi; he had his room and he was warm and dry. As he grew in confidence he made some close friends and started Greek language classes, again funded by UNHCR. He was also making plans to create a small business.

If Abshir refused to move he would lose his monthly UNCHR allowance and his accommodation. Without any family support or other sources of regular income he felt he had no choice. So his focus shifted to finding out what he could expect when he got to Nea Kavala and to ensure that his case papers were transferred. Basically he was told that he need have no worry and that he would continue to receive the appropriate care although he would be need to be patient as they had many people arriving in Nea Kavala, especially from the frontier islands of Kos, Lesvos and Samos.

Since arriving in Nea Kavala Abshir has been living in a tent. He has one blanket. Most nights he is cold. He sleeps on the floor. The tent sits on stones so the floor is uncomfortable. It has no electricity, no furniture, no wi fi access, no cooking facilities. The meals are basic and he can’t eat them as they give him a bad stomach pain. Hours are spent in lines – for food, for the showers, for the toilet. The water is heated by solar panels so in the early mornings the water is cold. This is when Abshir showers as there is no line. The laundry is overwhelmed and gives priority to established residents. He tells me that even if could find a way to wash his clothes he would have to sit and watch them. There is so much hardship in the camp that nothing is secure. Already he has had milk and bread and some money taken from his tent. Many people are very hungry he said. The only consolation is that he is alone in the tent, but he has been told that this could change at any time as new refugees arrive.

 

The camp which is home to over 700 refugees is isolated. The few facilities on offer are provided by a Danish NGO which is UNHCR funded. UNHCR and the Asylum Service have no permanent presence in the camp. Neither do any lawyers. So when they make their twice weekly visits they are overwhelmed. Absher has met with the lawyers who told him that he would have to wait. They did tell him however, that his papers had not yet arrived.

There is a supermarket around 20 minutes walk from the camp and the nearest town 45 minutes on foot.

Abshir is not alone in finding the camp a bad place to be. On April 10th an ayslum lawyer came to meet all those who were recently transferred with Abshir from Samos and to give them some sense of what they could expect with respect to the asylum process. They were told that they would need to be patient as their papers had not yet arrived from Samos. This came as no surprise to Abshir but what was more noticeable was that of the 350 who came together from Samos less than a 100 were at the meeting. According to Abshir, there was so much anger and disgust at the conditions in the camp – sleeping in tents, cold, terrible food, no electricity, its isolation and more – that those who could were leaving. Heading for the border, or to Athens, or to Thessalonika, leaving behind those such as families who could not move so easily. And this is what they told the asylum lawyer when he asked why there were so few of them at the meeting. There was much anger in particular over the cutting of their UNHCR allowances from 140 to 90 euros a month on account that they were now being fed in the camp and no longer were responsible for their own food. The lawyer’s response was that he had nothing to say about the conditions they were complaining of as he was only responsible for the asylum process. But he urged them to be patient and not to demonstrate because if they did the police would certainly come in and jail them.

One can only wonder how many of these 350 would have boarded the ferry in Vathi at the beginning of April if they knew what was waiting for them?

A little over a week ago Abshir had his own room in the town centre of Vathi……..

Saad’s

At the same time as Abshir was being moved from Samos, Saad was moved from his apartment in Athens. In both instances they were given no choice. In Saad’s case he was moved by Praksis, a Greek NGO funded by UNHCR to provide housing for vulnerable refugees.

Alongside Saad there were two other refugees each with their own room. Most importantly, the apartment had a decent sized sitting room where Saad’s friends would meet to talk, to smoke shisha and to pass the time. There was also a balcony and all the bedrooms were furnished with wardrobes and cupboards. And over 18 months they had made the place into a comfortable home adding rugs, chairs, couches (most of them from the street) and pictures and photos on the walls.

Now Saad and his co tenants are in an apartment with just 2 rooms, no sitting area, no balcony, and no furniture. One of them has created a tent in the lobby and now sleeps there so Saad has his own room. Currently he has a bed and 12 boxes and bags with his belongings. Nothing else. Praksis told him that they can give them nothing more and that they should be happy not to be living out on the streets.

