anettes blog – flugtens ansigt

Flygtningenes egne historier


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GREECE – EUROPES BIGGEST REFUGEECAMP

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She sits there in the green iglo tent smiling so friendly and she invites me, and I take a seat in the tent opening on the stone floor only covered with the usual grey blanket from UNHCR. A constant blowing fan provides a bit of fresh air inside the sultry heat in the tent. Two children are lying sleeping. The two month old baby boy is wrapped in a blanket tired up with a ribbon, so that he can not move his arms, only the head is free – to save his energy, I have been told. There are no mattresses to rest on at night, only the stone floor and the UNHCR blanket.

Soon winter will come, and I know of private donations, so that the 400 refugees living in this old school in the middle of Athen do not have to sleep directly on an icy floor, but will get mattresses.

I am looking at the broken windows, hoping they will be repaired.

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But now we are in September, and during daytime it is more than 30 degrees. Athen is exhausting hot, and this classroom even worse. In an attempt to cool down the room the balcony door and windows are wide open. From outside the constant noise of a big busy city.

In this room where once were chairs and tables and laughing children there is now three igloo tents. No more laughing just waiting, sadness and passivity for the residents in the two green and one blue tent.

The tents leaves a little privacy to the three Kurdish – Syrian families, who lives here and who Amina is part of. For the last three month this has been their homes. Before arriving to the old school with the beautiful name Jasmin placed in one of the big city most poor areas, they stayed four month at Idomini in the north right at the border of Macedonia and Greece.

 

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But how did the families end up here in a tent in a classroom? One day as the Greek economic crisis grow deeper and deeper, Jasmin school was closed. Meanwhile refugees and migrants from all over the world started taking the small dangerous robberboats across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the Greek island, before they continued their journey up north: To Germany, to Sweden, or Denmark or Norway.

In March Macedonia suddenly closed its borders to Greece – on demand of Austria – and 60.000 refugees and migrants got stucked in the country. Totally unprepared Greece had nowhere to place all these people, and they had to live in the streets. Five thousand people stayed for month on Port Piraeus, and another thirteen thousand were left in heavy rains, cold winds and mud in Idomini at the border.

While all this happened around them anarchists one night cut the bolt to the port of Jasmin school in Athen. They forced their way into the empty building, and refugees could move from their dangerous stay in the street into the classrooms.

At the border between Macedonia and Greece a pregnant Amina were living a hard and difficult life in the growing camp at Idomini. It was early spring. Cold winds were blowing, rain was pouring down and there was mud everywhere. Every morning Amina woke up hoping that this would be the day, where the border would open again. But the Greek police lost the patience before the refugees lost their hopes and one morning they cleared the camp. Amina and her family were taken by busses to Athen, and they ended up in Jasmine school.

 

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Now the school is a squat like other occupied buildings in Athen, where refugees live. Jasmine is run down. The schoolyard is filled with graffiti. The staircase which lead to the first floor once an impressive winded staircase with the handrail of iron are curved with age. There are big holes in the doors into the classrooms as if somebody has tried to barge through, windows are broken, and paint is pealing of the ceiling. In the taps are only cold water, and the toilets are primitive, and there are too few for so many people.

 

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In contrast to the official camps all the squats are self supported, and live off donations. The four hundred Syrians living on the Jasmin school gets a simple meal twice a day. One day, when I was there, breakfast was a bread, some feta cheese and half a cucumber each person. Despite the simple and monotonous food, everybody find it much better than the military food in the official camps. Breakfast is served between 12 and 13, and the next meal is in the evening. Vegetables, fruit, bread, everything is bought, where the price is best and cooking goes on in huge pots in the schoolyard.

Amina fled Syria with her husband, his three brothers, her two sisters in law and their children. The families social lives goes on between the tents, on the UNCHR blankets, or where ever there is a small space. One is supposed to take off the shoes, before walking on the blankets, so it becomes like a small sitting room. Against a wall a refrigerator. Next to an old stove. One of the brothers sits with his back turned to the room concentrating on something on the computer. The corners are the wardrobe, and the balcony the drying place. All clothes are being washed either in cold water in a big mable wash in the schoolyard or in the only washing maschine n the cellar.

