When I arrived in Munich, Felix and Arash came to pick me and be together in the place of exhibition. We arrived and such a big shock, it was not because of the exhibition place, the artistic work of region people with bottles of irons which honestly impressed me. But it was to meet Nahid there. Nahid Akbari is 17 years old young refugee and an activist soul from Afghanistan which was an active member of YRM as well. Her journey with her family started in 2021 when the news about interviews of Turkey exploited from ministry of migration in Greece. As one of many families they started their way from Greece to Germany. This means that they passed following borders one after another.
(Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy). The hardest and the most violent border control had Croatia. “The were hitting single men close to death. They were taking their clothes, they were not even looking to pregnant women and were just beating all.”
I had many things to talk about, specially the effect of being in our activism group to become an activist herself in Bosnia’s border. “I noticed the importance of group work, was hoping to at least have one of girls there to start the movements. But then I started it myself, asked other to protest. The first time everyone was saying “are you going to let us the police beat us” but I started and asked some journalists to cover it, The next day I saw hundreds of them behind me, supporting the protest.”
The exhibition is fascinating for large size of each artists work to the food and music, Neda’s art is shinning here. We all hope yo join all the artists together soon.
I am impressed to see the Ukrainian refugees art as well, Anastasia is one of them. In a short conversation after my speech she said “Your words really gave me energy that yes we are all here.”
Kseniah was talking about the deep impact of news on her psychological condition, she is mother of two children. She is deeply loud artist and so young to believe that she is mother of two children.
“Do not read or watch the news so much, you need to take care of your mental health. You are vulnerable for all what you have been through and should give some pauses to yourself. You are a mother too and the news will just manipulate your emotions and take out your strength.”
Their art is so deep and loud. Many words hidden behind the colours and a clear message. I can imagine the moments they had their hearts burning for their country and compatriots, talking to the colours and brushes. The world of artists is wider than what we see as a result on the canvas.
In that time I was saying myself, “the warm attendance of people is so heartwarming, it is what I was dreaming to see one day. They do not pass by each artist’s work, but in fact they put all their attention, they read about each artists and discuss. This is a big achievement and this is how change forms. Even if the action is small, but this will prepare the people and will make my connection for wider actions.”
You really need to attend if you are want to know more of refugee condition and the way art can be a protest. If I call it an open school is for the fact you can join and hear yourself, not through mass media.
We simply put you in question of “WHY BORDERS ?” if Nahid was going to arrive in Germany, why she had to pass all those hardships in Bosnia, or if Neda was going to recognised as a refugee why she had to pass three years of her life in the camps as me. If refugees from Ukraine can get permit of Germany without passing any interviews, why can’t my family?
I know the answer, but the low can not convince me. As law is to be changed, for Nahid who is afraid of Dublin and me who is exclude of the right to Freedom Of Movement.
But it is not a single side struggle anymore, We must stand before we are crushed under the oppression of politicians.
Here in Ritsona, you cannot trust others easily. In fact, you should not do so. To share little and listen carefully seems to be the easiest way to stay safe. You find few people who are honest with you, who can love you and feel your wounds, willing to help heal them rather than put salt on them or mock you. You talk with people, you
laugh, but not all smiling faces are honest or real. There are many pains under the smiles, hidden behind masks.
Here everyone carries within a small world of pain. This is their secret alongside the common and shared pains, which the system, rules, and laws cause. Lack of honesty is the main root of many of our pains. It is the condition we live in, also shaped by our background or by the people around us.
I am a young girl living with my old parents. The reason I am sharing what I have been through is that many are afraid to have their voice heard, to share their pains, afraid to bother others who might not want to hear and know harsh realities.
I know that I am not the only one, the only girl, who has had such an experience. I know there have been many girls who have been suffering from the same pains but have decided to hide them. It is not that they do not have the courage to share their suffering. The fact is that they have not been given voice and support to do so
honestly and safely. They are afraid that their voice, their words will irritate and embarrass them and that they may provoke disrespect and contempt.
A week ago, I went out of the camp with my friend (a boy). When we reached one of the factories close by, he raped me. I don’t know what happened immediately after. I was in shock. I was like a statue: I could not move. When I came to myself, I had just run out of the building. I just wanted to be under a shelter, to be back home, to be
where no one could see me.
