Would like to talk about the importance of having different voices in a panel discussion.
It was Saturday evening and I tied my booth eyes to the participants of the program, Luisa a friend of made me worries telling ” maybe there will not be much people participating, everyone may stay on the seaside and enjoy the weather.”
“I imagine to have as much participants, as we may need to put more chairs, so that people won’t on their feet.”
The place of the program was in the centre of Munich, “Bellevue di Monaco” where the pride of protesters passed by, an highlightable point in the protest was, that the number of police and militarisation was more than protesters. The protest was again “militarisation of Germany.” A voice to stop selling and producing weapons. A movement supported by environmental activists as well.
When I entered to the cafe place, I noticed that different people were working, an Asian man, with a Congolese boy and many more. I was already amazed to know about their strategy in communicating and running the place in such an organised way.
The panel started with akademic bold point of great author “Volker M. Heins.” and continued with my poems and texts. But I would say the most important part was to have voice of Arash, his story of being resilient and resistant against all odds.
When we were talking about the borders, the main focus of the participants was to know, what is the solution of this border mechanism. Though we have talked about it in the panel as well, but I would like to say ” you are the solution.” Your perspective and reaction in the time of crisis.
The second issue was about, big media companies and a new pathway of getting informed and updated about what is all going on the world without getting manipulated by mass media.
“You are in the right place right now, and need to increase your participation in such discussion.”
Yes, you are not to be all in the same rhythm of words or voice in a common discussion and even having opposed perspective about a common conversation doesn’t mean being two polar. This is what Arash always considered, he thinks that he is not a good speaker, but whatever comes from depth of the heart is precious to be listened.
We talked about importance of following all other crises beside what we newly get to know about through media, or get effected in our daily life. Because all of them are connected to the other. This brings me back to what was going on the camps of Greece, when there was something critical happening in the centre of Athens, in Victoria square, those who were left behind walls and barbed wires was forgotten and the same was about struggle of those in the camps. It should not be normal, but what can be the most effected way to stop this circle?
When I arrived in Munich, Felix and Arash came to pick me and be together in the place of exhibition. We arrived and such a big shock, it was not because of the exhibition place, the artistic work of region people with bottles of irons which honestly impressed me. But it was to meet Nahid there. Nahid Akbari is 17 years old young refugee and an activist soul from Afghanistan which was an active member of YRM as well. Her journey with her family started in 2021 when the news about interviews of Turkey exploited from ministry of migration in Greece. As one of many families they started their way from Greece to Germany. This means that they passed following borders one after another.
(Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy). The hardest and the most violent border control had Croatia. “The were hitting single men close to death. They were taking their clothes, they were not even looking to pregnant women and were just beating all.”
I had many things to talk about, specially the effect of being in our activism group to become an activist herself in Bosnia’s border. “I noticed the importance of group work, was hoping to at least have one of girls there to start the movements. But then I started it myself, asked other to protest. The first time everyone was saying “are you going to let us the police beat us” but I started and asked some journalists to cover it, The next day I saw hundreds of them behind me, supporting the protest.”
The exhibition is fascinating for large size of each artists work to the food and music, Neda’s art is shinning here. We all hope yo join all the artists together soon.
I am impressed to see the Ukrainian refugees art as well, Anastasia is one of them. In a short conversation after my speech she said “Your words really gave me energy that yes we are all here.”
Kseniah was talking about the deep impact of news on her psychological condition, she is mother of two children. She is deeply loud artist and so young to believe that she is mother of two children.
“Do not read or watch the news so much, you need to take care of your mental health. You are vulnerable for all what you have been through and should give some pauses to yourself. You are a mother too and the news will just manipulate your emotions and take out your strength.”
Their art is so deep and loud. Many words hidden behind the colours and a clear message. I can imagine the moments they had their hearts burning for their country and compatriots, talking to the colours and brushes. The world of artists is wider than what we see as a result on the canvas.
In that time I was saying myself, “the warm attendance of people is so heartwarming, it is what I was dreaming to see one day. They do not pass by each artist’s work, but in fact they put all their attention, they read about each artists and discuss. This is a big achievement and this is how change forms. Even if the action is small, but this will prepare the people and will make my connection for wider actions.”
You really need to attend if you are want to know more of refugee condition and the way art can be a protest. If I call it an open school is for the fact you can join and hear yourself, not through mass media.
We simply put you in question of “WHY BORDERS ?” if Nahid was going to arrive in Germany, why she had to pass all those hardships in Bosnia, or if Neda was going to recognised as a refugee why she had to pass three years of her life in the camps as me. If refugees from Ukraine can get permit of Germany without passing any interviews, why can’t my family?
I know the answer, but the low can not convince me. As law is to be changed, for Nahid who is afraid of Dublin and me who is exclude of the right to Freedom Of Movement.
But it is not a single side struggle anymore, We must stand before we are crushed under the oppression of politicians.
Currently where I am writing is a silent home, with two big windows, green meadows outside and children playing down in the yard. My mom cooked Pilav ( traditional afghan rice with chicken inside) and its smell is still running through my mind, its taste is always crazy. All day long I feel a precious silence that wraps around my soul. This precious silence is making my soul sleep. In a life full of tensions, with a soul full of passions, this silence is meaningless, as the struggles are calling me.
