Category Archives: letters to the world from Ritsona

Letters to the world from Ritsona”No.24″

“Two days in Ritsona”

Photographer: parwana Amiri
Photographer: Parwana Amiri

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.

Goodbye Ritsona.

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.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.15)

”Here is the world of moving statues. Here is the world of ghosts”

Ritsona camp , Neda Torbi
Ritsona Refugee camp, part (A), photographer:Neda Torabi

Yes, everyone is alive, but without a soul, without a purpose, without the energy of inspiration and desire that animates all life.

Their only wish is to cross Greece’s frontier and reach another European country. There is no light of hope here, and we are all fading away. Here, the day is lived waiting for the night and the night waiting for the morning.

Here, the pregnant women end the last days of their pregnancy in regret, in repentance. They are beset by compunction for their children’s future and dread that their new-born babies will have the same fate as themselves. They pray that their babies will not have the same experience and, with these thoughts and fears, they blame themselves for carrying these babies in their wombs.

Here, babies are born in the ambulance, in prefabricated houses or in containers. Their umbilical cord is not cut by a doctor, but by the crude blade of a midwife. The blood is wasting for hours, and in this traditional world, the baby who is born in the darkness of the night is called star-crossed.

Here, children are born, grow up, and pass the most decisive years of their life among metal containers and prefabricated houses, where every day is the same, an endless repetition, with no variety, no learning, no schooling. They all suffer from abject neglect.

Here, some girls get so lonely and so desperate that they even consider suicide. Sometimes, in their terrible loneliness, they lose their better judgement and trust any poisonous person around them. Yet, it all starts when the bonds of the families break down. The parents blame their sons and daughters for their behavior and they, in turn, blame their parents for their condition. For it was the parents who decided to leave their country and home and become refugees. The fact is, of course, that those poor parents could never imagine what their life would be like, once they crossed the borders and reached Europe. The generations do not understand each other, each lost in its own pains.

Here, the young boys resort to alcohol, as the only way to reduce the stress they are suffering. And when alcohol fails to alleviate their stress, they start using drugs, which come to them from different people’s hands.

Here, people are like rings in infectious chains. It is enough that one thing be used by one person and it will be used by many others. It suffices that one boy smokes for others to start to smoke too. Independently of theiage, young boys and old men alike have but one goal: find the money, not for food, but to pay traffickers to help them cross illegal borders. Self organized businesses, mini markets and shops are the main activities to keep themselves busy and earn money – money which is the only means to try to move on to some other more hospitable place.

Here, the family units are broken easily and the crude promises from the authorities make this easier. For example, they say that those who get divorced, can find safe shelter. What they do not mention, however, is how long the shelter will be available and all the consequences that will fall upon them again.

Here, during the night, safety for adult kin refugees is to walk in the camp together, one the guardian of the other. Here, safety means to have the police, even though they do not intervene even when the conditions give way to chaos. But if there is talk about a sword, a knife, a stack of things, the secret polices appears immediately.

Here, life for the ones who do not want to become addicted, waste their life, or change the direction of their life, is to be fast, clever, careful, go along with the many, but, in reality, stay alone with his/herself.

Here, people prefer to lock themselves at home, not only because they are afraid they may get infected by the corona virus, but also because they are afraid of getting infected by many poisonous people.

Here, there are women who cannot come out of their houses in the absence of their male kin. The door is locked on them and even when they are facing violence they should hide their pains, they should not refer the violence even to the doctor. They should put their hands on their mouths, in order to prevent other people from becoming aware of their condition. The fact is that they all know the end of this line, they know that a place called “safe house”, is not safe for a long time. Neither is there a safe fate for their children.

Here times are reversed for all, night is day and day is night. Here people’s lives are inverted. Here peace and quite are only apparent. Underneath this appearance, there is chaos everywhere.Traditions and customs are suffocating for all.

Here, the safe way of raising a voice is found in the writings of a young girl. She is writing about the black and white world of the inhabitants of the Ritsona refugee camp, their lives lived like moving statues. Her sharp pen carves the blank pages of her notebook with her words. Yet, she is hoping for something else. She is hoping to write about her dreams, not the pains around herself.

I am that young girl. Yes, I am trying to live, not to become a moving statue, not to be repressed, not to be confronted by the next generation’s questions, asking why I did not act. We are changed by authorities, those who are preventing us from thinking, speaking up, acting in order to keep our dignity, respect and honor.