Saad and his co-tenants are furious with Praksis both with respect to what they have done and how they have done it. They say they can do nothing but Saad refuses to accept this and plans to appeal directly to UNHCR. As he said, at the end of the day he may get nowhere but he is determined that they should at least realise what they have done is inhumane, cruel and unacceptable.

Saad has been with Praksis long enough to know how to contact them. This is not a common experience for refugees as most of the agencies involved in the lives of refugees have developed a range of practices and mechanisms which make direct contact with someone who might know something about your case almost impossible. This was why Abshir was so concerned to ensure that information about his case should be transferred to Nea Kavala as he knew that once away from Samos, all the contacts he had made there would no longer be available to him and he would have to start afresh in the new camp. He has no named contact person and there is no continuity in his case management. This is the most common experience for all the refugees here.

Neither Saad or Abshir were given any clear reason for why they had to move. Neither were asked about how they felt and above all no choice. In Saad’s case the Praksis workers knew that the 3 refugees hated what they were given and that all are very angry. But no alternative is offered nor is there any attempt to work together to find a better place. It’s Praksis or nothing. As it stands at the time of writing, Praksis has now agreed to look for a more suitable apartment for the three of them but none of them is expecting much.

Living Space and Survival

Many issues are highlighted in these two stories.

Firstly, the powerlessness of the refugees over where and how they live. Their needs and voices are simply ignored. Refugees are given little or no notice whether it is moving house or moving off an island. Abshir and Saad had 5 days notice. As I write, the minster for migration is on Samos for a few days and he has just announced that when he leaves at the end of the week he will be taking hundreds of refugees with him on a Greek navy boat. I wonder if the refugees affected have been told yet? The casual way in which the agencies act in moving refugees without any negotiation or discussion; a complete disregard of their needs and circumstances reveals (once more) the fundamental lack of solidarity and respect for refugees.

Secondly, there is no sign that the authorities grasp or understand the critical importance of place (home, locality,) for refugees as they wait for the asylum system to process their applications. In Saad’s case, he has been in Greece since October 2016 and in Athens for over 2 years waiting for his final interview in June this year. As with thousands of other refugees his ability to survive these months where his life is virtually stopped has been down to his friends. In Saad’s case his apartment became part of a network of places where friends could meet and in many cases find a bed in an emergency. His home has been crucial to his well-being. This has now been taken away from him.

Abshir has his asylum interview scheduled for January 2021. As far as he knows he could be in Nea Kavala camp for 2 years.

Thirdly, these stories challenge the widely held view that refugees are better off being moved to the mainland from the camps on the frontier islands. It would seem that many assume that the conditions there would [must] be better than Samos.

There are simply no reservations to the mantra of de-congest the frontier islands of refugees. It is a mantra shared across the political spectrum and voiced by virtually every refugee agency/NGO in Greece. Here on Samos no questions are asked about where and what happens to the refugees who are moved. Of course no one asks the refugees what they think.

But there is no innocence to de-congestion. The authorities and the NGOs know very well that what awaits many of the refugees on the mainland will mark no improvement in their lives and may very well be worse than what they have left behind on the islands. But they say nothing to those leaving and do what they can to stop people from refusing to leave.

There is also a madness to de-congestion. In the week Abshir left with 350 refugees for Athens – heralded on Samos for relieving the pressure on the camp – a similar number of new refugees arrived. It is like watching a child trying to empty a bath whilst the water continues to pour in.

The camp in Vathi is an outrage. No argument. But then you are drinking tea with a 34 year old refugee from Gaza who has beautifully painted and fitted out the recently opened Banana House, a new refugee space, in Vathi. In the process of drinking tea he shows the photos of his tent in the jungle around the camp. It is amazing. From the outside it looks as desperate as all the other tents and shelters clustered amongst the olive trees. But! Inside his home made cabin under the trees he has created a place of wonder and comfort. It has a floor, carpets, store cupboards on the wall, a fire place, and a small kitchen area. He lives there with his wife and daughter. The man is a genius. There are many others maybe not as talented but who have created some comfort in such extreme conditions. They and not the authorities have done this. It is theirs. For many, their resilience as refugees rests on these kinds of activities and the spaces they create for living, meeting and talking; passing time as best they can as they wait. All these factors make arbitrary removals highly disruptive and damaging.