Days passed and I started feeling a very acute pain in my belly. I decided to go to the medical unit, to be examined. They visited me and diagnosed HIV infection. I felt
terribly anxious, angry, and exposed.
“How old are you?” they asked me.
“We have to inform your parents!”
“I don’t want them to know anything about this, nothing at all, they can not tolerate this. I will solve my problems, but please don’t say anything about it to them.”
“We want to help you. We want to treat you. You cannot get the medicines you need without your parent’s permission.”
“We also have to inform the police.”
“No, I don’t have any complaint, about anyone. If you don’t want me to commit suicide, then help me to close this topic.”
I just wanted to run from there, to escape, to go far, to go and hide. I hated my body and everyone’s eyes, thinking that whoever was looking at me, wanted to break me, or that they guessed what had happened to me. I asked the medical personnel to give me one or two days to change my age on my documents or do whatever else
would stop them from sharing what had happened with my family. I knew that being older would take away my right to go to school, but I had to keep my parents out of it.
They didn’t give me this chance. They just broke their promise and shared the information not with my family, but with many workers who thus learned what had happened to me. Their eyes, their looks were unbearable.
My family also learned what happened to me. They did not talk with me for a long time, neither my mom nor my dad.
Everything is now over, but who will answer for those nights I was cutting my hands with a blade, praying for better days?
Better days have not yet come. I just became stronger, relying less on others and more on myself. I am trying to have a better vision of myself every day, a stronger belief in myself and in my own abilities. I talk more with myself about who I am, and I accept myself. I hope that one day I will become strong enough to stop something
like this happening to young girls and to protect them from the cruelty of others if and when such a thing happens.
To make a safe place for them to share their pain, without being judged, without getting broken and imprisoned for what they have been through.
I know some girls, who have also been raped. However, they don’t want to share with others, especially here, in the camp where everyone can seem like a goat, but be a wolf underneath. It is also possible that some men in the camp can blackmail them and force them to have sex with them.
What has happened, that trust in each other has been broken? Why have pen and paper, writing, the moon, and the night become closer friends to us, rather than people? When will we start understanding each other, rather than blaming each other, for what we have been victimized for?
These violent acts will continue. They can happen to anyone, not only girls but boys too. They will happen without any voice denouncing them, without any outcry.
Everything will happen silently, secretly. Who will be next?
On a very hot afternoon, everyone is in their containers and no one dares come out. I am one of them, trying to drink as much water as possible in order to resist the heat. What about those under tents, those in the big hall, where many families are living together in one space having difficulty to breathe, especially small children? Yet,
since here is Malakasa, you cannot complain about anything, cannot ask or demand something different or better. Even if you are under a tent you have to be thankful, only that you are here.
What I am afraid of is not what is happening now, bad as it is, but of what may happen later, due to extreme weather conditions and the heat wave that ravages the whole of Greece.
Suddenly, I hear a siren, a scary noise on my mobile. It is an alert from a sim company; all of us must leave the camp immediately!
The silence which followed for a minute breaks down. Everybody is getting ready to escape, some are collecting all that they have and some are going out with a single bag.
My neighbor is afraid to leave the camp. She is thinking of her dishes and house stuff that she recently bought and are all new. She does not want to lose them or have them burn. She is crying, what will happen if she comes back and finds no one and all her belongings lost? How will she be able to ever replace them?
The buses are here. The team of the International Organization of Migration (IOM) is trying to do their best to organize the departure. They give priority to vulnerable people, but, of course, as always, single men and boys are trying to be in the first group to go.
I am here with a small suitcase, where I could only put some personal stuff of mine and of my mother’s. We still do not know where we are being taken and what is going to happen. They only thing we can see clearly are the flames blazing on the mountains around the camp.
Some men are asking for help to move their stuff. Those living in the tents are doubly worried as there is no lock for their tents and all their belongings are left there.
The camp staff try to make sure that everyone is out and ready to go. Yet, it seems that some stayed hidden in their containers and do not want to move elsewhere.
Everybody is trying to get on the bus. I am in now, but my mom has not realized it. She is anxiously looking for me in the crowd and calling my name, “Farishta, Farishta”. In the general chaos and noise she cannot hear me calling her too.
Finally, she realizes I am in and climbs on the bus. It is 10:00 o’ clock now. I remember my mom has just cooked chicken for dinner. Pity, we had to leave it behind. As we ride forth, we see a huge black cloud hanging ove the whole area.
