Monthly Archives: May 2014

Mourn! Never Forget! Never Give In!



Carrying the box with the remains of Wasim's family to the ferry.

Carrying the box with the remains of Wasim’s family to the ferry.


Today, in Athens, Wasim Abo Nahi will bury what remains of his wife Lamees, his baby daughter Layan and his infant son Uday who were killed on Samos island (Greece) in July 2013.

He has waited 10 months for the Greek state to release these remains. 10 months of torture for Wasim.

A family was wiped out because they did not have the right papers. Palestinian refugees in Syria are able to get passports but they are worthless. The pages say that Wasim is able to travel anywhere in the world. It asks he be helped and assisted when in need. It is all lies. It is a passport to hell.

Lamees, Layan and Uday we mourn and remember today. They join millions of others who have been killed by a system which has no humanity for the overwhelming majority of the people of the world. Most of these millions are buried with no names on their graves. For the system you counted for nothing but for us, we will never forget you.

As we cry with Wasim today let us listen to the wisdom of the Zapatista’s:

“What do we say to [Lamees, Layan and Uday] who, in whatever corner of the world below, are buried in oblivion?
That only our pain and rage count?
That only our outrage means anything?
That as we murmur our history, we don’t hear their cry, their scream?
Injustice has so many names, and provokes so many screams.
But our pain and our rage do not keep us from hearing them.
And our murmurs are not only to lament the unjust fall of our own dead.
They allow us to hear other pains, to make other rages ours, and to continue in the long, complicated, tortuous path of making all of this into a battle cry that is transformed into a freedom struggle.
And to not forget that while someone murmurs, someone else screams.
And only the attentive ear can hear it.
While we are talking and listening right now, someone screams in pain, in rage.
And so it is as if one must learn to direct their gaze; what one hears must find a fertile path.
Because while someone rests, someone else continues the uphill climb.
In order to see this effort, it is enough to lower one’s gaze and lift one’s heart.
Can you?
Will you be able to?”

May 30th 2014

Samos Refugee Tragedy: Meeting Some of the Survivors

We have just come back from the ferry as we were told at the Detention Camp
 on Friday that it was likely that the survivors would be travelling to
 Athens today (Sunday). They were indeed at the port and for the 
first time we managed to talk with some of them on the ferry.
 It takes just over an hour for the ferry to go from Vathi to Karlovassi
 and this is the time we had with them.
It was a very distressing experience for us to meet the survivors many of whom
 were clearly in deep shock. It was also awful that in order to get on the ferry you had to 
pass within 50 metres of the boat in which most of the people lost their lives. It is simply
 lying on the dock with a bit of tape round it. Why did they have to confront this? 
Why hasn't the boat been either moved or covered?
The survivors we met were from Syria and Somalia. The Syrians seemed to have
 experienced the greatest trauma in terms of loss of life. The young guy who lost his 
mother and sister (who was 7 months pregnant) was very upset and angry. He
 didn't want us to talk with him nor the group sitting with him. He said there was no
 help to be had; nobody helps them. It was hard to listen to his despair, although 
completely understandable. We did talk to a Syrian man in his early 20s from near 
Aleppo who spoke English and he was telling us how awful it was in Syria. 
Just horrifying. He asked how could they be forced to travel in this way when they
 were only trying to get away from a terrifying war. In terms of the tragedy
 he said the fibre glass motor launch (not a yacht in that it has no mast or sails) 
faced big waves which flooded the boat and it was 2 big waves one after 
another which turned them over. There was a second smaller boat with them 
and we couldn't work out what happened to that except that it sunk. The guy and
 his friend who were driving the boat were both arrested. They didn't escape as 
some have suggested.
What really shocked us was that the survivors were in the sea
 for 3 hours before they were rescued. Given how near they were to the
 land and the fact that the police/army/frontex always seem to be around
 on this part of Samos (using thermal cameras) looking for refugee boats
 coming over at night it seems strange that help took so long to arrive.
 Then there is the matter of the cruise ship which was first on the scene.
The young Syrian talked of being very cold and some got hypothermia 
and could recall little of what happened. He on the other hand could
 remember he said, every minute. The cruise boat – he described it as a
 big white tourist ship was circling them. It was the first on the scene. He
 said they were shouting for help and some swam to the ship but there 
were no ropes or ladders. The cruise boat did not lower any life boats
 to rescue people. This is shocking. So they were in the water until the
 'police' boats arrived and pulled them out. He said they watched people 
die during this time. This at the very least suggests there are some serious
 questions to be asked of the cruise boat. But we didn't talk more as they
 were too upset and angry.
The group of 5 Somalian men had not lost any of their friends and 
relatives and were more open to talk. It was they who told us the
 men in charge were arrested and also said they were not very 
competent in handling the boat. We wondered in fact whether 
the drivers of the boat were also refugees who were offered a free 
ride on the grounds that they could drive a boat. But this is speculation. 
What is not speculation is that they each paid $ (US) 1,000 to make the journey.
Nobody said much about the camp or how they were treated.
 The survivors are really in shock but we are not sure that they will get much 
more help now they are out of the camp. None of them wanted to stay in Greece
 and all said they would be looking to move on as soon as possible.
Apparently, the survivors were told not to speak to anyone. We suspect
 that this normal practice in these circumstances.
We are especially concerned about the well being of the Syrian survivors.
 We can't stress too highly that their release from the camp does not mean
 that they are going to be in a better place. Athens for many refugees 
is a cruel place where without adequate resources they are forced to live on the very
 margins and  are highly vulnerable to many forms of exploitation.