Without doubt after being detained on Samos being moved to the mainland carries more than the scent of a new freedom. For some their detention on Samos has been for up to 2 years and all have been on Samos for months. So it is with some hope they leave the island for the mainland.

But the way in which these movements of refugees – big and small- are managed makes them problematic and flawed. When it suits, major NGOs amongst others will draw attention to the trauma of refugees and in particular the psychological damage to refugees from being corralled in disgusting camps as on Samos. But what of their compliance in the cruelties such as moving people from their homes without notice or discussion. Silence. Where in this one part of the refugee experience in Greece does one get a clear sense that refugees are human beings with all our individual and paradoxical dimensions? Nowhere. Watching the refugees who are being moved off on the ferries is like watching sheep being herded. It is dehumanising.

Sometimes small individual stories take us to much bigger issues and in so doing reveal much especially illustrating the impact of macro policy and ideology on lived daily experiences. Abshir and Saad’s stories are such examples. For as they share their experiences we see just how pernicious and damaging is the European insistence of placing deterrence at the very centre of its refugee practices at least with respect to the kinds of refugees that come to islands like Samos. (It does not apply to those with wealth and who are offered ‘golden’ visas and the like.) As we see every day on Samos, deterrence allows no space for humanity; for dignity and respect. Deterrence does not allow for compassion and care. It is the very opposite of solidarity. And for the refugees the consequences are lethal at worst and distress at best.

(With thanks to Abshir and Saad. Your photos are great too!)

For Whom Do You Fly ? Zeppelin over Samos

The Zeppelin was launched six weeks ago with much fanfare about protecting and hardening European borders. The Samos authorities were so proud to be the first EU country to deploy an airship for this purpose. BUT since taking to the skies on the end of its 1000 metre tether, the flow of refugees here has increased significantly! It is wonderful to see as their arrivals torpedoes the stupidity of deterrence. We were laughing with friends from Gaza and Syria who told us that they now think that the Zeppelin provides a great target for the refugee boats to aim for as they travel over the sea.

At least the tourists on some of the Samos beaches can now be reassured that they are being monitored and they can also share their holiday moments with Frontex and the European security apparatus. Maybe they even see this as millions well spent by Frontex given the benefits it brings to the war industries which build these things.

Given that it is useless there are some who believe that the Zeppelin is not so much as about ‘managing the flow of refugees to this small Greek island but is more about advertising to the world a new product. If that is the case then we would recommend that Frontex use the airship to provide contact information and a price.

 

Who would have thought an ‘unmanned’ airship would need so many people!

Refugee Lessons: Let us Free Like the Birds !

 

My life has been turned upside down amd inside out. My brain has never had to work so hard to make sense, to survive and to live. For some of my hardest years, the system saw me and treated me as illegal. That is a big experience. I learnt much. But above all I thought about being human and being free.

Syria


Now 24 years old I was born in Aleppo in northern Syria. As one of the oldest human cities in the world it is rich with history. But I didn’t think of the city as a unique place. I thought that our cultures were everywhere in the world. As a young Syrian I couldn’t leave the country for many reasons, including money and international laws, which did not allow me to roam freely across the earth. I had no direct knowledge of the world other than Syria.

After the winds of war tore up my country, I was forced to leave Syria without any options other than escaping into Turkey, illegally. For the first time in my life I came to understand the incredible importance that humans give to ‘papers’ – passports, ID, visas and so on. If I had been a bird in Aleppo I would have been free to go where I wished with no thought about papers or borders. For birds and all other living creatures on this earth borders have no meaning. But we seem to be alone amongst living things in restricting this universal right.