In the middle of the silence, tension finds a deep and strong meaning, in the same wayfreedom finds its its meaning from slavery.
I waited at the station.Chiara, the only person whom I had communicated through Arash (Iraninan activist, photographer and main organizer of “Why Borders, photo exhibition” ) came to pick me from the station, with her friend “Hasham” a musician ,who seemed blind, but able to see the people around him through the tone of their sound sor their language.
For a second I went to his world, a world full of darkness, color bleached, but is the same for many who can actually see the world, those who ignore the colors, who are self caged, are they able to see? I don’t think so..
He can be considered as one of many who can talk about goodness and badness in the way it should be analyzed, or maybe the only to whom goodness and badness has no meaning, both is gray. For Hasham, the world is made of many shades of gray, not black or white, not good or evil.
Our world has many things to see, but seeing is not enough, we need to consider, share, analyze and care.
He is going to share pieces of music with us, and afterward I will read my poetry.
“Welcome to Bremen” Chiara says.
In one word, she is really unique, with the passion she has to the nice look she has about everything.
We went through the Cafe where Arash was sitting with a few others. Arash is here. I haven’t seen him since his hair got longer and there is some more white hair that is clear evidence of his past, a clear image of inner thoughts.
After greetings I asked if I could visit the exhibition. “Yeah of course, that is the reason you are here.” That was a ridiculous question.”
Immediately I want to change the name of this event, “This is a protest tour”.
After the chat I had with Matthew Stadler, I felt more confident about this fact.
An exhibition takes place to show, to display, but pain is neither for show nor for display, the drama behind our repressed lives is not for sale and neither to be hand on the walls, it is to admire, to question it, to support it, to change it and if you aim to do all these, only then can you buy it.
This tour is clear evidence of all that is happening but “you” as non-refuges or refugees but nor under systemic violence, cannot see it.
Mass media should be the last line of our connection.
Neda is here, her art is photos. I feel the strength behind whatever she does; the passion and patience in her life are symbols of the existence of nature, of the womb of women.
You can find her famous photos in one of the letters I wrote from Ritsona, a story that was inspired by her creativity in feminism art and personal story.
She is a girl full of words hidden behind a precious silence, the first girl I have ever had the honor to meet, who has inspired her art with the rhythm of her body.
This is a school, a case of direct reflection in action.if we are not present in or at art projects, discussions and conversation, the adequate narration would have never formed
he conversation about refugees, as all other critical conversations, would stay open and we would share in developing vocabulary to show that struggle against racism is not the entirety of the story.Such an analysis of racism would be helpful to those who are celebrating yesterday’s freedom from slavery, a victory that it is insigtful and contains historical meaning from fights of Balck slavery and is a loud claim of the West and US.
The struggles of displaced people/ refugees against state violence and systemic descrmination, against segregation, equal rights and health care and education continues.
We need to reimagine the concept of safety and security, which will involve the abolition of camps, walls, policing and imprisonment as we know.
We need our voice and right to freedom of expression, and to abolish the institution of camp as the dominant mode of safety with barbed wires at the top.
Our struggle is to raise our voices and show our existence behind the barbed wires.
The combination of opposite genders in challenging repression and art in activism is another spectacular part of this tour. Israr, is a young passionate boy, I would count on his long hair for the patience being his pain.
His lens in photography is clear: it is “ the reality”.
I am not able to take anyone’s photo, I can see their face, I am deep in feeling the feelings of others, and have rarely done it, with the full satisfaction of the person, but the way the photos are talking are enough to silence thousands of pains.
The exhibition finished with my poetry performance and the wavy rhythm of Hasham’s music. He has incredible music and his voice is clear like the water of a fountain.
Time for questions,, “What do you mean of feminist activism of Neda’s art?”
“The way she uses the rhythm of her body, as part of loudness in expression, which is unique, is challenging and is activist, and opposes the threats of loud and critical voices.
ART WORKS made by refugee young women living in the Camp Ritsona, are exhibited in the Town hall of the city of Chalkida.
Although the young people finally are aloud to join the Greek school in Chalkida, there is no bus or other transport for them to get over the 8 kilometers distance between the camp and the city of Chalkida. So they unfortunately, although they have the right to go to school, are obliged to stay in the camp.
Painting, drawing, writing poems and other creative ways are their expression of their feelings and the comments of their situation.
We wish all of them to be fast part of the Greek society and live among the Greek people or enjoy their freedom of movement.
They should follow their art, that from now on, is traveling around the world not being stopped by any kind of borders or walls.
Hi, I am Fariba Amiri , 15 years old from Afghanistan living in Greece , Ritsona refugee camp. After spending one and a half year in Greece I am able to go to a school, but the situation about the buses are difficult on all the students in my age. There is no bus for transferring us to school. It is 8 kilometers far from here.
That’s why we haven’t gone to school from when it started untill now. I have started painting 10 months ago and I was doing it mandala art The painting and drawing give me a calm feelings, my stress goes on doing mandala, and i enjoy during painting about different things.
The festival is in Chalkida in friday and Saturday they gave the artists of refugees in Ritsona, a chance to participate and show their arts in the exhibition for people. All of the artists in our camp joined in this festival. I have different plans and dreams about my future, definitely one of them is to become the best football player as I am a player right now. And beside of that to improve my art and continue my lessons.
