Greek authorities support Ukrainain refugees and neglect other migrants

Siavash Shahabi’s testimony at a feminist meeting in Sofia

On 10 September 2022 a panel on migration took place in the Architects’ Club in Sofia within the conference an international feminist meeting, which was organized by the Bulgarian feminist organization LevFem and Transnational Social Strike Platform. Below you can read a slightly edited version of Siavash Shahabi’s speech within the panel. Siavash Shahabi is an Iranian political refugee, living in Athens and blogging at “The Fire Next Time”

Hello. I am Siavash, a political refugee from Iran. At the moment I live in Athens and have been there for about six years. I wanted to talk about the situation in Greece, in Athens. 

Generally speaking, in Greece, the capacity of the refugee camps is just 17,000 refugees. Of course, the number of refugees in the region is much bigger. At the moment we start with Athens and immigration and asylum body wants to close the last camp in the city – Eleonas. In spite of the health situation in the camp, many of the migrants want to stay there because they have easy access to medical care, schools are near and access to any work. It is something that they cannot have access to, while they are living in other camps because all of them are so far from the cities and there is no proper provision of the services inside the camps for them, especially medical services.

Speaking about the other camps, I have to mention that most of the people that are living there come from the vulnerable groups, like pregnant women, mostly people from African countries. The majority of whom have been living in Greece for five or six years without documents.

There is a kind of legal structure in Greece that constantly rejects their request to get refugee status. Generally, they explain in one paragraph that the country of origin is safe and the applicant does not meet the necessary criteria to receive asylum.

This paragraph is copy-pasted on the decision papers of the migrants, and they’re just trying to renew their request. Which is very complicated. 

In the past two or three months, the government gradually stopped all of the services in the camps, medical, social workers. All of the NGOs have been withdrawn from the Eleonas camp.

They are not providing anything. They are not providing food properly to everybody. They just give food only to those asylum seekers that have been registered in the camp. The number of refugees in Eleonas until August 2022 officially stood at 650. But the food, for example, was provided to between 200 and 300 people. This means crime or injury for the people themselves.

There have been a few ways to provide food to each other, like collecting food from shops or from the daily markets in the city, and then distributing. 

On 16 August 2022, we had the announcement that they wanted to evict the camp. But there was a very well organized protest by the people of the camp, mostly Congolese people. They organized it very well and they could achieve a postponement. But on 19 August 2022, we had an attack from the cops. The people in the camp tried to not let them enter and also besides those that were waiting for their documents trying to push the administration of the camp to do its job. They tried to receive their documents from outside of the camp, from the asylum office.

But on 19 August, the police heavily attacked people. They beat up pregnant women. A few people were arrested. There are people charged with accusations like disturbing public peace!

Then, if I’m not wrong, there was another announcement of eviction. We are so much familiar with this. We try to always keep the resistance of the camp and of the county in order to avoid eviction. 

Unfortunately, there was a Pakistani emigrant Waris Ali, who had a complex situation. Ambulance was called. But it came with a more than two hour delay. There were three riot buses against us. Police were there and none of them called for an ambulance nor for nothing until this man died.

He had three kids. He was living in Greece for more than six years without documents and his youngest was just three months old. Because there is no doctor in the camp, there is no medical assistance in the camp, nothing, no emergency. It is obvious Greece is also facing very bad medical services generally. When it comes to refugees and migration, it was very clear who is near the end of the list of attention. So this man died because the ambulance wasn’t there. 

The eviction of the camp was postponed again. But generally speaking, there are people asking the government to evict it completely by the end of the year.

I wanted to mention that the different treatments, along with those conditions which we have, are clearly perceived as racist behavior of all governments in Europe. At the moment,  there are about 74,000 Ukrainians living in Greece, of which none lives in camps. They are providing them with almost everything. Of course, their situation is bad, but there is a different treatment for them. We have so many people in the camps that are waiting for documents for about 10 months, 15 months. Ukrainian refugees receive their documents in between half an hour or few days!

When they recognize someone as a refugee, when they offer international protection, the residency is three years. And imagine that you have already lost one or one and a half years to just receive your documents. This happened to me. Or you have subsidiary protection, which is just one year, but you receive your documents after ten months, so you receive it when it expires and they force you to leave the structures also.

In this situation, you have to go in the street or you have to force the administration somehow to stay in the camps. I think this is very important when we are talking about this situation using the language that these authorities do deserve it. We shouldn’t be polite when we are talking, we shouldn’t be polite when we are addressing them. They are racist. They are Nazis. 

Sometimes the Minister of Migration and Asylum of Greece claims: “Ukrainian are the real refugees”. I say: “Okay, You recognize Turkey as a safe country. Why are other countries not safe for Ukrainians? How can they just come into the country and the rest has to stay in the camps for five-six years without nothing and just get tortured?”. 

This must be understood. The government is very clear. The minister of immigration of Greece came on the television, and just said that “these people had different cultures”. What does he mean? Viktor Orban is a Nazi, he says “the Hungarian race doesn’t want to mix with other races.” It is the same language that all of them use.

I think we also have to pay attention to our own language and how we are addressing these people. We shouldn’t be discussing these things. We should not be polite about them when we are talking about them. I have seen the same things in Iran, the same things with Turkey. And now I am living in a country that is claiming to be a democratic country. But it’s the same pattern.

It’s about migrant movements. I mean, with so many things are really shameful, especially when we are talking also for feminism. I believe that feminist movement in Europe especially must address it when they talk about women. When women come from countries like Iran or Afghanistan, nobody should question them why they are coming to this country. Because we know what is going on in these countries with women, by default, by the nature of law. So I think we have to also think about our own language, who we are, what is coming from us. 

Thank you.

Photo: Protest in Eleonas (source: The Fire Next Time)

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