Victoria Square

Victoria square is in central Athens and is connected by Metro to the port of Piraeus where refugees arrive daily after they have been screened and recorded in the various Aegean islands. The square is a resting, meeting and travel connection point for Afghan refugee families who wish to reach Northern Europe. Extended families of often twenty people, of three generations camp in the square during the day. Most of them are waiting for money transfers from relatives back home and around the world in order to continue their journeys. When money does not arrive, they spend the night in one of the makeshift camps in Athens and return back to the square the next day.

Zarmina is eighteen years old. She is sitting on a blanket on the pavement holding her three month old baby girl, her first child. She is travelling with her husband, her sister in law and her five nieces and nephews. The baby girl is suffering from severe nappy-rash. Zarmina is scared because her baby is constantly crying and seems unwilling to eat.

Chargul is travelling with his wife, his mother and their six children. The youngest is two years old. He is telling be about his journey from the area of Kunduz, through to Iran, Turkey and then Greece. Passing through Iran is apparently the toughest part of the journey. He does not know where exactly he arrived in Greece. He is telling me about the Taliban and how he had to flee from Kunduz. He is showing me his sons and daughters. He would like them to go to school, to learn things, to be educated. Like most other Afghans I have interviewed in the square he wants to go to Germany.

Most refugees in the square have a final destination in mind. Most of the times, this destination is chosen on the basis of relatives and acquaintances who are already established in various European cities. All of them report having one or more relatives killed in Afghanistan where terror and violence continue to form the context of everyday life.

Changiz is eighteen years old – or so he says. He is travelling with is younger brother. Their family sent them away after loosing two more boys to the Taliban. He is telling me how the militia demand from local people money and young men to join their forces. Changiz and his brother are definitely a family but they do not receive as much attention as women and children. Very young men are often the most unprotected and vulnerable transitory subjects.

The conditions of hygiene in the square are despicable. Humanitarian NGOs offer a space to take a bath and lunch. Although crucial, these relief measures are hardly enough. Local people keep bringing clothes, food, biscuits and sweets for the children but the waiters and owners of the local cafes forbid the refugees from using their facilities and constantly complain to the police about the ‘damage to their businesses’.

Journalists come everyday in the square. They take photos and short interviews. Afghans –who have arrived several years ago to Greece and have established shops around the square- sell bus tickets and facilitate money transfers (with a fee). Around three o’clock every afternoon, those who managed to buy a ticket walk to Acharnon street where the buses pick them up for a long, over eight hours journey to the border. On their way to the bus Farshid and his wife enter the pharamacy across the street from the square. Their three year old son –one of four children- is feverish. The pharmacist hands them out an ibuprophen-based syrup for children. She is trying to persuade them to take the child to a doctor before they leave Athens. “We cannot” says Farshid. “We have been hearing that the borders might close. We cannot risk it. We have to board the bus today. While we still can”.

New Shipwreck in Lesvos

By George Tyrikos-Ergas

A new shipwreck this Wednesday near Eftalou claimed the lives of two more refugees, a young  girl and a man. Local media point out that deaths of this kind even during Christmas holidays are no longer “news” for mainstream national media as they  no longer “shock the public opinion”. It seems that no side, the Greek or Turkish governments or the E.U. are yet truly capable to provide safe passage to refugees. Refugee arrivals in the north of Lesvos have decreased dramatically whereas arrivals in the southeast, near the town of Mytilene have reached a peak up to 1500 people in one day. The refugee crisis, as it has been proven, knows no winter and unfortunately is more aggressive than hoped. Even after a relative decrease in arrival numbers, even after the G20 meeting and the E.U- Turkey agreement, the refugee crisis is as ardent as ever. A these lines are written new top-class meetings concerning the refugee crisis between prime ministers ane E.U. authorities are about to begin in Brussels. 

Humanitarian admission scheme

The European Commission recommended the establishment of a scheme for humanitarian admission from Turkey. The new scheme is conceived to “ensure an orderly, managed, safe and dignified arrival of such persons in place of dangerous and irregular migration”. The scheme is also -and perhaps primarily- directed towards preventing secondary movements.

12. With the objective of preventing secondary movements, candidates for humanitarian admission should be informed of their rights and obligations, under the humanitarian admission scheme as well as under relevant Union and national asylum legislation, and be provided pre-departure cultural-orientation support, prior to their admission to the territory of the participating State, in particular of the consequences of onward movement within participating States and of the fact that they are only entitled to the rights attached to protection in the State of admission.

13. Admitted persons who enter the territory of a participating State other than the State of admission without authorisation, either pending the completion of the formal international protection procedure or after granting of international protection, should be sent back to the State of admission, pursuant to the rules laid down in Regulation (EU) No 604/2013 of the Europeans Parliament and of the Council and Directive 2008/115/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council.