Letters to the world from Ritsona (No.12)

“In a world of war”, where can we find safety?

We escaped from far away lands, lands of war, violence and misery. We came here so that our children would not have to see the violence we had witnessed.

We passed the borders of life and death in search of safety and shelter. We put our lives in the mercy of smugglers and strangers to help us cross rocky mountains, deep valleys, deserts and, at the end, the angry sea. Europe was the light which kept us going. Europe was the promise of a new life at the end of the journey.

Yet, what we are experiencing, here and now, is the threat of a dark and unknown future for us, our children and the next generations.

Where can we find safety? This is, for us, the most vulnerable moment in our lives, a moment for which we had not been prepared. We have never, before, lived together with different communities, each with a different culture, different religion and beliefs, different customs, different histories. What we share is that we all crossed borders which left us with injuries, injuries in our bodies and, even more difficult to treat, injuries in our souls. Our life as refugees is filled with anxiety and mental stress. The process of reviewing our
application for asylum; our worries about our beloved ones left behind and living in danger; the future of our children which is wasted as they have no opportunity to go to school; our transfers from one camp to another, from detentions to ghettos , all create fears, worries, anger and frustration. No wonder that chaos and violence break in the camps.

No one who arrives here enjoys mental health, even the physically sound ones are suffering of depression and other psychological difficulties. And even if those arriving are free of such symptoms, once here and as the months of waiting go by, they soon feel vulnerable and exposed, anxious and afraid.

In such an atmosphere, a small event can provoke negative feelings, even violence among different groups. It is enough to have a child throw a stone to another from another community and, soon enough, there is suspicion and hatred between the two groups. Similar feelings are generated if, for example, a child falls from its bicycle as another, belonging to another community, is passing by.

Such events may seem minor and insignificant. Yet such events have had terrible consequences. People arm themselves with sticks, knives, bats because they feel they may be attacked and need to feel that they can defend themselves and their families. Even our fathers and brothers pile us things ,that they can use to defend us. Women collect stones for their men so that they can protect them.

How could it be otherwise, when 2500 people are piled together, even now that we are facing a new ferocious threat, the Corona Virus. The form that ‘our safety quarantine’ takes is imprisonment We are forced to live in closed ‘facilities’ even as the number of infected people among us is rising.

When violence breaks and we call the police, no one answers, no one
interferes.

I am afraid I can be caught in this violence, this war. I am afraid that I may injure someone, that I may lose my belief in people and in the possibility of peace in our lives. And I am afraid of what can happen to my father and brothers and I am tired of seeing my mother cry or hear people scream.

Where can we find safety? Surely not when we are locked up, repressed, hidden in a far away and isolated camp. Nobody sees us, nobody cares, nobody understands that the life of our children having no schooling is wasted in idleness. Yet we have dreams of becoming doctors, engineers, teachers. . .

But how long…..?
How long should we witness violence?
How long should we arm ourselves for protection?
How long should we suffer anxiety and depression?
How long should our children carry stones instead of books and pencils?
How long should we waste away, facing total indifference about our future?
How long should we be targeted as deserving repression?

 

Letter to the world from Ritsona (No.11)

“Born with a hole in the heart”

(Struggles of a baby (Rahela ) who was born with a hole in the heart and braveness of a mother in the refugee camps )

I am Rahela Eimagh and I am six months old. From the moment my heart started beating in my mother’s womb, in  Moria, I knew that something was seriously wrong. That knowledge made me also understand what my mother was telling me, that life is impossible without struggle.When I was born, I was suffering from bouts of diarrhea,fever,kidney insufficiency,coughs, breathing difficulties. Yet, my worst illness was not recognized.
My constant crying sent my parents to the medical centre everyday in order to make one appointment after another. Failing to diagnose my true illness, the doctors kept on prescribing all sorts of wrong cures. They even advised my parents to wash my nose with serum as they were thinking that maybe my nose was clogged up and thus
prevented me from breathing well.
No one was able to recognize the strong pain I experienced every moment of my short existence. I brought no happiness to my parents, I did not let my mother sleep during the night, I could not let my sisters hug me. Everything was painful. When my crying became desperate and I could hardly breathe, my mother called the
ambulance . Had the ambulance taken longer, I would have suffocated and died.When we arrived at the hospital, the doctors put me immediately in the Intensive Care Unit. For more than two hours there, I had a blinding light over my face and was surrounded by doctors trying to keep me alive. Every moment, I felt that they
were connecting me to a new machine. But most of all, I felt excruciating pains everywhere.

