Letters to the world from Ritsona(N.23)

Photo by: parwana Amiri
Photo by: Parwana Amiri

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.

Monday, 12.07.2021

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
now.

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.

Letter to the world from Ritsona (No.22)

My nails soiled with Earth

Photo by: Neda Torabi
Photo by: Neda Torabi

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
their backs.

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
and easier.

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
you.’’

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.

 

Letters to the world from Ritsona (No.21)

To the world politicians – a letter waiting for an answer

Copy right: Alexandros Katsis
Copy right: Alexandros Katsis

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

letters to the world from Ritsona (No.20)

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.

Letters to the world from Ritsona(No.19)

”Who is a refugee?”

Photographer:Neda Torabi
Photographer : Neda Torabi
”A woman with a bike,crossing the way in Ritsona”

A refugee is someone who, once, had a normal life, a home for his  family, a school for his children, a hospital. He enjoyed respect and dignity. He had friends, relatives and basic humans rights. He had dreams, hopes, plans for the future. What he did not have was safety. That was taken from him by political and economic games.

A refugee is that brave father and that courageous mother, who
pluck their courage to protect their family and choose to leave their
country and undertake a voyage with death lurking along the way.

A refugee is a person who struggles many years, in many
countries, his safety always threatened, his days filled with the
sounds of bombs and explosions. A refugee is a person who has
seen the hospitals and schools destroyed under fire.

A refugee is a person, who amid the bombs, the explosions, the
fires, he does not give up his hopes for a new life for himself and
his children, for safety, for peace, for nights with dreams rather
than nightmares. A refugee dreams of a day when the news do not
report numbers of killed or injured, do not recount bloody suicide
attacks.

A refugee is a human being who is as normal as thousands of
other human beings who constitute the population of this world.
The difference between him and those others is the place where
his luck decided he would be born.

A refugee is a mother who gives birth to children whose lives she
will not enjoy. She does not rejoice at their birth. A pregnant
refugee woman can listen to the heartbeat of her baby inside her,
but she cannot hear her child’s laughing or crying in the crowded,
noisy and chaotic world of refugee life.

A refugee is that powerful, courageous and freedom seeking
member of a family, who cannot accept that his rights and freedom
are repressed.
A refugee is an orphan child, a single mother, old parents,
vulnerable people, victims of wars who gathered all their courage
in a back pack and who, holding their children’s hands, passed
thousands of miles of distance, walked over mountains, often losing their way, tolerated hunger and thirst, crossed borders, faced all sorts of difficulties, including humiliations and indecencies
by border guards who treated them as criminals. The women,
among them, faced the worst physical violence, being raped not
only during the voyage, but even in the camps where they found
themselves enclosed. Those women did not face violence from
strangers alone. Even more tragic, they faced the violence from
their fathers, brothers and husbands, violence unleashed, in them,
by the horrible conditions of their lives.

Yet, in spite of all these hardships, a refugee is the one who did
not resigned, but held in the back of his mind the promise of light
that for millions of refugees was the light called Europe.
Thus a refugee is someone who after many failed attempts, after a
number of pushbacks, even deportations, insists on reaching that
promised light, that Europe.

And what does any and every refugee find reaching that promised
land of Europe? Certainly not a new life! What awaits him are
discrimination, inequality, repression, segregation as if prisoners,
exclusion and deprivation of the most basic human rights — all
these in a climate of total uncertainty about their future.
A refugee is a single woman, an unaccompanied girl who is put in
the so called “safe zones “ where life is threaten by those very
people who live inside such a zone. A refugee is single mother
living in a tent near a tent of men who drink alcohol and lose
control over their actions.

A refugee is a fighter who struggles to keep his hopes and not to
give up. Yet even those fighters can be defeated and find solace in
suicide.
But there are dreams behind their clenched fists, there are
demands behind their repressed voices. There are pains behind
their smiling faces. There is passion in their writings, there are
sparkles in their eyes, there are wings in their soul, there are
screams in their strained throats.

A refugee is a girl like me, who is writing every night what she
experiences everyday. Every night, before she falls asleep she
proclaims her dreams in the hope that she will reach them one day. She is fighting against injustice, like many who are fighting
against repression.

Letters to the world from Ritsona (No.18)

”Would you stay silent?”

If you would be one of us, here in Ritsona camp, far from the town, isolated, without access to any decent services that would cater to your basic needs, would you remain silent? Would you stay silent if your children wasted away, idle, with no schooling or learning? If you were promised that they would go to school, yet that happy change was postponed for months, would you stay silent? And if you realized that there was no other justification for this postponement except the unwillingness of state authorities and municipalities to take action, would you be silent? Would you be silent if the refugee
camps, where you lived, were presented as hygienic bombs that should be closed up and divorced from the rest of the population?