We hear that we are being transferred to Ritsona. I have heard about this camp many times, but have never been in it.
At last we arrive. Here we are in Ritsona now.
There are no mountains around it, but as the camp of Malakasa, it is surrounded by a big wall, covered by slogans and some paintings. There is no shop or market around as we have in Malakasa.
Once off the bus we are guided by the people standing by the gate into the camp. Such a big one.
Everyone is waiting and some walk to the other side of the camp to take refuge under the trees — many big pine trees.
Some people are going into containers which have been opened by camp workers. Others are still lingering outside. We are waiting to see if there will be an open container to go in, but my father is still not here and we are waiting for him.
Some have settled in corners, close to the walls. They have put a carpet or a piece of cartoon and will sleep there.
Many are standing with their babies in their laps and their bags in their hands.
A big van of water comes and everyone rushes to get water to quelsh their thirst. The atmosphere is heavy because of the fires, the heat makes us feel as if we are in a desert. We need to drink, we feel we can die otherwise.
We are behind one of the containers, in front of the wall. I am so tired. I just want to close my eyes. “You sleep,” says my father, “I will stay awake for a few hours more.”
My mom is still awake and afraid for me and my sisters. Here is like a public road, one comes another goes, each moment there is a new call, that there is an empty space. My mom wants to go there, but my dad wants to stay here for tonight and change places tomorrow.
The weather is warm, but we need to have a blanket or some cloth to put over us. My father is afraid of the wind, that it may bring the fire here.
Counting the starts, goodbye night…..
We open our eyes very early the next day. Already, everyone is running around trying to find a free space to settle. It looks as if the sun has broken down the calm of the people again.
My father is collecting our stuff together. The whole situaation reminds me of all that has happened in Moria. Again displaced, searching for protection, looking for water and food. No news about breakfast or food. In Malakasa, some people had no cash card and ate only the meals provided by the camp or the NGOs. Here, in Ritsona, there are shops and people who have money can buy some provisions. Those without money cannot buy anything at all. I want to cry when I hear their children ask for a biscuit, while their mothers are trying to keep them calm and play with them.
When will this story of being repeatedly displaced finish?
For many years, geopolitical games and economic interests have been behind all sorts of tragedies for people all around the world. These are the causes behind the catastrophic scenes of extreme weather and the terrible fires that surround us. They do not threaten only us, but almost half the population in this land is sunk under. Their homes, their memories and their history have gone up in flames.
Again I see food lines forming. That is yet another history of waiting and counting the ours.
Doctors are trying to respond to the arrival of so many people who have not been checked in Malakasa. The newly arrived, on their side, are trying to use their opportunity to get medicine and treat their ailments and pains.
When something gets distributed to a large number of people without an orderly organized distribution method, then many people remain without their fair share.
Nothing remains in its place. I can see even small boys carrying away bottles of water.
Here, the world for girls is different. They are active, they care, they support us, and share. They are a team and do not work alone. They are brave and do not care about what boys tell them.
Yesterday a group of young girls of the Ritsona camp organized a collection of the trashes and the empty bottles of water from all around the camp. They did so ignoring the negative comments they received from some boys.
They even encouraged some more girls from Malakasa to do the same.
But, would they be able to always do as much as they do now?
In Malakasa girls do not support each other and they are all waiting for someone else to stand first line and the rest to support them.
I think that the girls here have already made a big impact on us, with the way they extended hospitality, shared awareness, cared for our needs, and encouraged us to be patient. But how close to each other have we really been? How different have they considered us? They have the same problems as we have, the same anxiety and uncertainty we have been tolerating, with the interviews, the separating walls, the access to education. Will these unite us?
It is evening. ash is falling from the sky, smoke fills the lungs. People get even more scared. As I pass by the mosque I see lots of women staying there.
And what about the infections of COVID19 among us and the new arrivals.
It is sad to hear about the high number of people who get Covid in the local hospitals and the number of people who, unchecked, are displaced now in other areas.
Some girls have their period and are looking for pads. How will they find them and from where?
I am tired, have no place to get a shower, feeling ashamed of how I smell.
It is the second day we are staying in Ritsona after two nights we spend since we arrived. The buses are here to take us back to our homes soon. People have missed even their tents. All the same, many would prefer to live here.