I travelled on the overnight ferry to Pireaus. On a good day, when the ferry does not break down it takes 14 hours from Samos island in the east Aegean. Already on the ferry was a group of refugees and I went over to join them. Samos has for many years been an entry point to Greece and Europe. It is very close to Turkey and both sides of the straits with isolated beaches and forests works well for the traffickers. This year the numbers have increased with over 3000 coming. 2000 more than last year. Why? Syria mainly. It is now common to find refugees on the ferry. This group had just been discharged from the detention camp in Samos town. Most of them had a paper that allows them just 30 days in Greece. They had been in the camp for one month and a few others for longer.

I always travel with refugees when I can. Samos was where I arrived in 2006. You quickly learn that you need your friends when you are a refugee. Without friends it is hard to live in Greece. That evening I was travelling with 23 refugees from Syria. Their ages ranged from 5years to 45 years and included men and women, girls and boys. Some of the group were Palestinians escaping from the camp at Yarmouk near Damascus – a site of horrendous violence within a terrifying Syria.

You can feel confused when you first come out of the camp. These are your first ‘free’ hours in Europe – the goal of your journey. You’re both excited and afraid. The future is not clear. You are not sure what to expect in Athens, but you know it won’t be easy. At the same time there is sadness at leaving behind friends who quickly became brothers and sisters whilst surviving the camp. You laugh and cry when you leave.

Refugees carry sacks of problems on their backs. In the case of the Syrians with me on the ferry they carried great weights of sadness and grief. Many had lost close family and friends to the war. There was the young mother with her 5 year old son. She told of how her husband was killed and that she was now alone with her boy. Only because of the boy she kept going. She said there was nothing left for her.

To run to survive or to stay and suffer is not much of a choice. Many of the Syrian refugees were troubled and confused. They were in situations and places which they never thought could be possible in their lives. Few of them could be described as street wise. They looked like refugees. This is not just about how you look physically. It is also about your spirit and confidence. How you stand and walk. How you look at people. Whether you show fear. These are things you learn. If you succeed you are more likely to avoid the checkpoints, of getting picked up on the street and of getting through border controls. Without it life is very hard.

They might still look like refugees but they were not stupid. They knew from their networks – especially Facebook- that they would not be well received in Greece and much of Europe. Needing to pay sums of between 3 and 5 thousand euros just to be trafficked secretly at night across the narrow straits that separate Samos from Turkey tells you about the welcome you can expect. Why do we have to travel like this? Why do we have to face danger to get to Samos? With the right of piece of paper we could travel in safety on a ferry for less than 20 euros. Without the paper people die every year trying to make the same crossing.

From the moment the police pick you up for arriving on Samos with no papers the humiliations begin. The fact that you have seen horror, experienced terror and fear, lost loved ones counts for nothing. You are now a criminal and processed as one. The first we meet are the health workers who are masked and gloved . The message is clear. You are unhealthy, a danger, a kind of poison. You need to be cleansed. Then it is on to the camp. The lines of one storey huts are built on terraces climbing above Samos town. It is isolated up a single track. No other buildings close by. Certainly no local people around. The entire site is surrounded by two wire fences about 3 metres apart and 2.5 metres high each topped with coiled razor wire. The camp looks like a giant cage. It is a giant cage. If you did not know otherwise you would think you are looking at a high security prison.