If you would be one of us – families, vulnerable women, single mothers, unaccompanied children, young girls and boys facing all sorts of risks, including drugs and prostitution—all waiting for years to learn what sort of life lied ahead, would you stay silent? Would you stay silent in the face of empty promises from state representatives, the ministry of migration and the camp authorities? Yes, their promises and lies kept our mouths shut, but their discriminatory actions (for example, giving priority to the Syrian community as legitimate asylum seekers over the people who came from other wretched parts of the world) created divisions, hatred, segregation and suspicion among communities. Would you stay silent in the face of this nastiness?

If you would see your life threatened by the fights among frustrated and angry communities, your many calls to the police unanswered and any police present take no action to establish peace and order, would you stay silent? And would you stay silent when the riot police was finally sent in to attack protesters claiming equal treatment in asylum procedures? I know you would not, because every human being demands to be treated equally, especially refugees who are living in the same camp and are all similarly vulnerable.

Dear State, we have no trust in you! You have broken your promises several times. You have been playing with our future and our lives, keeping us waiting and repressing us with your political games, putting your representatives to speak with us through “our”
representatives that you have chosen, not those that we would chose to speak on our behalf. You have turned communities against each other so that we cannot be united in our struggles. You know all our problems perfectly well because you caused them. You
enclosed us in an industrial area, you separated us from local people whom you made afraid of us. Even worse, when you finally grant refugee status, you send us out to the world to “get integrated” without any means to do so, withdrawing even the meagre financial support we could count on while living in camps. What hypocrisy!!!! Our lives, instead of becoming lives, they become nightmares.

We want to raise our voices and we would like to engage with you in a true, direct and comprehensive dialogue. We do not want to face the representatives you sent to meet with us. They have no respect for us and our demands, only humiliation. Till that happens, we think it necessary to demonstrate for three days continuously. We call on all communities to stand up for equality for all — all of us suffering in uncertainty and getting totally demoralized by the repeated postponements in the legal process reviewine our cases. We are protesting for three days from morning until afternoon hungry, thirsty, tired and constantly worried about our children left behind.

I would have never imagined that I would witness such scenes in the margins of great Europe. My diary is full of black, colourless memories you have caused and created.
Let me ask you this:
Can we be one of you?
Integrated with you?
Can we live together?
In the same society for ever?

1000 stories and dreams from Ritsona (No.4)

”Disabillity does not kill dreams”

photographer : Neda Torabi
Photographer : Neda Torabi

After a bomb attack, in the city of Herat, Afghanistan, which injured my leg terribly, I went to Iran. The doctors there wanted to amputate my leg. Luckily for me, there were some American doctors who did not agree and only operated on it. For five months after the operation, I had to use crutches and, after that period, I could start walking properly.

At that point, I decided to stay in Iran because I could find a job there. My family did not agree with my decision and were very displeased. The truth is that I was dealing with many difficulties, with many problems: I was not given an identity card; I had no access to social benefits and no access to education and health care. Not succeeding to get an identity card, I was disappointed and discouraged and felt humiliated by the reactions of the people around me.

I have many bitter memories from my life in Iran. The worst one is the treatment I faced when I went to buy bread from the bakery. The police saw me and started chasing me. Somehow, I managed to ran into the building where I worked. The police followed me inside and asked my fellow workers whether they knew and saw me entering. Thank God, they directed them away from my hiding place and I was rescued. That incident was very stressful and scared me terribly. I really didn’t want to be arrested and be deported back to Afghanistan.

I was working in Iran for 4 years, but I was not content at all and could not envision a decent future for me in that country. It was then that I spoke with a smuggler and arranged for me and some of my friends to cross the Iranian border into Turkey. While passing the border, the police shot on us.

Fortunately none was injured. What a horrible scene!
Three months after I arrived in Turkey, I started working in a restaurant that was run by Turkish people in Van city. My salary was satisfactory, but I had to work like a machine to survive. That could not be called a life. I worked for three years in that restaurant, but there was no change in my life. I just went on and on, without any improvement in the conditions of my life. Every day
was the repetition of the previous one. I felt powerless with no strength, no desire or inspiration to continue that life.