Amina and her family have escaped the war in Syria – leaving their homes because of bombs and Daesch, she tells me in finger language. Anima detests Daesch. I can see it on her smiling face as it grows with contempt, as soon as she just mentions the word Daesch.

She asks me, where I come from and I say Denmark and she gets hope in her eyes and ask me to take her with back home. She does not like being in Greece, she tells me.

I can not take her with to Denmark, and she knows it and we just smile at each other and again we admire her baby. One of her sisters in law turns up. She looks very young, but she is pregnant. After a while another woman arrives to the tent, dressed all in black and also pregnant. She is upset by something I do not really understand, only that it has something to do with a visit to the hospital. A few days later when I go to see the families again, she has a very small baby, obviously born too early.

One of the men arrives to our gathering in the tent door, and when he is told, where I come from, he takes his telephone. By the help of google translate he tells me that his family has their first interview on the 15. of February.

-A long time, he tells me using Google Translate, and he makes a gesture against the small tents.

The interview is what all refugees her in Greece are waiting for. The interview for asylum in the Greek asylum office. But it takes ages. First – in spring – everybody had to contact the office on a Skype call just to be registered as asylum seekers in Greece. For month 60.000 stranded refugees were trying to get through, but only very few succeeded. It turned out that the office only had one person to receive the calls. When EU made the controversial deal with Turkey they promised to send 2500 staff to Greece to help the Greek people manage the situation, but very few of these people actually turned up.

Everybody have to pass the two interviews, before they will know their future: If they get asylum in Greece, if they are to be deported back to Turkey or their homeland, or they are one of the very few lucky families, who get resettled somewhere in Europe. Meanwhile they are just waiting – with nothing to do. All are living in a limbo – with depressions and in passivity. Only a few of the many refugeechildren all over Greece go to school.

Before I leave, I am told that the family comes from the same village in Syria, and that the sleeping boy in the tent has lost his mum and a sister in a bomb attack in Syria one year ago.

The father of the boy comes along. He smiles as he stands there outside the tent door for a short moment, before he leaves again.

They smile a lot in this family, perhaps to keep the total breakdown away.

Amina is not called Amina in real life. In order to protect the refugees she is made anonymous.

 

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DANCING AWAY THE MISERY

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This is the Jasmine school in Athens, a squat, where 400 stranded refugees, mainly from Syria live.

Nobody in Denmark have to live like they do – apart from homeless people.

A squat is an occupied building, and the Jasmin school does not get any official help, but is a community living out of donations.

People there live in tents in the old classrooms, sit on the floor or a broken chair, most of them do not have a mattress to sleep on, only a blanket ( though I know that there are donations so that everybody will get a mattress or the coming winter,) they do not have any money, not even for medicine and the many children, who lives there with their parents do not go to school.

They are all living in a limbo, not knowing their future. The parents do not know, if their children will ever be able to go to school. They do not know when or if ever, they again will be able to live what we call a normal life with a home, with a job earning money for the most necessary needs, food, clothes and medicine.

In spite of all this they are some of the most wonderful people I have ever met. Every time I go to the school, I hear drumming and music in the street, when I get in people are dancing in the schoolyard, refugees and volunteers are playing with the children and people are caring for and helping each other.

There are more and better picture from the school on their official Facebook page, Jasmine School – Athens

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Drug addicts, prostitutes and refugees

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The tall spindly man sits on the stairs in front of a door. He bends forward, stretches his arm in its full length, and turns the inner side up. Then he sticks an injection into a vein. His dirty hair hangs down his thin face.

Used drug injections with traces of old blood is seen everywhere in this area, lying in the gates, next to the staircases, in the streets. Addicts take quite openly their drugs and a smell of old urine and garbage hangs in the air. The heat makes the acrid smell excruciating.