Turkey


When I arrived in Turkey I discovered that there are people who speak a strange language (my first feeling), which is Turkish and they do not know Arabic. I thought that I must learn their language so that I can communicate with them, but the Turkish language was not the only obstacle; the Turkish way of life I found hard to accept.


In the short time I spent in Turkey I experienced a society where men and women worked so hard for little money. Life for many seemed little better than prison.


On one sunny morning I went to a public garden to sit under the sun. There were a lot of young and old people in the garden and I approached one of them and said “Hi” to him, but he refused to respond and then he said, “What do you want, do you know me?”


I returned to my house where I heard the voices of the women in our neighbourhood, which I did not understand, but they were very loud. It was strange for me that their women sit in the street and talk and prepare food and wear bright clothes whilst on their heads they put a coloured cap that does not cover half of their hair, while their daughters wear short skirts and go from morning until evening to work. Their life looked very difficult and complex and I did not understand it well.

On Fridays I saw men streaming to the mosque to hear the Imam’s speech ًwhich is filled with screaming, crying, warnings and intimidations from God. And the people there were all crying and praying. But once they left the mosque they go back to their hard work, and later, tired after long hours of work they drink beer (which is not allowed in Islam ) and eat dough mixed with chili. (I don’t like chili!) There was a simplicity to this life but it was so hard and I felt that I was never accepted as a refugee from Syria. I felt that I had to become like them in order to live with them.

After some days I decided that I couldn’t make a new life in Turkey so I left for Greece, again ‘illegally’. There was no other choice for me. I am no longer afraid of illegal travel. I have been a homeless and guilty refugee as some people in the world seem to see me and as international laws want me, but in fact I am a bird traveling wherever he wants.

Greece


When I arrived in Greece (Samos Island) I could not roam the streets or travel between the islands because I was forced to live in a cage (camp for refugees).


The
Samos camp was full of refugees of different colours, shapes and languages. For the first time I met many different people, who I hadn’t been able to meet before, such as Ethiopians and Afghanis, Pakistanis, Indians, Egyptian Arabs, Algerians and many others. I did not know that all human beings were so alike and that we eat similar food with a slightly different taste and that Afghans and Pakistanis have a lot of cooking skills. And others were into sports and learning languages, and the prettiest of all of this was the chance I had to touch the body of one of the black refugees from Africa without fear, and I knew they were human beings like us. And it was in Greece where I had the opportunity to meet and know people from Europe and the north America.

How beautiful it is to be a free bird.

Despite all these great and new experiences there were many difficulties in getting close to people from so many different societies. There seemed many issues which held us back from accepting one another.


Even gays from Arab and Asian countries
including Greece seemed closed to themselves and do not seem to like any person except gays. But I think that is a reaction because many people don’t accept them. How hard it is to be different and to be a friend to all people, they see you as different and you see them as different and both of you are afraid of the other.

The Greek government allowed me to fly to its capital after much trouble and time and to start another tale.

Athens is not similar to Aleppo or Izmir and was so different from them, with people from many countries and cultures. But this did not change the nature of its people who love to dance and party, drinking beer and raki which is the best alcoholic beverage they have.This may be nice for them, but I was very surprised that most of the workers I saw in Athens were immigrants and refugees from Asia and Africa.

It was not difficult to talk to the young Greek people because they speak English and I have enough to make conversation. But their pronunciation of the English language can seem strange as they speak a new language with a strange voice, but the bigger problem was with the old people who speak only the language of their country.


If I hadn’t met my English friends, life would have been harder for me in Greece. It was also great that my English friends are sociologists which helped them and me better understand the Greek people and others. I began to realise that I too had been influenced by the place where I grew up where the air I breathed was not so open and fresh.


In Greece, which is one of the gateways into Europe, you find a lot of refugees fleeing from their walled countries; many of them also seek to escape from Greece. And the reason is that they are looking for a country that does not have racism, fences and prisons, and is full of safety and love and coexistence. And where you have a chance to make a new life. Greece is a beautiful country but it is so poor that like many refugees I couldn’t see how I could make my new life there.