There are many questions. The authorities want to know names- who brought you, what you paid, your local contacts. They want personal details. The questioners never seem to believe your answers. It is taken for granted by the police that you lie, about your name, your age, your nationality and your family. For the first few days I thought that malaka was how you said ‘hi’ in Greek. It was only when I greeted a guard that I learnt it meant wanker. We were always malakas. The distrust can have very hard consequences. For the 45 year old Syrian man with his 14 year old daughter it had meant him being separated from his daughter for six weeks. She was held in the camp, her dad in the police cells in the town. The police maintained that she was not his daughter and that he was trafficking her. He was eventually re-united but under severe restrictions until DNA tests have proved the relationship. Tests which he was told will take 6 months to complete.

It was beautiful to see the solidarities amongst the Syrians on the boat. In coming through the camp together they had created new and deep bonds of friendship. Resources were shared. Sharing with strangers out of humanity is what you learn in the camps. This is how we get by. This is how we build our networks both far and near. These are what we depend on when we travel and move. In a hostile place, in a country you have never visited before, the camp group becomes your family, your home, the people who share the same fears and hopes. No surprise then to find the group deciding that they were going to stick together when they got to Athens. They would look for places to stay near to one another, in the same building if possible.

We talked through the night. They wanted to know about Athens. The group had plenty of phone numbers of contacts who could help them. Some had already arranged to be met at the port by Syrians already established here who would help them to find places to stay. But in 2014 there is a new reality for refugees which was not so strong when I first came to Athens in 2006. Now, no help is free. Everything comes with a price. Even the tickets for the ferry they had to buy. We were given them.

As refugees we expect nothing from the Greek state. It is not humane and it is not humanitarian. It shows no kindness; is never generous, never takes you in its arms. It treats us like dirty garbage and is more likely to beat and imprison us than help us. Some of the police and coast guards show pity but many are ignorant and rude.We quickly learn that Greece does not help refugees. Its speciality is harassment and messing you about. 18 months in a police cell designed for one or two nights custody is what awaits those who can’t get out of Greece in 30 days and have no other papers which allow them to stay. There are thousands now held in these cells. It is torture. What have we done to be treated like this? What makes governments behave like this?

There are only a few safe places in Athens. The steki in Exarcheia is a shining example of where refugees and local activists have made a community building. This is where I learnt Greek 8 years ago and its classes and teachers continue. Without some Greek living here is like being in a dark place. The steki is a place for meeting friends, to eat free meals at weekends, to keep in touch with what is happening both in Athens and elsewhere. It is a safe place where you can relax and laugh.

There is no network of stekis in Athens. There is not much of anything – no work, no money, few places to get help. In this desert a kind of service industry has emerged. Much of it is in the hands of street wise guys including local Greeks as well as migrants. They have found ways to make money out of the refugees by selling a range of services. It is easy to be judgemental and angry at those who survive on the back of the refugees. But they sell services needed by the refugees. Especially when there is nothing else. But no help is free now. You pay someone to find you a mattress at 5 euros a night in a shared room. The alternative is a hotel room at 20 euros a night. You pay to be put in touch with people who can help you leave Greece. Then you pay for the services you eventually receive. It is an economy with systems which are adapted to uncertainty. Each day you never know what might happen.

Some of the Syrians come with money that they have gathered from selling homes and cars before they left. Others rely on friends and families to help them. Only a few of this group had any clear destination. But they all knew that they had to get out of Greece quickly. It is a prison, that doesn’t want you to stay but at the same time makes it very hard to leave. The longer you stay, the more your resources drain away and the walls of the prison grow higher.

We talked for hours through the night. And as ever, when you meet and talk with refugees, the discussion returns to the big question. WHY? Why are we treated like this? What are our crimes? Why are states so cruel to us? Why when so much is known about our suffering is so little done to help us? We look for safety and a place to be left alone to live in peace. But we get anger, prison and abuse. Why? When will more people speak out and share the pain of the refugees? When will we realise that our silence means that we also damage our own humanity? This is what we think about. This is what goes around and around in our heads.