Give me back my microphone!! Our voice must be heard
When I received the video from one of the inhabitants of the Schisto Camp, which presented the suicide of one person there, I decided to not let this “murder” be kept away from the public eye, as so many tragedies had been kept before. I also decided to participate in the Protest of the People that was to be organized in the camp to raise hundreds of voices denouncing not only the suicide but all the wrongs allowed. What follows is the chronicle of what happened.
I am in the car going to the Schisto camp. Upon arrival, I immediately notice the common elements between this camp and that of Ritsona, where I live. As in Ritsona, here too, a group of asylum seekers is kept, in the midst of nowhere, away from any inhabited town, on a piece of dry land enclosed by barbed wire and chains. As in Ritsona the people live in containers that offer little protection from the
weather, be it winter be it summer. It seems that it is an open camp, as there are no walls around it and we enter from the main gate.
Silence reigns in the camp, and I start doubting that 1100, or more, actually live here.
Once inside, however, I had a chance to meet people. I ask them about their problems and what they want to denounce at the protest. I also ask them if they have anything specific to talk about in front of a camera. All remain silent. I turn to the representative who makes me understand that it is very difficult to receive any feedback from the people as to the conditions they live under.
The microphone is here, but the time of protest has changed. I need to consult with people and inform them about the time change.
Walking along with containers, microphone in my hand, I call people to come out. So does a man with a loudspeaker.
After a short while, I can see women looking out from their windows. Many more, men and women, are coming out. As we pass by the main construction, we are seen by a few social workers. On their uniforms, I read: DRC (Danish Refugee Council).
One of them shouts that we need to move away from the building and that she will call the manager. The people waiting around seem to get worried.
The manager is here now. I am curious to find out what sort of person he is, what methods he adopts, and whether his style of management is military as is the case of
many managers in other camps.
“Hi, you don’t live here, right?” he asks.
“No, we don’t,” we answer.
“Ok, come with me, both of you,” he says, addressing me and the man with the loudspeaker.
We are in his office now, a small dark space, which seems like a detention center in a police station
“Give me your asylum cards!!” he demands.
“You cannot ask for our asylum cards,” we respond. “Here is not a police station.
You don’t have that authority and we have not committed any crime!”
His voice is getting louder and louder, but this does not worry, stress, or threaten me.
“You want to make problems in a peaceful camp, inciting people, with your
microphone, to protest!!”
“I cannot see any peace here. And you cannot call a place peaceful just because it is silent because people are afraid to raise their voice by themselves and call me to support their protest. It is not peaceful here. Only the voices are suppressed.”
“You don’t have permission to come here, you should not be here and cannot do anything without my permission.”
“Is this a closed camp? If not, then there is no reason to impose restrictions. What is the difference between this camp and the ones which have walls around them? If the government does not designate Malakasa, Polyester, Diavata, Nea Kavala and
Ritsona as closed camps, then such camps are open to people from the outside.”
“You are making a problem in a camp that has no problems.”
“No problems? If there is no problem, then what are these people complaining about? Why do they want to demonstrate?”
“They do not have any problem, I have all the statistics”
“Then, something must be wrong with your statistics. You better speak directly with the people to learn their problems.”
“You do not want to understand me!”
“I am just assuming that as manager of the camp, you are listening to people and granting them their right to act, to defend their rights. You should not repress them.”
“I do listen to people, and I am trying to do all I can to avoid demonstrations”
“Demonstration is a basic right of people if they live under a democratic regime. They have a voice; they want to be heard and it is neither up to me nor you to decide whether they can raise that voice. After a long time of waiting, they decided to act
They have been waiting to see what you could do and now that they have seen no action taken, they decided to protest.”
“You do not understand the meaning of democracy! I face so many bureaucratic problems! I am trying to put pressure on the asylum office, I go there and give them the list to get the passports from there.”
“When you talk about democracy you refer only to limitations. These do not constitute democracy. As for putting pressure, let’s collaborate to increase it.
Allowing people to raise their voice will help you and your “efforts” to make the process faster and easier.”
“You do not want to understand!”
“On the contrary, I understand very well. There are two options.
The first entails your giving me back my microphone and us having our demonstration today.
The second entails your talking with the people so that I can be sure that they have no complaint and that they are all satisfied.”