It seemed to me that most of us still carry in our minds many feelings of distrust and lack of acceptance of those different from ourselves just as we are looking for people different from us and to become like them. I experienced a lot of persecution from refugees which made me think that the freedom we are looking is still infected by the poisonous air from the soceities where we once called home. Even now I am still trying to understand all of this!


Netherlands


My illegal journey finished in Greece. I was so lucky when the Dutch government allowed to me to go to Holland by family re-unification. They recognized me as a free, legal bird . A few weeks after my acceptance I took the travel documents and went to Athens airport to stand there as all other people and could now say I am here ! A legitimate bird so you have to let me get into the plane.

I arrived in the Netherlands with my beautiful loyal dog Max after I got financial help from my British friends to buy travel tickets for me and my dog and some money to buy food, clothes and bags.

The journey was very beautiful, but the fear of another shock was in my mind all the time. I arrived in that beautiful green country, which is trying to escape from the water which is threatening it from all sides. Should it win then will I be safe with Dutch people or should I learn how to swim to start again my journey again but this time as fish not bird ? That was the first question in my mind. Crazy!


In the airport in Amsterdam my friend was waiting me to take me to his house in Enschede where he is living. It was not a house but just one room he shared with another three Syrian refugees.


These were not the easiest days for me in the Netherlands because I was living with my friend and Max my dog in a small room. I couldn’t relax because these Syrian birds didn’t accept me and my dog with them in the same house and because they see me as a ‘fucking feminine’ boy so they want to fuck me or for me to leave the house. They didn’t accept Max either because they said it is not allowed in Islam to have a dog in your house. Although I tried to talk with one of them to explain to him that we are both human and that I am a good person and not as he thinks and his answer was “why you are talking with me ? What do you want ? “


My question is, is he right that I shouldn’t have talked to him and every person must make his life in a small shell ? or is he a psychiatric patient who needs treatment in order to learn to live with others?

Smiles


Before going to my friend’s house I had to spend a few days in a camp sorting out my papers. I arrived at the refugee camp after a journey of more than three and a half hours, but the beauty of the nature and the houses there made me forget everything. I had not seen in my life more beautiful buildings and more beautiful grounds for a refugee camp.Wherever you look, you find trees, flowers and small houses with red rooves, white doors and policemen wandering around the camp on bicycles with a beautiful smile on their faces.


I can not forget those smiles that explained the meaning of life and assured me of my humanity, which I feel has been ‘imprisoned’ since I was a child growing up in Aleppo. And it was not only the smiles on the faces of the police, but wherever you go, you find people smiling at you and greeting you as if they knew you for years or as if you were one of their family.

Even the refugees living here were painting their faces with the same smile. Perhaps the secret is that when you see this smile everywhere and all the time it will draw on your face without thinking. This experience made me so happy because I never imagined that there are people smiling for all people even if they have different colours, religions, shapes, education levels, races and passports.


The story does not end here, but the smiles still accompany me everywhere here in the city where I decided to live in the east of the Netherlands. Every morning and evening I go out with my dog for a walk. I see people around me smile and greet each other and me . That is really the key to life and this is a beautiful society which seems to accept all cultures, and with smiles welcomes all people and all creatures.


Perhaps the Netherlands is not the only country with these wonderful qualities, but this is what I have discovered so far. Life is going on and my wings are stronger and longer now that I have I got legitimate wings. But I will never forget that legal or not we will never stop trying to fly, free like the birds in the sky.

Saad Abdullah

August 2019

Cruelties

This man is Hisham Mustafa from Aleppo, Al Sfir 

Turkish police transferred him 25 days ago from Istanbul to Syria ( Idleb). He was given no choice but to return to a place where the war continues. In Istanbul he left behind his wife and their three children. Without Hisham they don’t have any one to help them or to fed them. He had to get back to them. He tried many times but it is very difficult now in the border area between Syria and Turkey because it is full of Turkish soldiers. But then one day it was different because the soldiers let him to get into the border area after he had told them his story and his frantic concern for his wife and children in Istanbul. He had only walked some metres on Turkish land to find his body was the target of Turkish soldiers’ bullets.