Thanks for everything:)
Here in Ritsona, you cannot trust others easily. In fact, you should not do so. To share little and listen carefully seems to be the easiest way to stay safe. You find few people who are honest with you, who can love you and feel your wounds, willing to help heal them rather than put salt on them or mock you. You talk with people, you
laugh, but not all smiling faces are honest or real. There are many pains under the smiles, hidden behind masks.
Here everyone carries within a small world of pain. This is their secret alongside the common and shared pains, which the system, rules, and laws cause. Lack of honesty is the main root of many of our pains. It is the condition we live in, also shaped by our background or by the people around us.
I am a young girl living with my old parents. The reason I am sharing what I have been through is that many are afraid to have their voice heard, to share their pains, afraid to bother others who might not want to hear and know harsh realities.
I know that I am not the only one, the only girl, who has had such an experience. I know there have been many girls who have been suffering from the same pains but have decided to hide them. It is not that they do not have the courage to share their suffering. The fact is that they have not been given voice and support to do so
honestly and safely. They are afraid that their voice, their words will irritate and embarrass them and that they may provoke disrespect and contempt.
A week ago, I went out of the camp with my friend (a boy). When we reached one of the factories close by, he raped me. I don’t know what happened immediately after. I was in shock. I was like a statue: I could not move. When I came to myself, I had just run out of the building. I just wanted to be under a shelter, to be back home, to be
where no one could see me.
Days passed and I started feeling a very acute pain in my belly. I decided to go to the medical unit, to be examined. They visited me and diagnosed HIV infection. I felt
terribly anxious, angry, and exposed.
“How old are you?” they asked me.
“We have to inform your parents!”
“I don’t want them to know anything about this, nothing at all, they can not tolerate this. I will solve my problems, but please don’t say anything about it to them.”
“We want to help you. We want to treat you. You cannot get the medicines you need without your parent’s permission.”
“We also have to inform the police.”
“No, I don’t have any complaint, about anyone. If you don’t want me to commit suicide, then help me to close this topic.”
I just wanted to run from there, to escape, to go far, to go and hide. I hated my body and everyone’s eyes, thinking that whoever was looking at me, wanted to break me, or that they guessed what had happened to me. I asked the medical personnel to give me one or two days to change my age on my documents or do whatever else
would stop them from sharing what had happened with my family. I knew that being older would take away my right to go to school, but I had to keep my parents out of it.
They didn’t give me this chance. They just broke their promise and shared the information not with my family, but with many workers who thus learned what had happened to me. Their eyes, their looks were unbearable.
My family also learned what happened to me. They did not talk with me for a long time, neither my mom nor my dad.
Everything is now over, but who will answer for those nights I was cutting my hands with a blade, praying for better days?
Better days have not yet come. I just became stronger, relying less on others and more on myself. I am trying to have a better vision of myself every day, a stronger belief in myself and in my own abilities. I talk more with myself about who I am, and I accept myself. I hope that one day I will become strong enough to stop something
like this happening to young girls and to protect them from the cruelty of others if and when such a thing happens.
To make a safe place for them to share their pain, without being judged, without getting broken and imprisoned for what they have been through.
I know some girls, who have also been raped. However, they don’t want to share with others, especially here, in the camp where everyone can seem like a goat, but be a wolf underneath. It is also possible that some men in the camp can blackmail them and force them to have sex with them.
What has happened, that trust in each other has been broken? Why have pen and paper, writing, the moon, and the night become closer friends to us, rather than people? When will we start understanding each other, rather than blaming each other, for what we have been victimized for?
These violent acts will continue. They can happen to anyone, not only girls but boys too. They will happen without any voice denouncing them, without any outcry.
Everything will happen silently, secretly. Who will be next?
On a very hot afternoon, everyone is in their containers and no one dares come out. I am one of them, trying to drink as much water as possible in order to resist the heat. What about those under tents, those in the big hall, where many families are living together in one space having difficulty to breathe, especially small children? Yet,
since here is Malakasa, you cannot complain about anything, cannot ask or demand something different or better. Even if you are under a tent you have to be thankful, only that you are here.
What I am afraid of is not what is happening now, bad as it is, but of what may happen later, due to extreme weather conditions and the heat wave that ravages the whole of Greece.
Suddenly, I hear a siren, a scary noise on my mobile. It is an alert from a sim company; all of us must leave the camp immediately!
The silence which followed for a minute breaks down. Everybody is getting ready to escape, some are collecting all that they have and some are going out with a single bag.
My neighbor is afraid to leave the camp. She is thinking of her dishes and house stuff that she recently bought and are all new. She does not want to lose them or have them burn. She is crying, what will happen if she comes back and finds no one and all her belongings lost? How will she be able to ever replace them?
The buses are here. The team of the International Organization of Migration (IOM) is trying to do their best to organize the departure. They give priority to vulnerable people, but, of course, as always, single men and boys are trying to be in the first group to go.
I am here with a small suitcase, where I could only put some personal stuff of mine and of my mother’s. We still do not know where we are being taken and what is going to happen. They only thing we can see clearly are the flames blazing on the mountains around the camp.
