9 December 2009
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We all know what happens in Somalia, Afghanistan, Eritrea and many other countries devastated by war. At the heart of havoc, more victims are, as always unfortunately happens, children. They believe too often that when they reach Europe, the right to a peaceful life is guaranteed, because there are rules that expressly protect their rights. Unfortunately this is not true.
In Greece, a boy of only nine years old, too mature for his age, told us that when he had left Afghanistan he believed his troubles would be left behind; and only now he understands that the real problems are just beginning. This child still lives in the middle of a street in Athens, and his testimony was recorded during the course of an interview we conducted last August, when we went to Greece to conduct a journalistic investigation into the Afghan refugee situation.
There, we unfortunately saw the most serious violations of human rights experienced of all refugees, including Somalis, Eritreans, Iraqis, and Iranians, not just those from Afghanistan.
But here we want to dwell on the most intolerant part of the story: the situation of children. Sixty families are currently living on the streets of Athens, many of them in Athiki Park, and inside the sewers near the train station. Among them are babies who need healthcare. Sometimes you see them in the center when the market ends, picking up discarded fruit and vegetables from the asphalt, or rummaging through the garbage to find anything edible.
We had the opportunity to interview some of these families, who although a bit reluctant, granted us brief interviews. They tell of a continuous coming and going of European journalists who want to know what is happening in Greece. The information seems to fall on deaf ears, and the situation does not change; it only gets worse.
The repeated attacks in the park by armed groups of extreme right wingers against foreigners exposes these families daily to real physical danger, as real as what we had the misfortune to witness; the stabbing in the centre of Athiki of a young Afghan, and the beating of others (including one woman).
Two Afghan girls in Athens (photo Basir Ahang)
The question now is: Where are the Greek police in this? We discover the answer, noting the indifference and the support, of the "police," who in situations of physical, psychological and verbal attacks on refugees, suddenly forget their duties and international law. Another fact that emerges during the interview is that when families visit a hospital to request medical attention for their children, it will be only be granted after obtaining the fingerprints of the child; thereby limiting its refugee options to the hell of Greece.
But there’s more: at the time of our stay we discovered the fact that about thirty families with small children were in prison for trying to leave their miserable stopover in Greece, on ships heading to Italy. Is it legal to detain minors in prison? Given the situation, maybe yes, in Greece.
Currently, nearly 350 people (number provided by the president of Nur, which provides support and advice to Afghan refugees) have returned to Patras to hide in a forest. Among them are also unaccompanied children, some just nine years old. This is because the Greek police pursue all refugees, and in Greece the right to asylum does not exist.
Deportation order for mother and two boys (photo Basir Ahang)
After interviewing members of Doctors Without Borders and members of the Greek humanitarian association, Kinisi, everyone seems to be very worried about the situation. In the last action taken on asylum by the Greek government, which is socialist in name only, entire families, men, elderly, women and children were deported en masse to Afghanistan, in deliberate defiance of international conventions and treaties.
Many people have contacted us recently. They fear for their children and now that winter is upon them, the situation is becoming more grim. How can we respond to these people?
Many articles have been written about this situation, but always, too little attention is paid to these shameful human rights violations of adults and especially of the children. Conventions, declarations, and laws exist— the problem is that they are not observed.
We believe now that perhaps the only possibility is to unite our forces, because this must not be allowed to occur before our eyes—that Greece, which has the nerve to call itself “Europe” and attend “European Councils” acts in such an illegal and inhumane way. It is time to put pressure on the media and governments to change the situation. Now you also know. Don’t be a hidden accomplice of their deadly silences.
Tell the Greek government to honor international laws on fair and humane treatment of Afghan refugees who have landed in their country.
In the United States, contact The Embassy of Greece in Washington, D.C.
Phone: (202) 939 1300,
Fax: (202) 939 1324 and (202) 939 1562
E-mail at Greece greekembassy.org