Sofiane Ait Chalalet

When Will it End? Today’s Tragedy off the coast of Samos

On Samos island we are watching another tragedy unfold before our eyes this morning (May 5th 2014). From our working place we are looking over a calm sea where at this very moment refugees are fighting for their lives. The details are confused at the moment but what is clear is that 2 small rubber boats full of refugees have sunk about 1-2kms from the shore. A cruise ship coming out of Kusadassi (Turkey) has now moved on but for the past 2 hours it has been circling the spot where the boats were lost. It is not clear whether this ship was involved directly in the incident. We have as yet no idea how many refugees were in the boats but we can assume there are deaths and people missing as a lone helicopter is still as we write, scouring the sea. Given the tranquillity of the sea and the lack of wind it is hard to believe that the weather has played a role in this latest tragedy.

It is highly probable that the majority of those in the boats will be refugees fleeing Syria. Over 3,000 refugees came to Samos last year and the majority are from Syria. They, like our friend Wasim, whose family died on Samos last summer, are looking for safety and the chance to build a new life free from terror. Yet as today, too many refugees find that last step into Europe to be both dangerous and expensive. The hundreds of un-named graves on the islands of Samos, Lesbos and Chios are just one testament to the dangers. There are many more bodies which never make it to the shore.

That such highly vulnerable people seeking refuge and safety are compelled to travel in small rubber boats at high cost is entirely due to the inhumanity of the EU policies and practices with respect to migration in general and refugees in particular. In these matters Greece patrols its borders and deals with the refugees in accordance with EU directives and sentiments. The expectations are clear and simple. Keep the borders strong. Keep the refugees out. Give no welcome. Treat those who get through as criminals so to dissuade others from coming. Do nothing, absolutely nothing which encourages refugees to think that they can expect help when they arrive in Europe. This is precisely mirrored in the funding. The EU Commission allocated €227,576,503 for Greece to keep refugees and migrants out from 2011 until the end of 2013; but only €19,950,000 to assist their reception during the same period.

For those of us who are European all this is being done in our name. Is this what we want? Are we really so cruel? These are nothing less than crimes against humanity. WHY do we allow this to happen?

Today we stood with our neighbours looking over this latest tragedy. They were crying. They know what they are seeing should never be allowed to happen.

We also know that over the years the Greek state and some of its key agencies have taken to their border control work with relish. We had the sobering experience of having a taxi driver in Athens who had no shame in telling us that the happiest days of his life was his time as an army conscript on the borders with Albania where as a sniper in the special forces he could shoot Albanians trying to get into Greece. The fact that most of the refugees coming into Greece are muslim and often black draws on deeply sedimented prejudices which fuels the violence of the state and its agents. None of the statements above can be disputed. For the past 10 years endless reports from Amnesty, Medecin Sans Frontiers, Human Rights Watch, UNCHR, parliamentarians from across Europe, and countless other groups and NGOs have been documenting the abusive violence of the Greek state and its officers. The weight of the evidence is overwhelming. It is beyond dispute. BUT NOTHING CHANGES.

The silence of the powerful across Europe to these ongoing crimes is more than passive complicity. It is nothing less than a green light. We won’t stop you from doing what is needed.

So we can expect nothing from those quarters UNLESS the people in massive numbers begin to say ‘enough’; no more. If we say nothing, if we do nothing, we too are complicit in these crimes.

In the meantime the beaches of beautiful Greek islands, such as Samos, Lesbos, Chios and others are being stained with blood. And just behind the beaches these islands have built and run detention camps for those who make it. These are places of agony, sometimes torture and an almost total absence of humanity. Perhaps the Greek state will shift its policy when it realises that just as people don’t wish to spend their holidays in Belsen, they will have the same revulsion about coming to Greece and its islands. But don’t hold your breath.