Nevertheless, during those three years, I managed to put aside some money and I decided to use my savings to pay smugglers to get me out of Turkey.
After spending 3 nights in a forest my group was arrested by the police. I did not give up. I made two more attempts and the third time around I succeeded to cross from Turkey to Lesvos, Greece.
I arrived at the Moria camp, on Lesvos, in July 2019. They gave me a tent as a single man. Many people in the camp who suffered disabilities and were vulnerable were transferred to other places. Although my disability made life in Moria very difficult for me, I was not given the opportunity to be transferred from the island to the mainland. So, I decided to continue my journey illegally.
And I managed to get by ship to Athens and, from there, to the Ritsona camp, a few kilometres outside the city.
I reached Ritsona on 18 March 2020. Upon my arrival, however, my cash card, which allowed me access to the allotment given by the Greek government to refugees, was cut off. The camp didn’t want to register me since my trip over had not been authorised by the camp in Moria.

Here my world is dark and, as time goes by, I am getting more and more depressed. I found a bed to sleep in one of the prefabricated houses, but I was not allowed to stay there during the day and I had to leave the house.
From morning till evening, I wandered around the camp keeping myself busy moving from one place to another, speaking with the owners of the small markets that had been organized by refugees in the camp.
Later on, I decided to find another solution to my need for a shelter. I constructed a small makeshift tent to give myself a safe roof and avoid becoming a weight on the arms of other people. Of course, I have no oven here, no heater, no toilet, no electricity. I am absolutely alone and there is no consideration for my life.
I fear that I will lose my hope, my motivation and my concentration about my life, as there is no activity for anyone of us. I am interested in history and, as much as I can, I have been reading and researching on my own.

I don’t know how long this uncertain condition will continue. Stuck in this prison, how could I gain some freedom? How long should I and many like me live here?

While all the European countries present themselves as defenders of human rights, why are we left totally alone?

 

 

Letters to the world from Ritsona (No.17)

”My dear parents ,this money is my right”

Photgrapher : Neda Torabi
Photographer : Neda Torabi

I am a girl in need of certain necessities and to have them, I don’t want to be in bondage of pieces of papers called “money”.

When my rights get stifled by the people around me, I can fight for them, especially if I have the support of my parents. But how can I struggle when it is my very parents who repress my rights?

I am a young girl for whom the world outside this camp is becoming my passion and financial necessities are becoming my enslavement.
More than ever before, I depend on what money can buy for me and  consider having some money as my right which is violated by others.

Don’t I have the right to get 1€ from the 75€ that is given by the
government to my parents? Don’t you understand that, when I go out with my friends with nothing in my pocket and see them buy something they like, even a simple ice-cream, I feel humiliated and my pride hurt?

The ones who are around me can understand me well as they have the same condition as I have.

Do you think it is fair to prevent me from having my right, because you do not want to give money to your sons, fearing that they will use it to buy drugs or alcohol? Don’t you realize that actually they will find this money from other sources?

My brother buys alcohol and drinks it, thus wasting his energy. Why
should I be sacrificed because you want to prevent the satisfaction of his destructive desires?

Don’t you think that as a girl I need to satisfy urgent needs which I may not be able to discuss openly with you.

My dear parents! There are times I cannot ask you for money, but I
really need it. Do you expect me to ask for money to buy menstruation pads or underwear or products for my personal hygiene?

Aren’t you aware that, here, the weapon of wolves who hunt young
deprived girls like us, is to offer them pieces of papers called “money”?

Know then that, if you ignore our needs, you will be the reason why we will take the bait and fall victims to such wolves.
You are responsible for me; responsible for my food, for my clothes and other such basic needs of mine. You are responsible for my life,
whether it would be a dark or bright life, since I am passing the most
formative and crucial days of my life.

My dear parents, I want to complain about your actions, I want to
complain because these actions of yours are depriving me of my
fundamental right. You are not raising an animal which would stay docile at home, because you simply provide it with basic necessities.

I am not interested in provoking and seducing men. So do not justify
your behaviour towards me with the excuse that having me stay at home and preventing me from having some joys in the company of my friends will keep me safe in the environment of the camp.
But I suspect that there is another reason for your behaviour. I think that you do not give me the money that, by right, is mine for my own needs, because you want to save it for the continuation of our trip to another country in Europe. You know that we will need that money to cross borders so that you will not have to stay here any longer.

I know, you wouldn’t treat me like this if you were not considering these future expenses for our moving on. And you would not be thinking of moving on towards another place in Europe, if our human rights were respected here, if the asylum processes were efficient and fair, if we could have access to health care, to education, to social services, if we were treated as normal and equal individuals.

