Damian Mac Con Uladh

Posts Tagged ‘Asylum seekers’

Mariam’s story: one Syrian girl’s journey to Europe

In Greece on 5 May 2015 at 6:31 pm
Mariam in Athens, December 2014

Mariam in Athens, December 2014

I met and befriended Mariam (who was then 9 years old) and her father, Mohammed (40), on Syntagma Square, Athens, in November 2014 during the weeks-long protest by Syrian refugees for better treatment from Greece and the European Union. They had left Damascus two years before after their home was destroyed in a bombing, in which Mariam’s mother lost her life. After a two year odyssey that took them through Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and just over the border into Bulgaria, they made their first attempt to cross from the Turkish coast to a Greek island, nearly drowning on the way. Later, they were beaten by the cold trying to walk through forests at night in the Republic of Macedonia. Mariam, who insists on her rights as a child to life, health and education, was keen that her story be recorded. The text was written by her father and translated from the Arabic by @HanaaAbusedu, Gaza, Palestine.


This is the story of Mariam, who’s now ten years’ old, who is looking for a life or, to put it simply, to avoid experiencing the same pain and suffering for the second time.

When Mariam was in the first grade at school, she was creative, pleasing and an excellent pupil, who used her academic superiority to appear older. She was best in her class at reading in English and Arabic; learning to read and write in both Arabic and English came naturally to her.

All that time, she and I (her father) were trying to overcome and pretend to forget the catastrophic events, which had started to besiege Damascus, where we lived.

She finished the first grade and moved up to the second, but the flames were approaching our area of Yarmouk in Damascus. It was as if it was raining fire on the area, and our biggest loss was when a bomb hit our house. That was a disaster that cannot be forgotten.

Nevertheless, Mariam and I were outside the house. Events began to overtake us until eventually all Yarmouk’s residents were forced to leave it after rebel forces entered it and regime aircraft started to bomb the district, sparking a mass exodus. Sometimes abbreviation is necessary, not in an attempt to exclude certain events, but to avoid painful memories. Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Syrian refugees’ case reaches European Court of Human Rights

In Greece on 8 December 2014 at 11:13 am
Syrian refugees prepare for their 19th night sleeping on Syntagma Square in central Athens (Photo: @NickBarnets/Twitter)

Syrian refugees prepare for their 19th night sleeping out on Syntagma Square in central Athens (Photo: @NickBarnets/Twitter)

Europe’s human rights court is expected to issue a decision early this week on an emergency case taken on behalf of some of the hundreds of Syrian refugees who have been camped out in central Athens to highlight their plight for almost three weeks.

The Syrians, among them many unaccompanied minors, families with young children and elderly, last night completed their 19th night camped out on Syntagma Square, with only rudimentary plastic sheeting to protect them from the rain and low temperatures.

They took the decision to protest in front of the Greek parliament on November 19, in an attempt to convince the government to find a solution to their acute problems. Since then, some of the protesters embarked on a hunger strike.

The application to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), taken in the name of 30 Syrians, maintains that the refugees, who risked their lives in fleeing their war-torn country and in reaching Greece, should have been given automatic protection upon their arrival in Greece, according to national, European and international standards. This would also mean that they be afforded reception conditions in terms of housing, food and other support.

The decision from the Strasbourg-based court could come as soon as Monday or Tuesday, according to human rights lawyer Electra Leda Koutra, who submitted the case under the court’s rule 39 on interim measures, which are urgent measures that apply only where there is an imminent risk of irreparable harm.

Among the 30 Syrians seeking the interim measure is a 12-year-old child who is an unaccompanied minor. A “holder of a Syrian passport, he has been left without information, without any kind of support, guardianship or monitoring, on the Greek streets, after having been considered ‘deportable’ to a war zone”, the application states.

Although the child has indicated that he would consider applying for asylum in Greece, he has said this would be conditional on him being promptly reunited with his brother, a recognised refugee, in Sweden. However, any such applications from unaccompanied minors would take at least eight months to process, according to the application to the court.

Although the government has said it could process up to ten applications for refugee status a day, the application to the ECtHR argues that this is a wholly inadequate response to the situation as it envisages offering homeless refugees no accommodation or support in the meantime and would thus leave them to fend for themselves and exposed to racist attacks, among other dangers.

The application also maintains that what Greece is offering to the Syrians in terms of reception conditions should they obtain refugee status is unacceptable under the country’s international obligations. In a leaflet, interior ministry officials told the Syrians that only a few women with small children would be accommodated in a hosting facility, and no subsistence or other support would be possible, “because of the Greek state’s financial crisis”.