Some men are asking for help to move their stuff. Those living in the tents are doubly worried as there is no lock for their tents and all their belongings are left there.
The camp staff try to make sure that everyone is out and ready to go. Yet, it seems that some stayed hidden in their containers and do not want to move elsewhere.
Everybody is trying to get on the bus. I am in now, but my mom has not realized it. She is anxiously looking for me in the crowd and calling my name, “Farishta, Farishta”. In the general chaos and noise she cannot hear me calling her too.
Finally, she realizes I am in and climbs on the bus. It is 10:00 o’ clock now. I remember my mom has just cooked chicken for dinner. Pity, we had to leave it behind. As we ride forth, we see a huge black cloud hanging ove the whole area.
We hear that we are being transferred to Ritsona. I have heard about this camp many times, but have never been in it.
At last we arrive. Here we are in Ritsona now.
There are no mountains around it, but as the camp of Malakasa, it is surrounded by a big wall, covered by slogans and some paintings. There is no shop or market around as we have in Malakasa.
Once off the bus we are guided by the people standing by the gate into the camp. Such a big one.
Everyone is waiting and some walk to the other side of the camp to take refuge under the trees — many big pine trees.
Some people are going into containers which have been opened by camp workers. Others are still lingering outside. We are waiting to see if there will be an open container to go in, but my father is still not here and we are waiting for him.
Some have settled in corners, close to the walls. They have put a carpet or a piece of cartoon and will sleep there.
Many are standing with their babies in their laps and their bags in their hands.
A big van of water comes and everyone rushes to get water to quelsh their thirst. The atmosphere is heavy because of the fires, the heat makes us feel as if we are in a desert. We need to drink, we feel we can die otherwise.
We are behind one of the containers, in front of the wall. I am so tired. I just want to close my eyes. “You sleep,” says my father, “I will stay awake for a few hours more.”
My mom is still awake and afraid for me and my sisters. Here is like a public road, one comes another goes, each moment there is a new call, that there is an empty space. My mom wants to go there, but my dad wants to stay here for tonight and change places tomorrow.
The weather is warm, but we need to have a blanket or some cloth to put over us. My father is afraid of the wind, that it may bring the fire here.
Counting the starts, goodbye night…..
We open our eyes very early the next day. Already, everyone is running around trying to find a free space to settle. It looks as if the sun has broken down the calm of the people again.
My father is collecting our stuff together. The whole situaation reminds me of all that has happened in Moria. Again displaced, searching for protection, looking for water and food. No news about breakfast or food. In Malakasa, some people had no cash card and ate only the meals provided by the camp or the NGOs. Here, in Ritsona, there are shops and people who have money can buy some provisions. Those without money cannot buy anything at all. I want to cry when I hear their children ask for a biscuit, while their mothers are trying to keep them calm and play with them.
When will this story of being repeatedly displaced finish?
For many years, geopolitical games and economic interests have been behind all sorts of tragedies for people all around the world. These are the causes behind the catastrophic scenes of extreme weather and the terrible fires that surround us. They do not threaten only us, but almost half the population in this land is sunk under. Their homes, their memories and their history have gone up in flames.
Again I see food lines forming. That is yet another history of waiting and counting the ours.
Doctors are trying to respond to the arrival of so many people who have not been checked in Malakasa. The newly arrived, on their side, are trying to use their opportunity to get medicine and treat their ailments and pains.
When something gets distributed to a large number of people without an orderly organized distribution method, then many people remain without their fair share.
Nothing remains in its place. I can see even small boys carrying away bottles of water.
Here, the world for girls is different. They are active, they care, they support us, and share. They are a team and do not work alone. They are brave and do not care about what boys tell them.
Yesterday a group of young girls of the Ritsona camp organized a collection of the trashes and the empty bottles of water from all around the camp. They did so ignoring the negative comments they received from some boys.
They even encouraged some more girls from Malakasa to do the same.
But, would they be able to always do as much as they do now?
In Malakasa girls do not support each other and they are all waiting for someone else to stand first line and the rest to support them.
I think that the girls here have already made a big impact on us, with the way they extended hospitality, shared awareness, cared for our needs, and encouraged us to be patient. But how close to each other have we really been? How different have they considered us? They have the same problems as we have, the same anxiety and uncertainty we have been tolerating, with the interviews, the separating walls, the access to education. Will these unite us?
It is evening. ash is falling from the sky, smoke fills the lungs. People get even more scared. As I pass by the mosque I see lots of women staying there.
And what about the infections of COVID19 among us and the new arrivals.
It is sad to hear about the high number of people who get Covid in the local hospitals and the number of people who, unchecked, are displaced now in other areas.
Some girls have their period and are looking for pads. How will they find them and from where?
I am tired, have no place to get a shower, feeling ashamed of how I smell.
It is the second day we are staying in Ritsona after two nights we spend since we arrived. The buses are here to take us back to our homes soon. People have missed even their tents. All the same, many would prefer to live here.
Give me back my microphone!! Our voice must be heard
When I received the video from one of the inhabitants of the Schisto Camp, which presented the suicide of one person there, I decided to not let this “murder” be kept away from the public eye, as so many tragedies had been kept before. I also decided to participate in the Protest of the People that was to be organized in the camp to raise hundreds of voices denouncing not only the suicide but all the wrongs allowed. What follows is the chronicle of what happened.
