Afghan Refugees in Greece in Limbo
Former Afghan Refugee and advocate Mohamad Mizray in Greece reports that Afghan refugees are being deprioritized in favor of Syrians, he argues that they should all be treated equally and with dignity no matter what country they are arriving from
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
On the 23rd of July the Real News published a story from Alexander Park in Athens, Greece, where there’s an encampment of recently arrived Afghan refugees. The situation in Greece has certainly worsened in terms of the number of refugees arriving at its shores daily. The UNHCR estimates that the number is at about 1,000 people a day.
Now joining us to discuss the situation is Mohammad Mirzay. Mohammad actually joined us in that visit to the Afghan refugee camp at Alexander Park back on July 23, and he joins us again from Greece. Thanks for joining us, Mohammad.
MOHAMMAD MIRZAY, AFGHAN REFUGEE AID WORKER: Thank you so much from [inaud.].
PERIES: So Mohammad, let’s begin with giving us an update. What has happened at the camp, and are the number of refugees there growing?
MIRZAY: So when you were in Greece, you know that on the first day that we were together in Alexander Park, and people were in Alexander Park until 16 August. And from 16 August, before that we had some meetings between Greek authorities. And already before we spoke, these [single] refugees who are coming from different countries, they came to Alexander Park. We just wanted then to know what they wanted to do. Because it was very important for us what these refugees need, not what we need for them. So they wanted to–they wanted to say, they don’t want to stay in Greece. That’s why requested from Greek authorities and the European authorities to find a way to make a temporary guest house for refugees in Athens.
From 16 August, there is a guest house in the center of Athens. The name of guest house is [eliona]. So we have already–there is already 800 refugees from 16 August in eliona, but we have the same–we have a long number of refugees there, 800 at least, and again we are waiting for new refugees who are coming from different islands of Greece. But I think this place is not enough. And we have already, already have lots of refugees in different squares of Athens.
PERIES: Now Mohammad, one of the issues that these Afghan refugees were facing when we interviewed them is that they were being deprioritized in light of the number of Syrian refugees that were coming to Greece as well, and the Syrian refugees were given priority on the part of UNHCR. Is that still the case?
MIRZAY: You just mentioned a very good point. But for me personally refugees should be refugees. And it is, what I see, it is a big wrong in the European Union, and could be I can say in all of the countries mostly, most of European countries and UNHCR, they support Syrian refugees, and they put on the fast track Syrian refugees. They don’t ignore other refugees, but they are on a very slow track everywhere.
PERIES: What about the difficulties both in Greece, and of course in the islands of Greece, is really the ability for UNHCR to process and listen to the cases, and admit them as refugees. The problem apparently in Greece is that a lot of the refugees coming in are actually in transit. They want to actually go elsewhere. Is that being facilitated by UNHCR?
MIRZAY: Yeah. Thinking, it is two, three, four years that UNHCR, if you go to research the website of UNHCR, they are just following Syria’s histories and Syria’s refugees in different islands, different places, different countries. But the problem is that they come up, they don’t follow Afghan refugees. I think the difference is this, that in Afghanistan we have 40 [years], where in Syria we have four years. This is the difference. And secondly, most of media and people like to [resist]. They are focusing in Syrian refugees, but not in Afghan refugees or other refugees.
For me, what we are facing in Greece, we have only guest houses, and we just create these temporary guest houses. But in other European countries there is no guest house. You know, that in different countries, again in [Serbia] and Macedonia and other countries people are just staying in tents in the park, in the squares, right.
PERIES: And I understand that now officially some of the European countries, Germany, Austria, France and other countries, have really indicated that they are going to accept the largest number of refugees. So are you saying then that these refugees that you are dealing with at this moment, about 800 of them, are not getting any attention in terms of processing them into these countries, like France and Germany?
MIRZAY: What I am not happy with European decision, and with countries who just said that okay, we are going to accept [one] number of refugees. But they just wanted to mention in their, again, in their discussion, and in their speech that we accept Syrian refugees. But it means that they cannot include other refugees. You know what I mean.
PERIES: And as far as you know, Mohammad, why is that? Why are they prioritizing Syrian refugees over other refugees like from Afghanistan, as far as the UNHCR is concerned?
MIRZAY: I think it can be a policy, but maybe it needs, for me, to study and to follow this policy for long years, right. But what I see personally as a student, personally that I’m just working for some refugees, for me refugees are refugees. Right? And what I just see, it can make me crazy. Like this, that okay, people–again, civilian people who are coming in from Austria, from Sweden, they write Syrian refugees, welcome. And again you’re just waiting for people who are working for human rights, okay, again this says we are going to accept Syrian refugees. But my question is this, why it should be–I want to understand, I want–I really, I will be very happy if I hear from them why they accept Syrian refugees but not other refugees.
PERIES: So far from what we have heard in terms of our interviews we’ve conducted with the UNHCR is that UNHCR has themselves as an agency been allocated funding to deal with Afghan refugees as a second and third priority, not the priority. Syrians are, obviously because of the conflict that is underway in Syria, are getting prioritized because they’re deemed to be more at risk. But I agree with you in terms of your sentiment where a refugee is a refugee and should be treated in the order that they have arrived in terms of a safe country.
We will look into that. And Mohammad, we hope to come back to you soon and follow this case in terms of what’s happening to these Afghan refugees. Yes, please do.
MIRZAY: And I say to you, just a last thing. What I understand, maybe I’m wrong, but I want the audience or maybe your partners maybe, I want you thinking–maybe I’m right or maybe I’m wrong. I think one thing that Europeans accept Syrian refugees because Europe does not agree with government of Syrians. But when they don’t accept Afghan refugees, maybe they are angry with the government of Afghanistan. It can be a reason.
And others, I cannot find other reason, personally. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong.
PERIES: Yes. It’s a good point you raise. They’re all leaving hostile and very violent and brutal conditions where they lived before. I thank you for joining us today, Mohammad.
MIRZAY: I hope that in the future maybe people they can, the European authorities, European countries, they just make clear with the Afghans. Because a bigger, bigger counties there were responsible. And they thought they are responsible to help with Afghanistan, and they promise with the civilian people of Afghanistan, that’s why they’re sent NATO in Afghanistan. You know that a lot of European countries, they are a member of NATO. So thinking that’s why you send soldiers in Afghanistan, by yourself you answer to your questions, these people, they don’t have security.
PERIES: Mohammad, thank you, and I hope the situation gets better where you are. But we’ll certainly follow this story. Thank you for joining us today.
MIRZAY: [Have] a good time. Thank you so much. Goodbye.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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