Category Archives: Ritsonacamp

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.

 

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.16)

”My world is farming”

Photo by:Nda Torabi
Photo by:Neda Torabi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1000 stories and dreams from Ritsona (No.01)

”Will war in syria ever finish…?

 

photo by : Neda Torbai
Photo by : Neda Torabi

I dream of a future when I will be reunited with my children, who left Syria before me and, now, live in Germany.

Nothing is more important than my children. I hope this endless war in Syria will finish and that I will be able to start a new life in my own country, where I can feel dignity and respect.

I have less words for the world, but I have more words for the young generations. What I want them to know is what I could not understand about life. I want them to never stop learning, never stop
asking and staying curious about life, about love and about the world.

I passed my childhood, youth and old age in war, but I hope they will have a different life, different experiences. I lost my country and my loved ones because of the hypocrisy of the powerful, their racism and their political games.

People see us as persons without skills, profession, knowledge, abilities. I am not the only one considered so. Thousands of us are seen as useless, we who, once, we were the labour force, the
backbone of our country and its economy. I was a businessman. I had my own sewing company, one of the most productive sewing companies in our region. I want to start a business like that here too.

A refugee is a person like any other, full of dreams, full of aspirations and full of expectations that he wants to see come true. Yet, what I have achieved here is nothing more than lost children beyond
borders, and one boy behind prison bars.

My dreams are not secret, they are in front of my eyes all the time. Yet, where and when will my dreams come true?
War and conflicts are the reasons of our displacement, but what the world is deciding for us is totally different from what we deserve.

Letters to the wrold from Ritsona (No.14)

”Will we be reunited?”

Letters to the world from Ritsona
Neda Torabi

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?

Will we ever be reunited as a family?

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?