Referring to the “accidental” death of Lamis Abounahi and her two children, 3-year-old Undai and 9-month-old Layal, due to a fire on the mountains of Samos.
Early in the morning of the 21st of July, an inflatable boat heading from Turkey to Greece abandons Syrian refugee Wasim Abounahi, his wife Lamis, their two children, Undai and Layal and their friends Jihad Kelani and Mohammad Basis on a rocky shore on the island of Samos.
The refugees climb up the steep mountain side and hide in a near-by forest until dark. Lamis is very sick and worn out, so they decide to use their only cellphone, to call the emergency number of the Turkish authorities (7777) and ask for help -Kelani speaks very good English. The Turks trace their cellphone signal and answer back soon after to inform them on their position, giving them the emergency number of the Greek authorities (112). The refugees fail to reach 112, so they ask the Turks to contact the Greek authorities for them. Indeed, after a few minutes they receive a call from a Greek cell, Kelani explains to the woman on the other side of the line the dire straits they’re in and they agree to light a small fire on the edge of the rock so that the lifeboat can spot them.
Within two hours, the lifeboat arrives, the refugees light the small fire as agreed, the boat throws the spot light on them, they exchange signs of recognition, the refugees take the fire out and after a while the boat leaves, only to return twenty minutes later and repeat the whole procedure (without the need of a fire this time) -but then leaves again, and this time for good. Some time later the refugees receive a call from the same Greek cellphone and the same woman informs them that help has not been sent yet! Unfortunately, their cellphone battery soon runs out so they lose all possibility of communication.
They spend the rest of the night there and, when the dawn of the 22nd breaks, with all water supplies long gone and Lamis’ situation worsening, they decide that Jihad will stay with the mother and the children, Mohammad will look for help further inland and the father will go the opposite way -back to the sea. Indeed, after a good swim, he reaches another shore, passes out on the rocks, wakes up, sees a fishing boat, signals to them only to be ignored, walks for about two hours, and makes it to a house where he asks for help. The people there call the police that soon arrive, Wasim desperately points to the direction where he’s left his family (“mybaby…”), they start heading that way, but soon the policemen tell him that a fire has broken out in the area and they take him to Samos police station.
During that time, Mohammad, having found some water, returns to Jihad and the family and they all decide to try and go further inland. Some time later, Lamis finds it impossible to walk any further, the two men decide to go on and, two and a half hours later, they make it to a church where they find water and fall asleep exhausted. A while later, they are found by men of the Fire Brigade, whom they inform on the family’s situation and whereabouts, only to be taken to the police station.
Wasim Abounahi, despite all his desperate appeals, stayed in custody for 15 days, most of which he spent tied on a chair, and then he was taken to the island’s Detention Center, where he stayed for another fortnight. When he arrived in Athens and the issue became more widely known (lawyers had already reported on the missing persons by the 13th of August and had filed a report to the Greek Ombudsman by the 14th), the police, under increasing pressure, stated they had searched extensively for the woman and the two kids, a claim that was tragically refuted by the fact that, in the afternoon of September 6, Wasim Abounahi, with the help of a nephew and a friend, discovered his family’s scorched remains.
– Why did the Greek authorities abandon the rescue efforts after the refugees where spotted?
– Who was on shift on the night of the 21st of July, whose is the cellphone the refugees contacted (the number is recorded in Jihad’s phone memory) and why have the Greek authorities not looked into it after the missing persons were reported?
– Why did the police ignore the father’s desperate appeals right after his arrest, when it was very possible that the fire had not yet reached the spot where his wife and children were?
– How is it possible for specially trained and equipped forces not to be able to find the missing persons, when the father himself finds them, one and a half month later?
– Why are Jihad Kelani and Mahommad Basis kept in custody for arson, when it is perfectly clear that they had nothing to do with the fire in the woods?
– Where are the limits between indifference and heartlessness on the one hand, and cover-up and complicity on the other? How many more refugees will be killed by the “defense of the borders” and the “deterrence policy”?
“I brought my family to save them from the fires in Syria, and they end up burned in Greece?” Wasim Abounahi
Network for Social Support to Migrants and Refugees
Network for Political and Social Rights