In truth he was killed many times. The first time was when they let him get into Turkey with his family illegally without any papers . The second time was when they left him to work illegally in Turkey and to have a house and to slowly re-build his life, all illegally . The  third time was when they decided that being illegal in Turkey he should now go back to his country as he came originally; without his family without his money; without everything. And the fourth time was the easiest when they killed him with their bullets

He is now gone with his beautiful dreams and noble desire to return to his family to give them the help that they needed. 

Many of us who fled Syria and had the luck and the money to get into Europe have family and friends in Turkey which has been the home of millions of Syrians escaping the war. The life for them there is very hard – few jobs, low wages, overcrowded homes and poverty. For many this has been their life for six years. They rely on their own efforts with nothing from the government or UNHCR.

And now we have new fear in their lives. In recent months the Erdogan administration has started removing work from the men in particular and deporting them back to the Idlib region. Hisham was just one man caught and returned.

More and more we are getting terrible news from Turkey.

The woman in the photo  was taken as she was on a bus going back to Syria. The police caught her on the streets and forced her on to the bus. She cried a lot. She asked the police to give her time to say goodbye to her children. They refused.

We are now sick with worry for our friends and families stuck in Turkey. Although some of us are now safe Europe, we are so powerless to help. It is so cruel what is happening. We can’t stay quiet. We must not be silent faced with such evil.

Saad Abdllah August 2019

Listen to the Voices

‘Listen to the voices of the prison stones which see everything inside.’

By Saad Abdllah

The crying of the rubble in Syria reveals the pain of the people trapped under the debris. But the pain of the Syrian refugees continues as they search for safety and life.

The walls of the prisons in Athens are screaming injustice! Many Syrian refugees are in prisons without charge or conviction, many of them were forced to sail the sea to find life; they were terrified, frightened by the waves, the cold, the small boat tossed like a leaf in the wind, and many were scared of the smugglers and lost their power and their will.

Many Syrians have come to the Ottoman lands to escape the war in their country.This is the closest point they can cross into Europe. But as all of you know many of the human traffickers and soldiers of the Ottomans take from the Syrian refugees everything they have.

The shadow of death and injury follows them as they travel through the Ottoman lands. And when they stand at last on the beaches and look across the sea to the islands of Greece they now must face their biggest danger; to cross the sea of death (the Aegean Sea ) .They are now very close to death, not sure whether they will live or die. But there is no return. So on they go, placing their lives in the hands of smugglers.

Young Syrians are subjected to many tricks when dealing with human traffickers. They are vulnerable to theft, violence, rape and the worst forms of torture because they are Syrian on Ottoman soil.

Refugees are asked for large amounts of money,to cross the sea. Those who can pay will be on the death journey but those who do not have enough will be asked to drive the boat and carry on their shoulders the responsibility for all their friends as they drive into the sea to face and wrestle with waves and the weather, often in the darkness of night.

Accused! Arrested! and Imprisoned!

There are many examples of young Syrians who have been forced to drive the rubber boats simply because they do not have enough money. Some of them had enough money but still they ended up driving the boat because the boat driver who had been sent by the smuggler was not capable.So they drove to keep a live their souls and their friends to reach the safe harbour of the Greek beaches.

There is often a great tragedy here as they come close to the Greek beaches when the Greek Coast Guard approaches to rescue them. Just to see a young refugee driving the boat is enough for the coastguards to accuse and arrest him, without any question, of being a smuggler. These officials take him to the nearest prison where he starts another timeless journey of despair and torment.

One of the prisoners told me that “ this is not a prison but a centre of education on how to use drugs and how to trade in them .You can easily get the amount of drugs you want through people working for the Greek police and prison officers whose main task ought to be to protect the prison and the prisoners.” They are never held to account for their actions.

Another added that “the prisoners are thrown in prison without even knowing what they are accused of and without even being asked for their names and where they come from. I spent more than a year in jail without anyone asking me one question or giving me one minute to defend my self “.

Greek prisons seem like an operating theatre where bodies are cut up even with the heart pumping blood and the soul in pain.