Rahela’s mother
From the moment I gave birth to Rahela, I have been stressed out, worried and restless. There is nothing more difficult than seeing your six month old baby in constant pain. Seeing her suffer, I forgot all my own pains. Ever since our car crashed in Kunduz, I lived with strong headaches. I broke three vertebrae, at that accident, and was operated on our way to cross the border of Pakistan. I suffered
terrible neck pains as well. But I forgot all my pains when I listened with terror the desperate crying of Rahela. We took her to the hospital with an ambulance.
We waited for more than two hours before the doctors came out to give us the news, good and bad. The good news was that Rahela was alive. The bad news was that she had a hole in her heart. At the sound of their words, everything became dark, I felt extremely weak and sensed that I could not stand, that I was going to faint.

From that moment onward, my life changed its color and became unbearably dark. The news affected our entire family. From that day, no one of us was able to smile, to be happy, to laugh and have fun.
Yet my baby is brave. She smiles in spite of all her pains. When she finished the tests in the ICU room and they brought her to us, she was smiling. The doctors could not believe their eyes.

Baby Rahela
I know that having a hole in your heart is difficult, but a smile is a healer, so I smiled. I know that my disease is making all members of my small family bitter, but they are all trying to manage their bitterness to help me become better. As for me, there is no
option but to continue struggling. I am sad that my father is jobless and my expenses are increasing. When I need to go to the hospital, it is my mother who always takes me there. Last time, after the visit, we had to sleep in the park. The taxi driver refused to bring us back to the Ritsona camp, because he knew that there were cases of corona virus infections in the camp. We had to spend the night in a park. Here there were other people like us.
People with no identification documents and so without value. Even the most vulnerable ones are left to spend the night in the open. There were families with children, lying on the ground with their clothes spread around. I am not sad about myself. I am sad about my mother who has to hold me in her arms and take me everywhere without getting results.
During these last months of my existence, I and my mother were home less than two months. We passed our days in the hospital and the nights, before coming back home in the park. It upsets me to know that my family spends so much money on my health. I feel that I am taking away the rights of my sisters. I have two little sisters
who seem to be given less affection and care from the day I born.
I have injuries in my soul and in my body. Tomorrow I will have more appointments.
My family worries about every appointment, the results of the appointments and what will happen next.

Rahela s mother
I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but the smile on Rahela’s face gives me the biggest hope. I am a mother, mother of three doughters. They are all little children. My eldest, last night, said: Mother, why has our life changed in such a bad way? We
were happy before and everything was perfect. But from the day Rahela was born, we lost our happinesses. Take her back to where you brought her from.
It is true. Many things changed for my daughters. , They were full of energy before, but now they are quite and getting rude, as the environment is affecting them while neither I or their father have time to look after them .

Last time one of my daughters locked herself behind a door. When her father asked why, she said: I want to kill myself. She is only 4 years old and already very depressed. It seems normal since she and her sister get very little attention from us.
Tomorrow is the next appointment of Rahela. Again, we will have to walk, search for unknown addresses with no Greek interpreter and English will not be understood. I was a doctor in Afghanistan, a midwife with my own practice. Knowing that it will be very hard, perhaps impossible, to exercise my profession breaks my heart too. I
have too much interest in learning. It is dawn and I have to start preparing for my three days trip to town. I don’t know what difficulties we are going to face. My mind is tired. My eyes burn, doctors are all around. Whom to ask this time …
Finally I found a nurse who has a sweet smile. Whom can I ask for the result of the last test? I ask. How can I tolerate this? How can I find hope? What I was afraid of has happened.
There is less hope for her treatment. They said that the holes of her heart will get smaller and this is very dangerous. Her life is at risk. Once again, I feel I am falling down. Again, everything gets dark. When I come back to a normal state, I feel too much pain in all my body. I think they tortured me again. Last time, my husband was
witness of how they were putting the needles in my feet and many more horrible things.
I feel too much pain after getting vigilant. Life is getting darker everyday for every member of my family. A mother is like the main pillar of a family and my family is breaking down every time I am far from my other two daughters. I cannot help it. For me, the priority is Rahela.

Baby Rahela
I am Rahela, 8 months now and struggeling with a hole in my heart. I have other holes too. Holes in my soul witnessing the suffering of my family in our refugee life.