The Human Face of Greece’s ‘Unprecedented’ Refugee Crisis
TRNN Top Stories 2015: On a visit to a park in Athens that hundreds of refugees have made their home, TRNN documents the arrest of two Afghan refugees and a Greek journalist, as well as learning the story of Fatima, an 11-year old recently arrived refugee from Afghanistan
DIMITRI LASCARIS, ATHENS, GREECE: This is Dimitri Lascaris for the Real News.
As our audience will know we’ve sent a team to Athens to explore the effect of the crisis on the people here in the aftermath of the July 13 bailout agreement that was struck with Alexis Tsipras the prime minister and Greece’s creditors. We’re here today at Alexander Park in the center of Athens where there’s an encampment of recently-arrived Afghan refugees.
About 12 days ago, the UN Human Rights refugee agency warned that there was an unprecedented refugee crisis in the Mediterranean and that 1,000 people a day were arriving in the islands of Greece, principally from Afghanistan and Syria, and that a total of 70,000 refugees had arrived since the beginning of the year.
Today we’ve come to what is a predominantly Afghan camp. The people here have been here for only a few days. And we’ve met in particular a little girl named Fatima, who recently arrived from Afghanistan via Iran, where she had a very difficult time. We spoke to her and her family. Behind us you see several police officers who, while we were present in the encampment, arrested two young refugees for having tapped into an electricity outlet to charge their cell phones. They confiscated the cell phones, they’ve handcuffed the refugees. And as you can see, the situation is quite tense.
We also witnessed the arrest of Greek journalist [Athrohiti Tsiansi] who works for Iefemerida Ton Syntakton, or the journalist newspaper, which is cooperatively owned.
He alleges that they broke into that electrical unit there, and that the telephones were taken as a protective measure for the children because what they did was apparently dangerous and somebody could have been electrocuted. Whether that’s their motivation or not is another question.
We spoke to Mohammad Mirzay, who is a member of the Afghan community in Greece and an advocate for refugees here.
MOHAMMAD MIRZAY, AFGHAN REFUGEE AID WORKER: In this park is around 500 Afghan refugees only, not Syrian refugees. They had a very huge problem. They have a lot of children, women, and most of them they need to see a doctor. And they don’t have a place to stay. They don’t have–you know. It’s something familiar for every refugee. When they leave their countries they need first of all to stay somewhere.
LASCARIS: Mirzay introduced us to Mr. Mohammad Kazim Rooish, the president of the Afghan community in Greece.
MOHAMMAD KAZIM ROOISH, PRESIDENT OF AFGHAN COMMUNITY IN GREECE: They are newcomers. They’ve come just this week. They are here two, three days here. We didn’t find any, they didn’t find anywhere else to go to be settled. So they are waiting for their relatives to send money for them. And the now–from one side they don’t have money. The banks are closed there. They say, how can we get money? And from the other side, they don’t have the, the papers that can, can help them to rent any house. They, the statement that they have–they just have a [polis] note for one month. With that they cannot rent any house.
LASCARIS: So you’re obviously familiar with the plight of the refugees in the face of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party. What have you come to know in your position as president of the Afghan community here, of the interactions between that party and–.
ROOISH: Actually the [attacks] were taken last year in the years of 2009, ’10, ’11. At that time the attacks were very–in a very high number. Every day we had 5, 10, 10 persons that had been attacked by–.
ROOISH: Yes. But fortunately, now there’s–by the change of the government, by some other change in Greece, now the attacks decreased.
She can talk to us. She speaks English? [Crosstalk]
MALE: –going to translate.
FATIMA, 11-YEAR-OLD RECENTLY ARRIVED REFUGEE, TRANSLATED: About two, three weeks we are in Greece.
LASCARIS: And how did you get to Athens?
FATIMA: We came from the island to Athens by ship.
LASCARIS: Which island did you come from?
FATIMA: I don’t know the name of the island.
LASCARIS: What has your life been like since you arrived here in Athens?
FATIMA: It was very difficult. The life was very difficult. The way of this journey was very dangerous.
LASCARIS: And here have you received any help at all from the people of Athens, from the government?
FATIMA: Nobody helped us. We are waiting for money, and because of that we are here.
LASCARIS: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your experience here?
FATIMA: I see difference between the situation here and Iran. In Iran the police were beating us. Here no people beat us.
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER]: Does she have a message for the European Union, the UN, the Greek government? What does she want them to know?
FATIMA: I want to tell them that they must [tell us] that we are from a different religion. They keep, they hold a [noose], they hold their face somehow to us that we are different, we are from another religion.
Now they help just the Syrian people and they don’t help us. They don’t give a way for us to pass from the Greece and other where.
NOOR: Is she doing her studies? Because she’s been traveling, and if she’s living here–.
FATIMA: In Iran I studied, but it was very difficult. We had to pay 200 Euro per month to study.
NOOR: And tell her she seems like a very intelligent girl, what are her dreams, what are her goals when she gets older?
FATIMA: I was first in the class. I dream to go to Sweden, because I was the first student in the class. It was the reason that I could study.
Here the place is very dirty. We are sick and my sister and his husband, her husband, they are in the hospital now. They went to the hospital. They were sick. I also was sick.
LASCARIS: How old is your sister?
FATIMA: 27 years old.
LASCARIS: And is this gentleman her father?
FATIMA: Yes. Yes, he is my father.
LASCARIS: And the lady behind, is that her mother?
FATIMA: Here in this small tent. Here, with live here.
LASCARIS: The whole family sleeps in the tent?
FATIMA: Just we three are here. My sister and her husband are another one. Because of–because he is [dirty], and the food, the water, they make us sick.
LASCARIS: Where do they get their water from?
FATIMA: From here, from the park.
LASCARIS: From a fountain?
MIRZAY: From there, there it is.
NOOR: Do you have an idea how long people might be stuck here?
MIRZAY: Some of them they will say one week. Some of them will stay one month or more.
NOOR: And you don’t know. There’s no help for them, so–.
MIRZAY: It depends. It depends.
NOOR: When the help comes, right. So they’re waiting. They’re just waiting.
MIRZAY: They’re waiting, yes.
LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris at Alexander Park in Athens, Greece for the Real News.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.