Our good friend Maria Marinakou provided a Greek translation of the article. Here it is:

Πότε θα τελειώσει ; Περισσότεροι θάνατοι προσφύγων στο Αιγαίο

Sofiane Ait Chalalet και Chris Jones

Στο νησί της Σάμου παρακολουθούμε ένα νέο δράμα να ξεδιπλώνεται μπροστά στα μάτια μας, σήμερα το πρωί (5 Μαΐου 2014) . Από το χώρο εργασίας μας, κοιτάμε μια ήρεμη θάλασσα, όπου αυτή τη στιγμή πρόσφυγες αγωνίζονται για τη ζωή τους . Οι λεπτομέρειες προκαλούν σύγχυση αυτή τη στιγμή, αλλά αυτό που είναι σαφές είναι ότι τα 2 μικρά λαστιχένια πλοιάρια γεμάτα πρόσφυγες έχουν βυθιστεί περίπου 1 – 2χλμ από την ακτή . Ένα κρουαζιερόπλοιο από Kusadassi ( Τουρκία) τις τελευταίες 2 ώρες, έχει κάνει τον γύρο του σημείο όπου χάθηκαν τα σκάφη. Δεν είναι σαφές εάν το εν λόγω πλοίο είχε άμεση ανάμειξη στο περιστατικό. Δεν έχουμε ακόμα καμία ιδέα για το πόσοι πρόσφυγες βρίσκονταν στα σκάφη, αλλά μπορούμε να υποθέσουμε ότι υπάρχουν θάνατοι και οι άνθρωποι που λείπουν. Ένας μοναχικό ελικόπτερο εξακολουθεί να είναι όπως έχουμε γράψει, αφαίρεση λίπους από τη θάλασσα . Με δεδομένη την ηρεμία της θάλασσας και την έλλειψη ανέμου, είναι δύσκολο να πιστέψει κανείς ότι ο καιρός έχει παίξει σημαντικό ρόλο σε αυτή την τελευταία τραγωδία .

Είναι πολύ πιθανό ότι η πλειοψηφία αυτών των σκαφών θα είναι πρόσφυγες από τη Συρία . Πάνω από 3.000 πρόσφυγες ήρθαν στη Σάμο πέρυσι και η πλειοψηφία τους είναι από τη Συρία . Αυτοί, όπως και ο φίλος μας Wasim , η οικογένεια του οποίου πέθανε στη Σάμο το περασμένο καλοκαίρι , ψάχνουν για την ασφάλεια και την ευκαιρία να οικοδομήσουμε μια νέα ζωή απαλλαγμένη από την τρομοκρατία . Ωστόσο, όπως και σήμερα , πάρα πολλοί πρόσφυγες διαπιστώνουν ότι το τελευταίο βήμα στην Ευρώπη να είναι τόσο επικίνδυνο και δαπανηρό. Οι εκατοντάδες ανεπίγραφοι τάφοι στα νησιά Σάμο, τη Λέσβο και τη Χίο είναι μόνο μία απόδειξη για τους κινδύνους. Υπάρχουν πολλά περισσότερα σώματα που δεν φτάνουν ποτέ στην ακτή .

Ότι οι εν λόγω ιδιαίτερα ευάλωτοι ανθρώποι που αναζητούν καταφύγιο και ασφάλεια είναι υποχρεωμένοι να ταξιδεύουν σε μικρές βάρκες από καουτσούκ με υψηλό κόστος οφείλεται εξ ολοκλήρου στην απανθρωπιά των πολιτικών και των πρακτικών της ΕΕ όσον αφορά τη μετανάστευση γενικά και ειδικότερα των προσφύγων. Σε αυτά τα θέματα Ελλάδα περιπολεί τα σύνορά της και ασχολείται με τους πρόσφυγες, σύμφωνα με τις οδηγίες της ΕΕ και τις προταιρεότητες της . Οι προσδοκίες είναι σαφείς και απλές:

Κρατήστε τα σύνορα κλειστά .

Κρατήστε τα πρόσφυγες έξω.Δεν είναι ευπρόσδεκτοι.

Αντιμετωπίστε όσους περάσουν ως εγκληματίες, ώστε να αποτραπεί σε άλλους να έρθουν.

Μην κάνετε τίποτα, απολύτως τίποτα που να ενθαρρύνει τους πρόσφυγες να πιστεύψουν ότι μπορούν να αναμένουν βοήθεια κατά την άφιξή τους στην Ευρώπη . Αυτό ακριβώς αντικατοπτρίζεται στην χρηματοδότηση. Η Επιτροπή της ΕΕ διαθέτει € 227.576.503 στην Ελλάδα για να κρατήσει τους πρόσφυγες και τους μετανάστες έξω από το 2011 μέχρι το τέλος του 2013, αλλά μόνο € 19.950.000 για να βοηθήσει την υποδοχή τους κατά την ίδια περίοδο .