I am in the car going to the Schisto camp. Upon arrival, I immediately notice the common elements between this camp and that of Ritsona, where I live. As in Ritsona, here too, a group of asylum seekers is kept, in the midst of nowhere, away from any inhabited town, on a piece of dry land enclosed by barbed wire and chains. As in Ritsona the people live in containers that offer little protection from the
weather, be it winter be it summer. It seems that it is an open camp, as there are no walls around it and we enter from the main gate.
Silence reigns in the camp, and I start doubting that 1100, or more, actually live here.
Once inside, however, I had a chance to meet people. I ask them about their problems and what they want to denounce at the protest. I also ask them if they have anything specific to talk about in front of a camera. All remain silent. I turn to the representative who makes me understand that it is very difficult to receive any feedback from the people as to the conditions they live under.
The microphone is here, but the time of protest has changed. I need to consult with people and inform them about the time change.
Walking along with containers, microphone in my hand, I call people to come out. So does a man with a loudspeaker.
After a short while, I can see women looking out from their windows. Many more, men and women, are coming out. As we pass by the main construction, we are seen by a few social workers. On their uniforms, I read: DRC (Danish Refugee Council).
One of them shouts that we need to move away from the building and that she will call the manager. The people waiting around seem to get worried.
The manager is here now. I am curious to find out what sort of person he is, what methods he adopts, and whether his style of management is military as is the case of
many managers in other camps.
“Hi, you don’t live here, right?” he asks.
“No, we don’t,” we answer.
“Ok, come with me, both of you,” he says, addressing me and the man with the loudspeaker.
We are in his office now, a small dark space, which seems like a detention center in a police station
“Give me your asylum cards!!” he demands.
“You cannot ask for our asylum cards,” we respond. “Here is not a police station.
You don’t have that authority and we have not committed any crime!”
His voice is getting louder and louder, but this does not worry, stress, or threaten me.
“You want to make problems in a peaceful camp, inciting people, with your
microphone, to protest!!”
“I cannot see any peace here. And you cannot call a place peaceful just because it is silent because people are afraid to raise their voice by themselves and call me to support their protest. It is not peaceful here. Only the voices are suppressed.”
“You don’t have permission to come here, you should not be here and cannot do anything without my permission.”
“Is this a closed camp? If not, then there is no reason to impose restrictions. What is the difference between this camp and the ones which have walls around them? If the government does not designate Malakasa, Polyester, Diavata, Nea Kavala and
Ritsona as closed camps, then such camps are open to people from the outside.”
“You are making a problem in a camp that has no problems.”
“No problems? If there is no problem, then what are these people complaining about? Why do they want to demonstrate?”
“They do not have any problem, I have all the statistics”
“Then, something must be wrong with your statistics. You better speak directly with the people to learn their problems.”
“You do not want to understand me!”
“I am just assuming that as manager of the camp, you are listening to people and granting them their right to act, to defend their rights. You should not repress them.”
“I do listen to people, and I am trying to do all I can to avoid demonstrations”
“Demonstration is a basic right of people if they live under a democratic regime. They have a voice; they want to be heard and it is neither up to me nor you to decide whether they can raise that voice. After a long time of waiting, they decided to act
They have been waiting to see what you could do and now that they have seen no action taken, they decided to protest.”
“You do not understand the meaning of democracy! I face so many bureaucratic problems! I am trying to put pressure on the asylum office, I go there and give them the list to get the passports from there.”
“When you talk about democracy you refer only to limitations. These do not constitute democracy. As for putting pressure, let’s collaborate to increase it.
Allowing people to raise their voice will help you and your “efforts” to make the process faster and easier.”
“You do not want to understand!”
“On the contrary, I understand very well. There are two options.
The first entails your giving me back my microphone and us having our demonstration today.
The second entails your talking with the people so that I can be sure that they have no complaint and that they are all satisfied.”
Silence fills the room. His hands move nervously. He seems stressed, highly anxious, and angry. He makes a call to someone. Meanwhile, many people are gathered behind the door. They are all telling us that they want to be included in a dialogue with the manager of the camp.
This is the power of people, what I like the most and respect the most. But the manager ignores their demand to talk with him. He is asking to speak with two persons only, the “elected representatives”! This does not satisfy the people. They insist that the conversation should be with all. They all want to listen to what happens and to find out what is going to be decided about them. He leaves the office. We remain and wait to learn what will happen and what will be his decision. Finally, he comes back.
“All of you come with me!”
We are sitting at a table now. He is on one side of the table with his interpreter and I am on the other, with my pen and notebook. In addition, two representatives are on
the other two sides of the table.
The people stand all around.
The conversation has started and I am writing all the items brought up, one by one.
The first issue is the burial of the young man. His corpse is in a police station and no information is given as to what will happen to him. The manager explains that this problem is the responsibility of the police, not the camp management.
“Yes, but if the camp authorities will not help,” one of the representatives intervenes,
“whom can we ask for help? The family is not even here.”
“What about the length of the asylum granting procedure?” another representative asks.
