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Refugees from Afghanistan, Iran and Palestine stitch their lips, go on a hunger strike to obtain refugee status

10 December 2010 / 10:12:44  GRReporter
5984 reads

Anastasia Balezdrova

For more than two weeks the sidewalk across from the UN mission in Athens has become a tent camp of dozens of refugees. "There near the flag are the Palestinians, next to them are the Afghans, and then we are from Iran," showed me the 27-year-old Bahram. The people stay in tents day and night united by their common claim to the Greek state to grant them political asylum.

"I arrived in Greece and then I went to Germany but the police caught me there. I spent two months and a half in prison and then I was brought back here again, because according to the European law you should apply for asylum in the country which has taken your fingerprints," said Bahram. He has applied for political asylum like the others, but is still waiting for response. "I’ve been in Greece for two years, but there are people who have been here for more than ten years. Their children were born here, they speak the language, attend school and have no documents. My brother is also a student and of the best ones. His marks are only excellent. You won’t understand he is foreigner if you hear him speak Greek."

When an immigrant applies for political asylum the Foreigners Office gives him or her a card of a foreigner who has requested asylum. Those who are interested call it a "red card". According to Bahram, the "red card" is for refugees who do not want to stay in Greece. "We want to stay. Greeks are very good with us. They come and ask us how we are and whether we need anything. We do not need any help. We want documents and that’s why we ask the Greek government to help and support us."

"The red card must be renewed every six months. When we go to the police to renew it they take it in some cases and don’t give it back or give us a document which informs us that we should leave the country. But we can not go in any other country because they will return us back here. On the other hand, there is always the fear of deportation to Iran. If this happens, I am completely certain they will kill us there."

About 50 Iranians have protested a few days ago in front of the Iranian Embassy against the president and the government of the country considered to be dictatorship. "They beat and kill people there just because they are against the regime. Most of us have fled our country for that very reason. This man here has spent 17 years in prison after being arrested during student protests," said Bahram while showing me pictures of women buried to the waist in the ground to be stoned and people victims of brutal beatings by religious police. "The Embassy of Iran is very close. A car passed by here yesterday, someone took a picture of us from within and then went on without stopping. This is very dangerous for us. People from the embassy send the pictures to Iran. Actually, these are not ordinary photographs. They can take data for me from them like the iris of my eye or my fingerprints," said also the young man.

Most Iranians have left their jobs to be in the camp. They say that if they have no response from the Greek government they will take more serious actions. They intend to go on a hunger strike and stitch their mouths. "We have nothing to lose. We have only our bodies and our lives. If Greece does not take care of us and decides to bring us back to Iran we prefer to commit suicide here than to be killed there."

Two Afghans from the next tent stitched their mouths four days ago. Since then they drink only water with a straw. One of them was lying and he looked bad, so the people called an ambulance to take him to hospital.

There is a tent camp in front of the university in the centre of Athens. About 100 Afghans live there among which there are many families with small children. "The people you see here came to Greece from one month to 11 years ago and they still have no documents. Children are born here, grow here, know Greek, but they are hanging, they do not have any documents," said Maruf. He himself also has no documents and only his fluency in Greek saves him from trouble with the police. "The whole world knows about the problems in Afghanistan during the last 35 years. We left the country to search for good and free life, without war and bombs. But here we live with the fear of being sent to prison due to lack of documents or of being deported to Afghanistan."

There are pictures of victims of violence here too. The text the Afghans hand out to passersby reads that "one of the main reasons we are here is terrorism and hostility of Taliban. They attack the areas under their control, arrest young men who are forced to follow them. They make bombings in cities and are authors of many crimes which are difficult to describe in words." According to the Afghans, the presence of NATO forces in their country has not improved people's lives, while the Taliban are becoming stronger. They believe that the Western troops are in Afghanistan to meet their interests, not to help people there. "Thousands of people die under the wings of the airplanes," they wrote.

Their only request is to be granted political asylum, which "we have been asking for years and are still waiting for it." Maruf made it clear that they would undertake more rigid and drastic ways of protest, but declined to name them.

Tags: Refugees from Iran and AfghanistanRefugee statusIllegal immigrationHunger strike
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