Finally, the reason we are kept restrained in the houses, the reason our wings are tied down, is not our parents, but the camps we live in.

1000 stories and dreams from Ritsona (No.3)

Story of a bitter past, a lost present and an unclear future” 

Photographer : Neda Torabi
Photographer: Neda Torabi


In Afghanistan: I got married when I was 12. No one asked my consent. In our village, Katshod, Ghirij, what is most important is not the girl’s desire, but only the price that her marriage can obtain.

My husband who was 20 years older than me, had another wife.
First he had her stay away, but when we got married, he brought her back to our home. The woman was treating me as if I were her slave, she was torturing me, beating me and didn’t even let me feed myself properly.


My family took me from him when they realized that he had brought his previous wife back home. Their decision was not inspired by
their kindness and affection for me. Soon after they got me back, they forced me to marry another poor man who had 8 children.
I was as young as his girls, yet I had to take care of those 8 children, boys and girls, who were abusing me.

 
When I was 15 my first baby was born. I didn’t know how to take care of the baby, how to hold it in my arms. The whole experience was like a nightmare.


Meanwhile, my husband was ashamed of what he did, of his marriage to me. As a result, he had never wanted to introduce me to his relatives. I was seen more as his
grandchild rather than his wife. My second child was born when I was 19.


When my daughter became three years old, my husband got very sick. I didn’t know the reason, but the doctors in Iran diagnosed that he had cancer and he died of the disease soon after.


I was only 20 years old when I started cleaning and working in other people’s houses besides taking care of my own small children. The landlord, where I was working, wanted me to leave work. However,
when I described my condition, he changed his mind.

 
The work was very hard, my milk got dry, no milk for my six-month old child. No diapers either. My spine was damaged and I needed an operation. I was working as much as I could, but there was no spirit and no inspiration in my life anymore.

My childhood and youth: As the first born child of the family, I was expected to work as a boy: collecting the crops from the farm; splitting the wood; taking care of the cows and hens — all these tasks were done by me alone, and even I was getting violent and frustrated when I was not doing things in the right way.


It is like the saying about women of Afghanistan: “if a girl learns violence in her parents’ house, she will face violence in her husband’s house too”.

My hands were soar from sewing the heavy traditional carpets.
I was sewing clothes for people, but I had never had the opportunity to wear new clothes, not even once in my life. Neither did I have the opportunity to enjoy my time with my family.

From Afghanistan to Iran: My daughter became 14 years old, a young beautiful girl, but deprived of her rights and divorced from her dreams. I was not able to provide for her most basic needs, not even clothes for school or adequate food.

She married and started a new life. Luckily, her husband brought her happiness and peace, but once married, she couldn’t continue her education.

We decided that our only hope for a better life would be to immigrate to Europe. We didn’t have enough money to pay for all the children, so my son decided to stay in Iran and work in order to pay for our expenses to travel from Iran to Turkey and from there to Europe. He has been working as a security guard in an apartment building. Unfortunately, his employer doesn’t give his salary regularly, not even the necessary documentation to get a work permit even though he has been there for many years and months.

7 years ago when my husband died and work became the priority of my life, I couldn’t imagine that I would continue to work like that even after 7 years.


Life is very cruel. I could never feel happiness. At the end of the week, when my friends who worked with me discussed their plans for the weekend with their husband, there wasn’t any plan for me.


They were all as poor as I was, but there was love and sharing in their family and love and sharing were exactly what I was desperately missing in my life.


I had tolerated many things, days that seemed to never end and months that were spent in pain. But today, I am crying for the week days during which I feel like a marathon runner who has been running kilometres and now is taking a breath and feel the fatigue of that running.

We were tortured, we faced violence and even forced into deportation while passing the border of death and life. These scenes are my nightmare now.

My biggest worry, now, is about my son who is left behind the chains of discrimination and racism in Iran while his belief in life and in a better future is diminishing day by day.

Before Ritsona Camp in Victoria park: After months on a Greek island we first landed on, we decided to leave and go to the mainland. When we first arrived at the mainland, there was no accommodation for us. So, on the first day, we went to Victoria park, where tens of families like us were staying in the open. There, we spent 20 days. Every morning the municipal workers came to clean the area and we had to wake up very early. Many times, they wanted to throw our back packs in the rubbish.

The locals considered the park dangerous because of our presence there and they preferred to walk on the road rather than cross the park unless they were forced to do so.

One woman we knew told me about Ritsona camp and wanted to host us for some days. We didn’t have the money for our transport, but, fortunately, a local woman helped us out. Later, I could speak with the representatives of the community and they placed me in one of the houses.