Silence fills the room. His hands move nervously. He seems stressed, highly anxious, and angry. He makes a call to someone. Meanwhile, many people are gathered behind the door. They are all telling us that they want to be included in a dialogue with the manager of the camp.
This is the power of people, what I like the most and respect the most. But the manager ignores their demand to talk with him. He is asking to speak with two persons only, the “elected representatives”! This does not satisfy the people. They insist that the conversation should be with all. They all want to listen to what happens and to find out what is going to be decided about them. He leaves the office. We remain and wait to learn what will happen and what will be his decision. Finally, he comes back.
“All of you come with me!”
We are sitting at a table now. He is on one side of the table with his interpreter and I am on the other, with my pen and notebook. In addition, two representatives are on
the other two sides of the table.
The people stand all around.
The conversation has started and I am writing all the items brought up, one by one.
The first issue is the burial of the young man. His corpse is in a police station and no information is given as to what will happen to him. The manager explains that this problem is the responsibility of the police, not the camp management.
“Yes, but if the camp authorities will not help,” one of the representatives intervenes,
“whom can we ask for help? The family is not even here.”
“What about the length of the asylum granting procedure?” another representative asks.
“We know nothing about the interviews, the decisions taken on the basis of the interviews. No information has been given to us. And we have been waiting for so long.”
“Yeah, the process takes time because there are about 1100 or even more people in the camp. We cannot process the applications of all of them rapidly.”
“It was equally lengthy before when the number of people was smaller Now with more people, it has become impossibly slow.”
The manager insists that the process is not unreasonably slow. At that point, the people bring out their papers to validate their claims.
“These are my papers. Look at the date of our interview. It took place a year ago and still, ave no answer about their decision.
“I have been asking for a change of my surname that is written wrongly, but, again, I have received no answer. I had to go to the office a number of times just for a simple spelling mistake. Still no answer.”
“Yeah, these are one of the bureaucratic problems we have.”
“Is a simple misspelling a bureaucratic problem?”
“My family has been here for two years and our documents are not ready yet.”
“They don’t give the guardianship of my son to me.”
“Did you ask TDH about it?”
“Yeah, I have been asking for four months, but still no answer, they don’t reply to our mails.”
“Terrible. I really didn’t know that they don’t follow up with the problems.”
“It is good that you know it now. Sorry, but this is what I wanted you to learn by speaking with the people.”
“I have been here since 2016,” says one woman. “This is the paper I got at that time from there.”
She exhibits to our view an old paper that seems to have passed many adventures.
Most likely it will pass many more and will have more stories to tell.
She adds, “I was in Hellions camp four 4 years and then they transferred me here.
After one month, they gave me the date for an interview whose purpose now will be for me to prove that Turkey, not my country Afghanistan, is a dangerous place for my life. That is what the new policy of the Greek government dictates. I am here because my life was threatened in Afghanistan, not in Turkey. Turkey was simply the
territory we had to pass in order to arrive at safety in Europe. This new policy will justify the rejection of my application for asylum and will permit my deportation to Turkey. I have psychological problems. In spite of them, I will have to pass my interview and then, most likely, be sent back to Turkey and from there to my country.
What a prospect! It would have been much better to commit suicide than be killed by the Taliban there.”
“You were in Hellions for 4 years and they never gave you an interview?”
“No, they didn’t. I have gotten it only now that I am here and after the new policy that requires my justification as to why Turkey is a dangerous place for my life”
“Oh, I didn’t know about it. In Helionas there are some more similar cases.
Don’t worry, however, we have not had any rejections from this camp, even after the interviews focus on Turkey and not the country of origin.
“Who says we have not had any rejections in the camp. On the contrary, we have had many families rejected.”
“No, we have not”
“I am asking people to call those who have already gotten their first rejection after the policy change about Turkey.”
“Okay sir, you were saying that there has been no such rejection in the camp and that there is no reason for us to protest. Now, after listening to the people for a bit, do you still refuse to give me the microphone and let us all protest??”
“I want to know who got rejected, I want to see them. How can I otherwise believe that it has happened”
“Okay, they have already been called. They are coming.”
“Hello, I am the mother of the family that got rejected. My husband is in Athens. The lawyer called him to follow up on our process with the second rejection.”
“Give me the paper that says you are rejected!!”