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The battered bins are filled, and during the night starving rats and cats have eaten leftovers. Thin Greek plastic bags together with paper and foil trails is spread in the streets. Graffiti everywhere. Women in mini skirts are hanging around on the corners or trying – desperate for money to the next fix – to look attractive in front of one of the many brothels.

Not to mention all the men, the women and the children. From Iraq, from Syria and from Afghanistan. Men hanging out in front of the small shabby hotels, given to them by Greek authorities for accommodation. Women and children hiding in the rooms. Time passes by smoking and talking – just waiting. Five month have passed like this. Killing time. Soon one year has passed. Two years? Perhaps more? Who knows? Everybody hoping for the miracle that will never happen: Europe opening its borders.

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I am going to see a Syrian family. The family has problems. Everybody have in this huge city. The family live in one of the shabby hotels, but the GPS on my phone is not working, and I can not find the place. I pass one hotel after the other. The streets all look the same, old cars, cracked paving stones, and lots of houses in ruins. A board turned in with nails in front of the door prevents – sometimes – the huge number of homeless people to move in – and then graffiti everywhere.

I pass a Middle Eastern looking cafe. Men sitting at tables, drinking tea, playing cards or smoking the shisha. Looking up at the small balconies, I see laundry hanging, and I see women wearing the scarf.

A bit desperate I ask a group of Middle Eastern looking men. Hanging out in front of one of the hotels they know, where the hotel King Jason is. Or they know a hotel, where Syrian people are living, a man from Iraq tells me in excellent english. He offers to show me the way. Knowing that this area is no good for a woman on her own, I say thank you, and the whole group of men are joining us.

 

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The Iraqi man lived for five years in Great Britain and now he is on his way back, he tells me – not mentioning the fact that he and 60.000 other refugees are stuck in Greece.

-It is too dangerous in Iraq now, he says.

Now his pregnant wife and two children, five and nine years old spend all the time in the hotel room. The family arrived to Athen a month ago from the North of Greece, and Greece has big problems providing accommodation for all the stranded refugees.

-The children are bored, because they never go out. My wife gets depressed. It is too dangerous for women and children here in this area. You see the drug addicts? In the morning there are injection needles everywhere.

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We pass three homeless men sitting on a dirty mattress on the pavement. Behind them on the wall graffiti. One man has found a red chair lacking a leg and one in a worn out T shirt is fiddling with a barbecue. Nobody notice our passing, they just sit there, dirty, bad smelling and with these empty eyes, probably leaning of morphine.

So much human misery here that it is unbearable.

Down the road the hotel, where Syrian people are living. The usual group of men are hanging out here. Talking. Waiting. Just another refugee hotel.

I walk inside the small dark reception. A tall man with long oily hair stands behind the reception desk. On a red couch in a dark corner a woman dressed in tight trousers is sitting. The man behind the disk can not help me, he say and ask me to leave the reception and go back into the street. I thought I had found the right hotel, so my new friends have left.

But the hotel is not King Jason. Nearly giving up, I finally find the hotel. The sun is going down, and I have a quick talk with the family. I want to get out of here as soon as possible.

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Victoria square in March.

Back at my favorite cafe on Victoria Square I am told that I have just been in one of the most dangerous areas in Athen. There are places in this city where not even the Greek comes. While I sit quiet and safe, drinking my ice coffee, I wonder, why Europe do not have other places than an area for drug addicts and prostitutes to place women and children fleeing from war?

Greece is a poor and chaotic country and can not manage this huge problem on its own.

And the problem is getting worse – for the Greeks. Every day new boats filled with refugees arrive on the Greek islands. The camps there are overcrowded with people, there is a lack of everything and tension is rising. At the same time Germany is threatening to use the Dublin regulation and send back asyleum seekers to Greece.

Tonight at Victoria Square there are many afghan women. They sit in groups. Dressed colorful and with the scarf loosely round the hair, they sit chatting. In March Victoria Square was filled with refugees. The borders north had just closed, and men, women, children, all from Afghanistan slept at the place, carrying their luggage and their hopes for the border to reopen. It seems they still sit here. Carrying the same hopes.

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Victoria square tonight.