It is strange to be the saviour of the refugees so we do not drown in the middle of the Aegean Sea and then to be considered a criminal who should be in prison for up to 45 years! and he does not even know if he would live a quarter of it or not. In other words we can say that for some young Syrians who do not have enough money to give to the smugglers they have two options either to die in Turkey or to die in drug and addiction prisons in Athens.

I was shocked by news that I heard from many young refugees in Athens’ prisons that there is one judge on one of the islands who gives every one of the refugees who had been caught driving a boat carrying refugees to the Greek beaches at least 45 years sentence without any discussion or mercy .They told me she did this in retaliation for the spirit of her brother who had drowned in the Aegean Sea.

I do not know how to describe fully my feelings when I heard about the availability of drugs and addiction in Athens. Today I can tell you very clearly that there are many young refugees (20 -40 years old) who are rich in talents and energy who at a time when the world needs them are dying and suffering in the worse way in prison.

This is a tragedy which needs to be known. But if you know and keep silent then that will be an even greater calamity.

Can you imagine that Greece this great beautiful country once seen as the home of Xenios Zeus, the ancient god of foreigners and hospitality and which is still considered a paradise by many people,now has on it’s land so many cruel places.Greece for too many people especially refugees is now experienced as the capital of death, drugs and suffering where the the embrace of Xenios Zeus has long disappeared.

صوت الحجارة فضاحاً فا أنصتوا له لعلكم تعلمون.
ما كاد أن توقف صوت بكاء حجارة سوريا مخبرة عن آلام البشر التي تحتها حتى سمع صوت أحجار اخرى تتألم.

أسوار سجون اثينا تستصرخ وا ظلماه
فآلاف اللاجئين السوريين في سجون اثينا بلا تهمة و لا إدانة،فمنهم من ركب البحر مجبورا و منهم من شق البحر خائفا و مزعوراً من تجار البشر و منهم من لم يكن له حولا و لا قوة

الكثير من الشباب السوريين قد زحفوا إلى الأراضي العثمانية هربا من الحرب في سوريا فهي اقرب ارض يستطيعون من خلالها العبور الى أوربا ولكن و كمان يعلم كلكم بأن تجار تهريب البشر و حلفائم من جنود العثمانيين يأخذون من اللاجئ السوري كل ما يملك على حساب بقائه على قيد الحياة ووصوله الي اقرب نقطة من أوربا

و بُعيد تلك الرحلة الاشبه برحلات الموت تأتي المرحلة التالية و هي مرحلة الموت الحقيقة التي شرطها الاساسي هو عبور بحر الموت( بحر ايجة) و قبل الموت هناك سكرات، وسكرات هذا الموت هي التعامل مع تجارها

يخضع الشباب السوريين للكثير من المخاطر بتعاملهم مع تجار البشر في تركيا لأنهم معرضون للسرقة و القتل و الاغتصاب و أبشع أنواع العذاب لمجرد انهم سوريين على أرض عثمانية
و يطلب منهم مبالغ كبيرة من الأموال فمن يملك و يسلم يصعد رحلة الموت و من لا يملك يُطلب منه ان يقود القارب و يحمل في وزره حِمله و حِمل كل أصدقائه في عرض البحر و ان يواجه و يصارع الأمواج و حده بلا ذنب و لا شفقة .

هناك الكثير من الأمثلة على هذا من الشباب السوريين الذين قد جُبروا على قيادة القارب المطاطي لمجرد عدم امتلاكهم المال الكافي، و منهم من كان يملك المال الكافي لكنه لم يجد الكفاءة المطلوبة في سائق القارب الذي قد اُرسل من قبل المهرب فما كان منه إلا أن أخذ مكانه و حاول أن يحافظ على سلامة روحه و أرواح أصدقائه لكي تصل إلى مرسى الامان على الشواطئ اليونانية .