“We have not gotten the decision of rejection, but when the lawyer called us, he told us that our case was rejected”
“Oh, I really did not know about it. Bring me your papers, after the decision is made and communicated to you.”
“We cannot wait until all families will be rejected and then search for a solution to stop this outcome. If this process is wrong and you believe it is so, then let us take action to stop it.
Who will pay the value of those lives that are now in danger – the lives that are put at risk of life and death as people are trying to cross deadly borders to arrive at the center of Europe? Who will pay the value of many children’s education and future as they are now over age and have no chance to go to school?
You are trying to hide all these problems, telling us that you are not informed and claiming that your statistics are right. If that were the case, we would have never been forced to act, to protest, and to stand up for justice.”
My conversation with the manager is almost over. There are no more words left. It seems that he has understood all that he needs to know.
In the end, never reflecting on the system, he goes to his office. Before leaving the camp, I give him my book. After that day, I became concerned that the camps foreclose any discussions about
the meaning of human rights, freedom and justice.
Furthermore, they foreclose any possibility about exchanges that would allow us to explain the reasons we are here, our previous lives, our background. The very existence of camps set apart by
barbwires and walls prevents and collaborative action that would eradicate violent acts such as suicides and fighting among groups. People who are kept in detention, not reception as they call them centers, are already criminalized. Prisons breed violence and people that are detained there are often pushed to frustrated violence and when they get out they are changed to the worst.
So how does one persuade people to think differently? About life, about hope, about brightness and good days. We still need to call for change, less violence, less repression, call for reform and rehabilitation. By visiting different camps, I am getting more and more convinced that behind the policies applied and the privatization of institutions dealing with immigration, there is money to be made. The more we are, the higher the possibility for profits. We are like enslaved people in a society which
claims to be democratic. In the path of challenging the basic structures of this society by resistance and action, I am only the tip of an iceberg.
To the world politicians – a letter waiting for an answer
My name is Parwana Amiri. I am currently living in Ritsona camp with 3000 more people, hundreds of whom are young girls, like me. I am writing to you, not because I trust or believe you, but because I must give voice to many people around me who still place their hopes in you. I discern this hope in their faces when they laugh, I touch this hope in their veins when I hold their hands, I witness this hope in the sparkle of their eyes as they meet mine. I can feel this hope while all along I can also sense the silent ocean of anger that they are trying to keep under control.
Can you understand, what I am talking about? We are here, thousands of wounded people, asked to prove our vulnerability. Yet, no one really sees us, no one really listens to us, no one really tries to understand our wound let alone heal it.
Have you ever written a letter and been waiting for an answer? It does not matter what the letter is about. You write and you expect an answer; a simple answer would do. We, too, expect an answer to our letters to you. A small change in our condition, even vague distant attention truly directed to our appeals would be enough to give us hope, hope that, despite our being different, we are still accepted, that the dream of integration will not be achieved by forcing us to become and behave in ways alien to us, but by accepting to live with us, respecting us as authentic human beings.
I live on a no man’s land determined to listen and record thousands of different life stories every day. Meanwhile, the only thing you are prepared to do is to pass ever more restrictive legislation regarding us, legislation based on the most limited knowledge of us acquired through the most superficial and short meetings with us. You write those legislations with a pen, but we feel them on our skin, in our bones, and our soul, every day and every night!
I am writing to you from a house inside the camp, looking out of my window at the wall surrounding us. Children are playing outside my window and I am certain that neither you nor anyone else would accept such conditions for their own children.
The sense of confinement is becoming oppressive. Our eyes are prevented from seeing the outside world. People pass by the camp in their cars every day and I wonder if they, too, share a similar oppressive sense of being kept in the dark about what goes on in the camp behind the walls.
I can see the wall from my window. It is 3 meters high. This image will persist in my mind for all time to come, reminding me that I have been forced to live as a prisoner, behind this wall.
We are told that the wall is for our own safety, but we have never been threatened by the people outside. Even if we were threatened, imprisoning us cannot be the answer. That what social justice dictates, not I.
I never imagined that, in Europe, people get confined and locked up because they are threatened from the outside and because imprisonment provides them with safety, a safety they will never truly have. Even the police do not come into this prison. I am not asking you to put yourself in our shoes. What I am asking is that, as you pass by alongside the camp, you stop and reflect. What are the feelings inside you when you consider that people are kept prisoners in your land, while you, as a citizen of that same land, have no clear idea as to who these people are, what their lives have been, or the reasons that made them flee their homes? What do you make of these people dumped in the margins of the capital city, people you do not visit even once per month, or talk to once per season, or see even once per year – rights that even criminals in prison can count on?