“We know nothing about the interviews, the decisions taken on the basis of the interviews. No information has been given to us. And we have been waiting for so long.”
“Yeah, the process takes time because there are about 1100 or even more people in the camp. We cannot process the applications of all of them rapidly.”
“It was equally lengthy before when the number of people was smaller Now with more people, it has become impossibly slow.”
The manager insists that the process is not unreasonably slow. At that point, the people bring out their papers to validate their claims.
“These are my papers. Look at the date of our interview. It took place a year ago and still, ave no answer about their decision.
“I have been asking for a change of my surname that is written wrongly, but, again, I have received no answer. I had to go to the office a number of times just for a simple spelling mistake. Still no answer.”
“Yeah, these are one of the bureaucratic problems we have.”
“Is a simple misspelling a bureaucratic problem?”
“My family has been here for two years and our documents are not ready yet.”
“They don’t give the guardianship of my son to me.”
“Did you ask TDH about it?”
“Yeah, I have been asking for four months, but still no answer, they don’t reply to our mails.”
“Terrible. I really didn’t know that they don’t follow up with the problems.”
“It is good that you know it now. Sorry, but this is what I wanted you to learn by speaking with the people.”
“I have been here since 2016,” says one woman. “This is the paper I got at that time from there.”
She exhibits to our view an old paper that seems to have passed many adventures.
Most likely it will pass many more and will have more stories to tell.
She adds, “I was in Hellions camp four 4 years and then they transferred me here.
After one month, they gave me the date for an interview whose purpose now will be for me to prove that Turkey, not my country Afghanistan, is a dangerous place for my life. That is what the new policy of the Greek government dictates. I am here because my life was threatened in Afghanistan, not in Turkey. Turkey was simply the
territory we had to pass in order to arrive at safety in Europe. This new policy will justify the rejection of my application for asylum and will permit my deportation to Turkey. I have psychological problems. In spite of them, I will have to pass my interview and then, most likely, be sent back to Turkey and from there to my country.
What a prospect! It would have been much better to commit suicide than be killed by the Taliban there.”
“You were in Hellions for 4 years and they never gave you an interview?”
“No, they didn’t. I have gotten it only now that I am here and after the new policy that requires my justification as to why Turkey is a dangerous place for my life”
“Oh, I didn’t know about it. In Helionas there are some more similar cases.
Don’t worry, however, we have not had any rejections from this camp, even after the interviews focus on Turkey and not the country of origin.
“Who says we have not had any rejections in the camp. On the contrary, we have had many families rejected.”
“No, we have not”
“I am asking people to call those who have already gotten their first rejection after the policy change about Turkey.”
“Okay sir, you were saying that there has been no such rejection in the camp and that there is no reason for us to protest. Now, after listening to the people for a bit, do you still refuse to give me the microphone and let us all protest??”
“I want to know who got rejected, I want to see them. How can I otherwise believe that it has happened”
“Okay, they have already been called. They are coming.”
“Hello, I am the mother of the family that got rejected. My husband is in Athens. The lawyer called him to follow up on our process with the second rejection.”
“Give me the paper that says you are rejected!!”
“We have not gotten the decision of rejection, but when the lawyer called us, he told us that our case was rejected”
“Oh, I really did not know about it. Bring me your papers, after the decision is made and communicated to you.”
“We cannot wait until all families will be rejected and then search for a solution to stop this outcome. If this process is wrong and you believe it is so, then let us take action to stop it.
Who will pay the value of those lives that are now in danger – the lives that are put at risk of life and death as people are trying to cross deadly borders to arrive at the center of Europe? Who will pay the value of many children’s education and future as they are now over age and have no chance to go to school?
You are trying to hide all these problems, telling us that you are not informed and claiming that your statistics are right. If that were the case, we would have never been forced to act, to protest, and to stand up for justice.”
My conversation with the manager is almost over. There are no more words left. It seems that he has understood all that he needs to know.
In the end, never reflecting on the system, he goes to his office. Before leaving the camp, I give him my book. After that day, I became concerned that the camps foreclose any discussions about
the meaning of human rights, freedom and justice.
Furthermore, they foreclose any possibility about exchanges that would allow us to explain the reasons we are here, our previous lives, our background. The very existence of camps set apart by
barbwires and walls prevents and collaborative action that would eradicate violent acts such as suicides and fighting among groups. People who are kept in detention, not reception as they call them centers, are already criminalized. Prisons breed violence and people that are detained there are often pushed to frustrated violence and when they get out they are changed to the worst.
So how does one persuade people to think differently? About life, about hope, about brightness and good days. We still need to call for change, less violence, less repression, call for reform and rehabilitation. By visiting different camps, I am getting more and more convinced that behind the policies applied and the privatization of institutions dealing with immigration, there is money to be made. The more we are, the higher the possibility for profits. We are like enslaved people in a society which
claims to be democratic. In the path of challenging the basic structures of this society by resistance and action, I am only the tip of an iceberg.
The sun has not risen yet. I keep one eye close, the other
open to check the clock, hoping I could sleep a bit more.
No, I must get up. I need to pray and quickly get ready,
not to miss the dolmush (small bus).