لكن الفاجعة الكبرى ليست هنا بل هي على الشواطئ اليونانية او قبلها ببضعة أمتار وذالك عندما يقترب خفر السواحل اليونانية لمساعدتهم او إنقاذهم ، فالمجرد ان يُرى اللاجئ الشاب يقود القارب يُتهم وبلا اي سؤال بأنه مهرب و من تجار البشر و يأخذ إلى اقرب السجون و تبداء معه رحلة الخلود إلى الياس و عذاب الدنيا و الآخرة.

فا السجون اليونانية هي أشبه بمراحل تشريح جسدٍ لا زالت الروح تنبض فيه و لازال القلب يضخ فيه الدماء .

كما قال أحدهم من داخل إحدى السجون ” إنها ليست سجون بل هي مراكز للتعليم على كيفية تعاطي المخدرات و الحشيش و الإتجار فيها فهناك تستطيع بكل سهولة ان تحصل على كمية المخدرات التي تريدها عن طريق أشخاص تعمل لصالح الشرطة اليونانية التي مهمتها الأساسية هي حماية السجن و المساجين او حتى محاسبتهم ”
كما أضاف آخر ان السجين يُلقى في السجن بدون ان يعرف حتى ما هي تهمته و بلا ان يسأل حتى عن اسمه و من اين أتى و انه قد أمضى هذا الشاب أكثر من سنة كاملة داخل السجن بلا ان يسأل سؤال واحد و بلا أن يُعطى دقيقة واحدة للدفاع عن نفسه.

و من العجيب أن يكون منقذ الاجئين من الغرق في وسط بحر ايجة مجرم و يَحق عليه السجن لمدة خمسة و أربعون عاما و هو لا يدري إذ كان سيعيش ربعها ام لا و بصيغة اخرى نستطيع أن نقول بأن الشاب السوري الذي لا يملك المال الكافي لكي يعطيه لتجار البشر في تركيا له إحدى الخيارين إما ان يموت في بحر ايجة غرقا او يموت في سجون
المخدرات و الإدمان في اثينا .
أثار غضبي خبر قد سمعته من الكثير من الشباب الذين في سجون اثينا بأنه هناك قاضية في إحدى جزر اليونان ، تعطي لكل شب قد ساق قارب يحمل الاجئين من تركيا حكم لا يقل عن خمسة و أربعون عاما بلا ايي مناقشة او رحمة و ذالك انتقاما لروح أخيها الذي قد اماته القدر غرقا في بحر ايجة.

فإن كنتم تدرون فتلك مصيبة و إن كنتم لا تدرون فإن المصيبة أعظم.
لا اعرف كيف اصف شعوري فيما سمعت من أحد المساجين في سجون المخدرات و الإدمان ان هناك الآلاف من الشباب الذين عملهم الأساسي هو طلاب جامعات و علم و مدرسين و منهم الأطباء و منهم المهندسين وووو الكثير من المسميات الجميلة و الصفات الرائعة التي يحتاجها هذا العالم اليوم و لكنهم اليوم جميعهم تحت مسمى واحد وهو مدمنون مخدرات ( بفضل السجون اليونانية ) و يسيرون في طريق واحد ( طريق الياس و الهلاك)
هل تستطيعون أن تتخيلو ذالك بان اليونان هذا البلد الجميل العظيم الذي حمل راية الحب و السلام على مر العصور و الذي يعتبر جنة النجاة للكثير من الشعوب ان يكون على أرضه تلك السجون المخيفة او بصيغة اقرب الى الواقع تلك الغابات المظلمة؟

استطيع اليوم ان اخبركم بان الآلاف من الشباب السوريين الذين تتراوح أعمارهم بين ٢٠ و ٤٠ و الذين يزخرون بل مواهب و العلم والفكر و الطاقة التي نحتاجها و العالم كله يحتاجها يموتون اليوم بأبشع طرق الموت و العذاب و التي هي المخدرات و الإدمان و الياس في سجون اليونان بلا ذنب و بلا سبب ، و بدون ان يملكون خيار واحد للحياة .

اهلا وسهلا بكم هنا اليونان عاصمة الموت و المخدرات بعد أن كانت عاصمة الحب و السلام.