I suffer from this imprisonment. Immensely. And I struggle to go to school, to learn, to grow, always afraid of what others will think of me, of my life….
Ritsona is a reflection of the prison system that is part of the industrial complex, rooted in slavery, colonialism, and racist capitalism. The money spent on the wall is the citizen’s money. It is the money for the development of Europe. It should not be spent to maintain old systems of oppressive domination. They should, instead, be invested in improving the quality of life of the entire European society, so that every human being can thrive.
We are demanding our rights to a decent living, to decent jobs, to decent housing, to health care, and to education. As long as we are deprived of these rights, we will continue to challenge the fundamental structure of your society.
We are challenging the world to understand the complex ways race, class, nation, and ability are intertwined and how, only by addressing this complexity we can find the means to move beyond divisive categories, to understand the inter-relationships of ideas and processes that are presented as separate and unrelated and, together, fight for our common good.
From a mountain of strength and carried by a wave of force, I, Parwana Amiri
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
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
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
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
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?
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.
Marriage is not only a traditional cultural ceremony. It is also an official proof that the two people who got married and their children constitute a unified family which should not be broken. Differences in nationality, religion, race between wives and husbands should never justify the splitting of a family. Moreover, whenever circumstances force members of a family apart, the simple fact that they belong to the same family unit should be adequate reason to have all members reunite. Unfortunately, none of the above applied to my experience. After eight years of shared life with my husband and children, the moment I reached Europe as a refugee, my family was broken up and I was classified as a single mother.
When we arrived in the Moria refugee camp, on Lesvos, Greece, together with my disabled husband (he has a palatine bone in his leg) and my 8 years old son, we went to the asylum registration office. When our data were registered, they asked us for our marriage documents. We handed them over only to have them rejected in the harshest way possible.
The woman behind the registration desk added: “Your marriage document is not valid here. It indicates that you got married in Iran while you are from Afghanistan. Therefore, we will register you as separate individuals, not as husband and wife. So, your husband will be officially registered as a single man and you as a single mother, without a guardian. As for the boy, he will be registered under your responsibility.”
It was really hard to accept that the European law did not recognize the validity of our marriage after 8 years of shared life and that it could break our family apart.
Since my husband has a disability, most of the legal process was done by me. However, there was no trouble to follow up our asylum application process. Yet, with each step in this process, my mind and my heart were pulsing for my boy, worrying about his condition as we could not even get the permission to live in the same tent. Being responsible for him without being next to him scared me, because my son is a passionate boy and very head strong.
The palatine bone in my husband’s leg was causing him great trouble. Everything was becoming very hard for each one of us. We had come to Europe, hoping to get treatment for my husband, but he was getting more and more vulnerable. Many people were getting transferred from Moria. Among them my sister who was almost in the same condition as I, but for different reasons. Although she had arrived with her husband, she was registered and recognized as a single mother. Because her husband had two wives and could be considered officially responsible for one of them, he chose to be with his elder wife. As a result, my sister was considered a single mother and her two young girls received assistance from the authorities as orphans.
In spite of all the difficulties, I was trying to follow the medical process of my husband so that his asylum application could take into consideration his disability. However, we did not manage to get any answers from the doctors to certify his vulnerability before the first review of the asylum application. Thus we got the red stamp in our first and second registration in the asylum office, in other words, our request for asylum was turned down.
When we could not find any alternative, we turned to the illegal solutions and we put our lives in the mercy of smugglers and strangers. There was no other option and not even time to think about consequences including the dangers of the trip itself. My only concern was to get out of there and rescue myself and the future of my son.
The smugglers could find a way to transfer us from Moria to the mainland and the Ritsona camp, where my sister was already living.
Now I too live in Ritsona camp. When I first arrived here, I was secretly sheltered for two months in my sister’s house. During those two months, I was living in fear of getting arrested and being pushed back to Moria camp.
After, two months, we decided to speak about our accommodations with the authorities of the camp. I was not sure that they would accept and understand my condition or would speak with the police to arrest me and send me back to Moria.