“That documents admits in the most public – but also cynical – way that Greece cannot offer the reception conditions guaranteed by the CEAS [Common European Asylum System] on EU ground. No housing, no food, no clothing, no social and integration services are to be automatically offered, despite the opposite legislative guarantees,” Koutra told A Gael in Greece.

She adds that under Greek presidential decree 80/2006, which transposes into national law European Council directive 2001/55, the country may offer temporary protection to refugees without obliging them to apply for asylum. This would require the permission of the European Commission and Council, but Greece would need to propose it.

“This they could not refuse. This could certainly take place concerning the Syrians,” Koutra believes. “Legally, the Syrians have a chance to succeed in what they are asking, even if they don’t know the law. They are members of a large group, have come to Greece thinking it was a safe place. If Greece cannot guarantee them this, it should not obstruct them. If there is a crisis, Greece must admit this and request help.”

As the Strasbourg court has been informed by the lawyer, all the other Syrian applicants named in the case have said they will refuse to apply for asylum in Greece.

The overall situation pushes Syrians into taking unconventional ways to reach safe EU countries, the application points out, putting their lives in great danger in the process. Already, two Syrians who were part of the Syntagma protest have died while attempting to make it to western Europe on foot, including a doctor, Ayman Ghazal. On Monday, one of the Syrian protesters provided A Gael in Greece with the names of four other Syrians who died recently died after leaving Greece in forests of neighbouring countries: Nizar Sourki, who died in Macedonia, and Mohammad Aryan, Ismael Alahmad and Khaled Husain Basha, who died in Albania.

The application points to a series of ECtHR rulings that established that asylum seekers have been left in an extremely vulnerable situation and humiliated in Greece due to the failure by the authorities to act on its obligations under the EU’s reception directive. Other rulings from the court have found that asylum seekers have been subjected to “degrading treatment” in the country’s detention centres. These rulings effectively prohibit a number of EU countries from deporting asylum seekers to Greece.

She has told the court that “Recognising that Greece finds itself in a situation in which it is almost impossible to meet the needs of persons in analogous status … we requested that the Greek Government should at least recognize that fact and let them proceed to other EU countries, in any legal way possible.”

“We are of the view that, accepting to ‘gradually’ apply for asylum at this stage (as protesters), just for the ‘title’ of it, without the rights and benefits escorting the status of an asylum seeker, does not constitute an effective remedy for the applicants, in the meaning of the [European human rights] convention. It would not move them to a position of safety, and it would not redress the rights the applicants are complaining about. Moreover, it would take about two months for all the protesters to be registered, which would mean that, besides their guaranteed rights, they would have to spend winter in the Athenian streets, in a situation that is menacing their lives, bodily and mental integrity –not to mention their dignity as human beings,” she explained to the court.

Koutra hopes that whatever the outcome, the decision from the court will be extremely important. She points out that on November 26, two days after submitting her application, the ECtHR responded promptly and, applying an urgent procedure, requested the Greek government to clarify a number of points regarding the Syrians by December 5.

Firstly, the court asks the government to describe the situation the Syrians find themselves in. Second, to clarify on what measures it envisages for particularly vulnerable Syrians, such as women with young children and unaccompanied minors. Thirdly, it calls on the Greek government to explain how it intends to process asylum applications, and, finally, to explain in what conditions the asylum applicants would be obliged to wait while their applications are being processed.

Syrian from Athens refugee protest dies trying to enter Albania

In Greece on 5 December 2014 at 10:43 am
Leaflets with a photo of Dr Ayman Ghazal were distributed last night at the Syrian protest (Photo: @giorgospanagaki/Twitter)

Leaflets with a photo of Dr Ayman Ghazal were distributed last night at the Syrian protest (Photo: @giorgospanagaki/Twitter)

A doctor who was part of the protest that Syrian refugees started two weeks ago in Athens to highlight their plight has died trying to cross the Greek–Albanian border, other Syrians at the protest said on Thursday.

They named him as Dr Ayman Ghazal, who was around 50 and originally from Aleppo. Friends said that after spending a ten days at the protest, he felt it was in his best interest to continue his journey to northern Europe and what he hoped would be safety.

According to the Deport Racism website, the doctor had tried to cross the Greek–Albanian border with a group of 30 people. They had taken a bus to Ioannina, in Epirus, and from there they reached Kakavia border crossing by taxi.