Για εκείνους από εμάς που ονομαζόμαστε Ευρωπαίοι, όλα αυτά γίνονται στο όνομά μας . Είναι αυτό που θέλουμε ; Είμαστε τόσο απάνθρωποι; Είναι τίποτα λιγότερο αυτό από ό, τι τα εγκλήματα κατά της ανθρωπότητας. ΓΙΑΤΙ επιτρέπουμε να συμβεί αυτό;

Σήμερα σταθήκαμε με τους γείτονές μας βλέποντας αυτή την τελευταία τραγωδία . Κλέγαμε . Ξέρουμε τι βλέπουμε και πως δεν έπρεπε ποτέ να επιτραπεί να συμβεί .

Γνωρίζουμε , επίσης, ότι όλα αυτά τα χρόνια το ελληνικό κράτος και ορισμένες από τις βασικές υπηρεσίες του έχουν αναλάβει το έργο του ελέγχου των συνόρων τους με ευχαρίστηση.

Είχαμε την απογοητευτική εμπειρία που έχει ένας οδηγός ταξί στην Αθήνα, ο οποίος δεν είχε καμία ντροπή στο να μας λέει ότι οι πιο ευτυχισμένες μέρες της ζωής του ήταν ο χρόνος του ως κληρωτός στρατός στα σύνορα με την Αλβανία , όπου ως ελεύθερος σκοπευτής στις ειδικές δυνάμεις θα μπορούσε να πυροβολήσει τους Αλβανούς που προσπαθούσαν να μπούν στην Ελλάδα .

Το γεγονός ότι οι περισσότεροι από τους πρόσφυγες που έρχονται στην Ελλάδα είναι μουσουλμάνοι και συχνά μαύροι αντλεί από την βαθιά προκατάληψη που τροφοδοτεί τη βία του κράτους και των πρακτόρων του.

Καμία από τις παραπάνω δηλώσεις δεν μπορεί να αμφισβητηθεί:

Τα τελευταία 10 χρόνια υπάρχουν ατελείωτες εκθέσεις απο την Διεθνή Αμνηστία, Γιατρούς Χωρίς Σύνορα , HumanRightsWatch , UNCHR , βουλευτές από όλη την Ευρώπη , και αμέτρητες άλλες ομάδες και ΜΚΟ έχουν τεκμηριώνουν την καταχρηστική βία από το ελληνικό κράτος και τις υπηρεσίες του . Τα στοιχεία είναι συντριπτικά. Είναι αναμφισβήτητα.


Η σιωπή των ισχυρών σε όλη την Ευρώπη σε αυτά τα συνεχιζόμενα εγκλήματα είναι περισσότερο από παθητική συνενοχή. Δεν είναι τίποτα λιγότερο από ένα πράσινο φως .

Έτσι, δεν μπορούμε να περιμένουμε τίποτα από την κρατική μηχανή και τους εντολοδόχους της. ΕΚΤΟΣ αν εμείς πούμε μαζικά ΦΤΑΝΕΙ!

Αν δεν πούμε τίποτα, αν δεν κάνουμε τίποτα, είμαστε και εμείς συνένοχοι στα εγκλήματα αυτά .

Εν τω μεταξύ, οι παραλίες στα όμορφα ελληνικά νησιά , όπως η Σάμος , η Λέσβος, η Χίος και άλλα, βάφονται με αίμα . Και ακριβώς πίσω από τις παραλίες στα νησιά αυτά έχουν κατασκευαστεί στρατόπεδα κράτησης για όσους καταφέρνουν να φτάσουν ζωντανοί.

Είναι τα μέρη αγωνίας, βασανιστηρίων, απανθρωπιάς.

Ίσως το ελληνικό κράτος αλλάξει την πολιτική της, όταν συνειδητοποιήσει ότι ακριβώς όπως οι άνθρωποι δεν επιθυμούν να περάσουν τις διακοπές τους στο Μπέλσεν , θα έχουν την ίδια αποστροφή όταν έρχονται στην Ελλάδα και τα νησιά της .

Αλλά μην κρατάτε την αναπνοή σας…..