However, I was a bit optimistic, as Moria was under fire at that time and there was less possibility to be pushed back to Lesvos.
Today, I live with my nine-year old son at Ritsona. Here, I face different sorts of problems. At the same time, my husband is in a new camp, Kara Tepe, on Lesvos, where everyone’s life is in danger and basic human rights are violated. He had hardly rescued himself from the fire in Moria and, now, as one thousand more people are living there, he is suffering inhuman conditions, exposed to Covid19, having asylum process problems.
Here, I am deprived of all rights that other inhabitants have, as our cards ATM cards are cut, and even during the quarantine there was no consideration about our nutrition, including the possibility of distributing baskets of dry food.
Here, even those who are healthy are getting vulnerable, not because of physical problems, but because of psychological problems. Every time that I speak with my husband and ask about his condition, I feel very sad. He is suffering there too much and, as a single man, he is treated very harshly by the authorities. I also feel very bad that even my own illnesses, mostly about my lungs, is being forgotten among all these troubles, while it is getting worse and worse.
I am a woman who is a mother and a wife. I cannot stop thinking of my husband who is locked up in an inhuman environment, surrounded by wires and the virus. How much longer do I have to suffer away from my husband? How much more should I stay silent against my son’s desires as a child, who is getting discriminated and bullied emotionally by other children?
“Stop destroying our future!”
I would never imagine, after reaching Europe from my country, that I would participate in protests, claiming my inviolable right to education. I would never imagine that my life in Europe would be centred on struggles to get access to education, a human right.
I had experienced the fear of losing access to education after the presidency of Talibans in Afghanistan and their attacks to schools and their decision to close them down. Yet, here in the Ritsona camp outside Athens, in Greece, we face the opposition and attacks of right-wing groups and we are being blocked from getting the most basic schooling.
I am one of 850 children of school age who are not granted this basic right to education. Everyday, I am searching to find the reason we are excluded and the legislation that excludes us from being at school. But, I cannot find any reason for this deprivation.
We live in a small world of 2500 people , who are the most effected people by the COVID1-19 pandemic and are suffering in the second period of Quarantine.This is the most difficult period for us, mostly since we know that there are about 5 infected people (without symptoms) out of 100 tested inhabitants.Unfortunately for us, being in quarantine does not concern only our health
safety, but it threatens our right to education.
This year, once more, using the justification of COVID 19, we may be excluded from attending school. No teacher has been recruited for us, “refugee children”, and no transportation system has been put in place to take us to a school. How long should we accept to witness our future getting destroyed?
There is no difference between our days and our nights. The difference between us and the children who have the chance to go to school, is the fact that we happened to be born in a country we did not chose, where we lived in repression, exclusion, violence, war and routine violence, none of which was our own choice.
Be brave, imagine you are one of us, imagine that your child is one of us. Put yourself in our shoes.
At daybreak, when you wake up your children to get ready for school and stand by their beds to make sure that they get up, we are sleeping. We are still sleeping, not because we are lazy or we want to waste our days. We are sleeping, because there is nothing constructive for us to do. Sleeping, we can, at least, dream of a classroom where we can learn and of a teacher who teaches us.
Some of us (children) are waiting for sunrise to start playing with pebbles with other children in their neighborhood containers.
So, when your children are washing their faces, brushing their teeth and combing their hair, in front of the mirror, and start their days with a smile, we (refugee children) are starring at the extinction of our future.
So, your children are feeding themselves to get the energy needed to build their future, we are wasting our energy in this ghetto.
So, when your children hear the horn of the car that is calling them and you use the last minutes to put the flask in their bagpack, we are struggling to have the public transportation service the people of the camp and, failing that, have a bicycle.
These scenes, these contrasts are our daily routine. How we would prefer to find ourselves in those morning scenes of your children’ s mornings.
Sorry if those words and imaginations seem hard and bitter. Yet, put yourself in our shoes, wonder whether your children could be one of us. The discrimination we suffer is not due to the superiority of your children, but to the arbitrary fact of where we were born.
Something is not right when a seven year old child is demonstrating for his or her right to education!
Is it too much to ask for our right to education?
Is it too much to ask to be treated equally, at least regarding education?
Is it too much to get registration for school?
Is it right, is it fair to be criminalized and discriminated as the ones who are threatening your lives, while we are condemned to live in danger?