From there, they started to walk towards the border. After a four-hour trek, they came to a stream which they had to cross, up to their waists in water. Sometime later, Dr Ghazal had a seizure. When his friends phoned for an ambulance, they were told to return to Kakavia. The police also told them the same thing.

His comrades then set off for Kavakia, carrying Dr Ghazal on a sleeping bag. Outside Kakavia, they came across an ambulance, which transported him to the nearest hospital, where he died.

The others in the group were then arrested and detained in a police station from midnight to 6am. While in custody, they claim police swore at them, saying things like: “Go to Syntagma where they have blankets and free food, fuckers!”

The rest of the group are now back in Athens.

Abdulghafour Tammaa, one of the protesters on Syntagma, tweeted that Dr Ghazal had died in an Albanian forest “of the cold”, adding that his “dream of Europe” had perished with him.

According to a post on the Facebook page of the Syrian protesters, the dead man’s family are in Mersin, Turkey.

About 200 Syrian refugees, among them elderly, women and children, have been camped out on Syntagma Square in central Athens since November 19. The numbers at the protest swell during the day with other Syrians who have accommodation elsewhere. The Syrians want to be allowed continue their journeys to countries they say will guarantee them protection as war refugees. According to EU rules they must apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter, but the Syrians say that Greece has no infrastructure to support them.

Dr Ghazal’s death highlights the perilous nature of the journey war refugees and other migrants take in their desperate attempts to reach safe countries. In November, eight migrants were killed when they were hit by trains in neighbouring Republic of Macedonia while another man, a 23-year-old Afghan, died when the board he was strapped onto beneath a train broke.

Last night, their 16th camped out on Syntagma square, Syrians and their supporters lit candles and held up photographs of Dr Ghazal in his memory.


This video, recorded by the MultiKulti website on the rainy night of December 3, shows the difficult conditions faced by the Syrians on Syntagma Square: 

Syrian sleep-in on Syntagma completes sixth night

In Greece on 24 November 2014 at 8:55 am
Syrians on Syntagma (Photo: Damian Mac Con Uladh)

Syrians on Syntagma (Photo: Damian Mac Con Uladh)

I spent just under two hours listening to the Syrian refugees on Syntagma Square on Sunday, where they’ve been sleeping out since last Wednesday to highlight the conditions they have faced since arriving in Greece.

Most seemed anxious to tell their story, to have it recorded somewhere that their wife was killed in a bomb blast or to say that they have no idea where their families are. Or to explain how their sister has been in a Greek jail for six months on false charges of trafficking. And how her two children, who came to Greece subsequently, are now in a Greek orphanage and how their uncle had to battle to get to see them (he’s now allowed visit for an hour every ten days).

Some of their stories I managed to include in an article entitled “Syrian refugees seek fresh start from Greek destitution”, published in today’s Irish Times, which you might like to read.

More testimony from the Syrians is available on the Greek Crisis Review blog.

For the latest updates from the Syrian protest, follow #SyrianRefugeesGR on Twitter.

Coastguards to appeal conviction for torturing asylum seeker in 2007

In Greece on 5 November 2014 at 11:53 am
asphyxiation-2

What the so-called dry and wet submarino entails: sketch from the website of the Norwegian Medical Association

An Athens military court on Thursday is expected to hear an appeal by two coastguards against their conviction for torturing a Moroccan asylum seeker on the island of Chios in 2007.

Last November, Piraeus naval court found the pair guilty of having tortured their victim by restricting his breathing so as to simulate drowning and suffocation (the so-called “wet and dry submarino”), by carrying out mock execution as well as other serious attacks on human dignity.

The defendants were handed suspended jail sentences of six and three years as well as the long-term deprival of their political rights. In addition, one of the convicted coastguards was told he would be demoted upon confirmation of sentence.

The torture occurred immediately after the victim’s entry into Greece and during his transfer with other asylum seekers to the port of Chios.

The incident was first documented in the report entitled “The truth may be bitter but it must be told: The situation of Refugees in the Aegean and the practices of the Greek coast guard” (pdf), which was published in 2007 by the Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Refugees and Migrants and the NGO Pro-Asyl.

In a statement, the Group of Lawyers called on members of the public to lend their support for the victim, who will be present, by attending the appeal hearing, which is scheduled for 9am at the Supreme Military Court of Athens (1 Petrou Ralli St).

Read the rest of this entry »