Walking from the house to the gate of the camp, I can see
some shops opening for the day and I can smell the coffee
brewing in the Kurdish mini coffee shops. As I step out of
the gate onto the road with the wall of the camp behind
me, I join a group of almost 20 people, some with bags on
The bus arrives, a white dolmush. Normally it should
transport 12 people, but we all get in, one by one, closer
and closer to each other. With all the seats taken, a
number of us sit on the floor.
There is little light reaching us on the floor. More and
more, we have difficulty to breath, incapable to change
position or stretch our legs. We resign to tolerate it all, as
it will last only for 30 minutes.
Some of the men in the car are almost the age of my
father, some maybe younger. My poor father is sick. He
can’t even walk properly. The same is true for my mother.
Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here, on the floor of this car. I
would be sleeping like so many youths of my age. But the
story and the wave of everyone’s life are different, some
have no waves in their life and some face a tough sea.
A bad smell comes from some shoes. I would really enjoy
making a joke out of our circumstance, but the silence
around me is heavy and scary. Were I to make a joke, I
might be kicked out of the car. The whole scene reminds
me of old, black and white movies.
Finally, a young man, in his late 20s perhaps, changes the
whole situation. I could hear with gratitude his voice
coming from the corner of the car: ‘’Please, use a spray
for your feet. They smell so strongly we can feel the smell
even though you were shoes. Do something, otherwise we
will get all dizzy before starting our work’’.
He is totally right. There is an awful stench in the car. Yet
it is not shocking. Rather, it is totally predictable. The
space is tight, heavy with the breaths of so many people.
Most of them may have not had the time to wash their
face or brush their teeth. Mercifully, it is still early in the
morning and the weather is not yet awfully hot.
Finally, the door opens and we pour out. No chance to
even stretch our body. Our so-called boss is tough and
heartless. “You are not here for gymnastics, start your
work immediately, this field should be finished today.”
He yells at us, screaming out everyone’s mistakes. He is
one of the inhabitants in the camp, but he just knows
some Greeks and, thus, he has become the manager of
the workers. He must be almost 50. His name is Safi, but
now everyone calls him mister Safi Jan.
Such a strange world….
Here in the onions fields, work is divided in 2 stages. I
wish I could work in the second one, but I am new and for
people like me, no matter how old they are, they work only
in this part, harvesting the onions and picking them out of
the ground. At the end of the workday, you can’t see your
nails any more, as if a kilo of soil has gathered under
them. The second stage of the work is better because you
just put the onions in boxes and then lift the filled boxes
onto a truck.
As I gather the onions from the ground, I think of a
chessboard. Yeah, I love this game and I am a good
player. So I enjoy thinking about new techniques and
tactics while picking the onions. It makes time pass faster
My very life is itself like a chessboard. Here, however, I
am not the player. Neither the ones who are here working
like me are players on their chessboards. We are all chess
pieces in the hands of politicians, who use our name for
their benefit. It is the same in my country. It seems I have
many rights, but I’m not aware of them. This is the reason
why I and many others like me are exploited.
Generally, I am a calm boy and I don’t interfere with
anything or anyone’s life, unless I have a responsibility to
do so. My quiet manner may well be the main reason why
my brothers, smaller or older, whip me with their words.
They are much fatter than I am and more energetic. I used
to think about everything too much and worry about all
that happens. I feel a heavy weight on my heart and a
heavy weight on my shoulders.
During the first hours of our work, with every minute that
passes, I can feel the heat increasing, reaching up to 36
degrees Celsius. The humidity is very high as well, I feel
as if I stand under a hot shower, or as if someone is
pouring water on me.
Getting close to mid-day, there is no eagerness to have
food, only water, and my clothes are wet through.
Few hours left, I tell myself. I should persevere. I need to
get those 20 euros home. We are getting close to the end
of the week and we were supposed to buy my father’s
medicines at the beginning of each week.
Now, I am counting the moments to see when it will be
14:00 so we can stop working. Exactly as I am thinking
this, Safi says, ‘’Today’s work is finished, thanks to all of
This is the best sentence my ears could ever hear.
Going back from here to the camp, however, I feel like a
prisoner who goes from detention to work and to work
from detention. In the Spongebob animation show I saw,
the hero was in jail and working for a coal mine.
I do not even want to think about myself anymore, either
about life, or about the things that happen around me.
Who can see me? Who dares to look at me? I am just a
17 years old boy, who is burying his dreams every day,
trying to accept his realities and somehow continue to live.
Still, this work of ours could be more dignified, better
organized, and equitably paid. We get much less than we
should rightfully get. I know that we are sold from one
boss to another, from an Afghan to a Pakistani and each
of them gets paid for what we do, because they collect us
and bring us to work, but not in an humane way.
The prospect of integration does not rest only in having
the possibility to work on onion fields, or in vineyards or
olive groves. Integration should be based on the
opportunities offered to use our training, our talents, our
skills and abilities in any given field and for us to have a
chance to live as normal citizens in the community.
To the world politicians – a letter waiting for an answer
My name is Parwana Amiri. I am currently living in Ritsona camp with 3000 more people, hundreds of whom are young girls, like me. I am writing to you, not because I trust or believe you, but because I must give voice to many people around me who still place their hopes in you. I discern this hope in their faces when they laugh, I touch this hope in their veins when I hold their hands, I witness this hope in the sparkle of their eyes as they meet mine. I can feel this hope while all along I can also sense the silent ocean of anger that they are trying to keep under control.