Life has always been cruel to me. I have worked hard throughout my life: as a cleaner, as a worker in a furnace, as a tailor, as a farmer and, above all, as a struggling mother trying to keep alive her dreams for her children

You know, the word “man” has no meaning for me. I have been working like a man, continuously with no pause, without negotiating the number of my working hours. My only concern was the wages I could get.

My dreams: When I was in Iran, I was dreaming for a day of leisure, of rest, without worrying about food, not having to get up early (Azan). One might think that, here at Ritsona, I got the fulfilment of my dream. But here, things are really different. My days are empty, staying all day at home without anything to do. I am afraid I am losing my desire for life, my hope for a better future for me and my children. My loss of energy and hope is also affecting them very negatively.

I want to be the best mother, most supportive of my children. I want to provide for all their needs and to not let them feel deprived and have to face what I have been through.


Another dream of mine is to go back to Iran for the marriage of my son and see that there is love in his life now. I have been disappointed not to have him here, to live together with him. But I will never stop longing to see him again; he is the source of my hope.

If the world is reading me, they should know that there are eyes which, over sleepless nights, have shed floods of tears. They should know that there are lips feeling the bitter taste of life. For what I am, what I have been, where I have been and what I have gone through cannot be seen in one glance. Such knowledge needs time to be shared, to be communicated, to be listened to, to be read about. Only then will I be able to recover, to be cured.

Letters to the world from Ritsona(No.16)

”My world is farming”

Photo by:Nda Torabi
Photo by:Neda Torabi

When my wife and I immigrated to Iran, the Iranian government threatened us with deportation. That was exactly the moment we discoverd that my wife was pregnant and it was then that we started praying for a miracle.

My youth had been poisoned by discrimination. The mere idea that my child could also become victim to similar discrimination was unbearable. That prospect became a nightmare burning my might. So we decided that we should leave Iran and seek a better place for our child to grow up, no matter what the risks of such a journey would bring. We wanted our child to be born in a place of safety, of peace, of future possibilities.

My parents were totally against our decision, for they were very vulnerable and there was no one to take care of them, once we were gone. But for us, there was no other option. We were not going to become spectators of our child s unhappy life.

The journeys of refugees are never without risks, without dangers and without hardships. But every refugee who embarks on his journey has, at least, one most horrible experience, one most unbearable moment, never to be forgotten. For us the worst part of our journey was the sea, when my wife was trying to tolerate her belly’s pains, in order not to be arrested by the polices while crossing the border. At that terrible moment as we were crossing, we could never imagine that we we would end up in this dreadfulcamp, in the margins of Europe.

As for many refugees, my life, so far, had been without joy, without certainties, without belief in a possible better future. With the coming of our child, however, I could, no longer, accept the continuation of such an existence. I started taking steps for a better life and a brighter future. I started making changes in our environment.

For eight years in Iran, I was a farmer and, over those years, I gained a valuable experience in farming. I decided to apply that experience and I started planting different plants, mostly vegetables, in small plots close to our house and with access to water.

I want the world to listen to my voice, to listen to my words. I believe that every individual should be able to work in the field they want and have experience in. Only then, will they be able to develop to reach their potential and earn a dignified income. Passion is a key to success, self improvement, and strenght. In no way, should it be repressed or hidden.

I was getting depressed before, but farming, sowing plants, giving them water, being outside in the fresh air rescued me from the dark and heavy feelings that oppressed me. All the same, however, working here is not easy as it may seem to passersby. Neither has it brought a revolution in my life.

While working the land has given me some relief, every single moment, my thoughts are with my wife who is suffering from diabitis and hypertension. My thoughts are also always with my new born baby who is only five months old and badly sick.

Our journey to Europe has badly damanged the health of my wife. Her sugar level is very high and it has provoked two miscarriages. This baby was our last hope, because the doctors had warned us that my wife might not be able to get pregant. Unfortunately, she is now dependent on a medicine which she takes three times per day. She also needs to have insulin everyday.

Yet, all these difficulties do not prevent me from feeling joy seeing our own crops grow, in spite of the limited facilities at my disposal. I am also content that we will be able to sell part of the crops to the
inhabitants of the camp at a lower price than that asked by the local sellers, even though their fruits and vegetables are often of very bad quality.

I am a proud farmer. I want to live my life, my world, my future, my hopes and dreams in a green land,where I can exert my energy not have it supressed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

….why do I have nothing left to ask?