Can you understand, what I am talking about? We are here, thousands of wounded people, asked to prove our vulnerability. Yet, no one really sees us, no one really listens to us, no one really tries to understand our wound let alone heal it.
Have you ever written a letter and been waiting for an answer? It does not matter what the letter is about. You write and you expect an answer; a simple answer would do. We, too, expect an answer to our letters to you. A small change in our condition, even vague distant attention truly directed to our appeals would be enough to give us hope, hope that, despite our being different, we are still accepted, that the dream of integration will not be achieved by forcing us to become and behave in ways alien to us, but by accepting to live with us, respecting us as authentic human beings.
I live on a no man’s land determined to listen and record thousands of different life stories every day. Meanwhile, the only thing you are prepared to do is to pass ever more restrictive legislation regarding us, legislation based on the most limited knowledge of us acquired through the most superficial and short meetings with us. You write those legislations with a pen, but we feel them on our skin, in our bones, and our soul, every day and every night!
I am writing to you from a house inside the camp, looking out of my window at the wall surrounding us. Children are playing outside my window and I am certain that neither you nor anyone else would accept such conditions for their own children.
The sense of confinement is becoming oppressive. Our eyes are prevented from seeing the outside world. People pass by the camp in their cars every day and I wonder if they, too, share a similar oppressive sense of being kept in the dark about what goes on in the camp behind the walls.
I can see the wall from my window. It is 3 meters high. This image will persist in my mind for all time to come, reminding me that I have been forced to live as a prisoner, behind this wall.
We are told that the wall is for our own safety, but we have never been threatened by the people outside. Even if we were threatened, imprisoning us cannot be the answer. That what social justice dictates, not I.
I never imagined that, in Europe, people get confined and locked up because they are threatened from the outside and because imprisonment provides them with safety, a safety they will never truly have. Even the police do not come into this prison. I am not asking you to put yourself in our shoes. What I am asking is that, as you pass by alongside the camp, you stop and reflect. What are the feelings inside you when you consider that people are kept prisoners in your land, while you, as a citizen of that same land, have no clear idea as to who these people are, what their lives have been, or the reasons that made them flee their homes? What do you make of these people dumped in the margins of the capital city, people you do not visit even once per month, or talk to once per season, or see even once per year – rights that even criminals in prison can count on?
I suffer from this imprisonment. Immensely. And I struggle to go to school, to learn, to grow, always afraid of what others will think of me, of my life….
Ritsona is a reflection of the prison system that is part of the industrial complex, rooted in slavery, colonialism, and racist capitalism. The money spent on the wall is the citizen’s money. It is the money for the development of Europe. It should not be spent to maintain old systems of oppressive domination. They should, instead, be invested in improving the quality of life of the entire European society, so that every human being can thrive.
We are demanding our rights to a decent living, to decent jobs, to decent housing, to health care, and to education. As long as we are deprived of these rights, we will continue to challenge the fundamental structure of your society.
We are challenging the world to understand the complex ways race, class, nation, and ability are intertwined and how, only by addressing this complexity we can find the means to move beyond divisive categories, to understand the inter-relationships of ideas and processes that are presented as separate and unrelated and, together, fight for our common good.
From a mountain of strength and carried by a wave of force, I, Parwana Amiri
We need bridges that connect, not the walls that separate
A few days ago, I woke up as usual and got ready to go to my class. As I walked along, I noticed some bulldozers and many workers working by the back gate, constructing something. They had already laid down some long, red metal rods. When I asked them about them, they told me that they were going to build a wall all around the camp. They also told me that wall would be 3 meters high and the project would finish in a month.
The Ritsona camp has been an open structure for years. It should not, under any circumstance, become a closed structure. This assertion is not based on a theoretical and idle consideration of the
concept of detention. It is based on the paramount concept of social integration as a policy and aspiration for immigrants and refugees. A closed camp not only makes the goal of integration with the local society impossible, it also violates the most basic human rights of the inhabitants of the camp and deprives
them of that minimum freedom of movement they have had. The people of Ritsona have not committed any crime for which they need to be kept apart from the rest of the world around them. The people of Ritsona need to be seen and acknowledged in their humanity and the rights that derive from their humanity.
Silence reigns in the camp. The only pre-occupation of all the people relates to their interviews and the process of their asylum applications. Very few of them, if any, know about the construction of the wall. No announcement has been made in this regard.
What they might be aware of is that the minister of immigration, Mitarachis, has declared that only the camps on the Greek islands will become closed structures.
The money spent on the construction of walls could be used, instead, to make a better life for those living in the camps, a life that safeguards the integrity and dignity the people. It could be used to cover their
medical needs, their educational needs, their psychological needs. There is no justification for walls that imprison and stigmatise those who, leaving behind threatening existences, sought refuge in this country.
These walls should never become a reality. We should not become prisoners with no offence or crime. We should all come together and, united, standup against it.
Give us your support. Give us your solidarity. Don’t allow them to cut us off. Don’t accept this indignity of exclusion, of violation of rights, of injustice.