Tag Archive for 'cancer'

“I see my boy growing, but only through the phone.”

A campaign to reunite families separated between Germany and Greece (4)

Small Mohammed* learned to ride a bicycle after his mother left Greece

A father with a 4-year-old boy in Greece – the wife / mother suffering cancer and going through chemotherapy alone in Germany 

This family belongs to Hamburg!

Fereshta* (37) married her husband Habib* (33) in Iran. She was born there as an Afghan refugee. Habib was born in Afghanistan but escaped with his family as a teenager. Life in Iran was hard. Most Afghan refugees in Iran have either temporary permission to stay, which can only be renewed upon payment of fees, or remain undocumented. While Fereshta had a six-month residence permit, her husband was without any documents and so was their child upon birth. After their marriage, Habib was arrested twice and deported back to Afghanistan, where he is in danger until today. 

In 2017 Fereshta fell ill. Her breast became more and more swollen and painful. She had no health insurance and so it took months until Habib could collect enough money to pay for the expensive examination at a local hospital. The diagnosis was bad. She had breast cancer. Desperate to save his wife, Habib worked every day and borrowed money to finance the chemotherapy she urgently needed. One day, on their way back from the hospital, the couple were controlled by police who wanted to arrest Habib and deport him once again. Fereshta cried and begged the officers to let him go because she was sick. The family had to bribe the Iranian police to escape.

After this incident, it was clear to Fereshta and Habib that they could no longer stay in Iran. They took their small child and fled. In the mountains at the border to Turkey the Iranian border police detected their group. They let the dogs loose on them. Fereshta and her family ran. She took the bag and her husband their child. The police shot. She can still hear the sound of the bullets. She remembers the stones and bushes they had to cross through in panic.

“Every moment I thought, this bullet will hit me. On our way to Europe there were many moments like this one, when I thought it was our last. In between there were the moments I felt the pain in my body so strong and I remembered the cancer.”

Seven times the family tried to cross to Greece. Every time the Turkish police would arrest and detain them. Fereshta remembers with terror a week they spent in Izmir detention centre.

“Upon arrival, we were all body searched. The officer was shocked when she touched my breast. It felt like a stone. We were three families in one cell. We could not go out. I had my painkillers in my bag but I was not allowed to take them. I was sitting awake all night suffering. After a week, they brought a doctor. Then we got released…”

On our final attempt to reach Greece, our boat almost sank. There was a hole in it. Water was entering. It was the beginning of winter 2018 and the weather was bad. In the last moment we were saved. They brought us to Moria camp. I told them about my sickness. The doctor who examined me also got scared when she felt the state of my breast. I was sent to hospital for examinations. We stayed in a container with three families – a total of eleven people in one room. Then the UNHCR sent us to Athens to live in a house.”

Two months after arriving to Greece, Fereshta was examined again, this time in Athens. Her chemotherapy started. But it did not have the expected effects. The mother felt very sick and radiotherapy had to be initiated.

“The doctors said I needed an operation. I would receive a call to know when my appointment was. No one called. Meanwhile my teeth were hurting me a lot. I asked for help. My days were marked by visits to the hospital. I had to go there many times without a translator. Sometimes I was sent away, because they couldn’t understand me. It was not easy.”

Habib was scared and felt helpless. He didn’t know if his wife was receiving the treatment she needed and if it was in time. He didn’t want to lose her. His friends all told him that it would be better to send her to Germany to be healed. What to do? There was not enough money to go together. They had spent everything they had for treatment and medication in Iran and then to reach Greece. On the other hand, he didn’t want to leave her alone. The parents decided together that there was no other solution. They had to do everything possible to make sure she had the best medical care.

In September 2019, after almost one year in Greece, Fereshta arrived in Germany. She was examined by specialists and within just a few weeks she had an operation. Even today she must continue to undergo chemotherapy. Her asylum application was accepted on humanitarian grounds with a deportation ban (Abschiebungsverbot). She is legally resident in Germany now, but she didn’t get an international protection status and thus can only apply for family reunification based on humanitarian grounds. 

For more than two years, Germany routinely rejects such family reunification applications if the family member in Germany has Abschiebungsverbot, typically arguing that the first instance asylum procedure has been concluded negatively. At the same time, Germany in the majority of cases of Afghan asylum seekers issues only this Abschiebungsverbot status. 

Fereshta and Habib struggle hard despite the little hope to find a solution to be together.

“My therapy plan is scheduled to go on until 2021. Every week I have chemotherapy. It is tough to bear it. The worst thing is that I am alone and that my child and my husband are far from me. Every day we talk on the phone. My boy cries. He asks me when he can come to me. He makes plans for that day. I see him growing, but only through the phone. He learnt to ride a bicycle since I last saw him. He wants me to buy him a bicycle when he comes to me in Germany. It is difficult to deal with this situation alone. I had many bad thoughts. Then I started visiting a psychologist. I take medication to sleep now.”

It is now three years that Fereshta’s husband Habib has had the pressure of finding a way for his wife to heal. Since they reached Greece he suffers from constant headaches.

“Now she is in good hands and has proper medical care but I am not by her side to support her. Our child misses her. He needs his mother. We both cannot sleep. I am thinking a lot. It’s the pressure of life. My sick wife is there, we are here. Our son doesn’t believe me anymore, when I tell him we will soon be with his mother. He has lost his trust in his father. I still try to give him hope.” 

A few hundred kilometres north from her husband and child, Fereshta tries not to lose hope as she struggles to survive.

“I wish to be healthy. I wish for my husband and my child to come here soon. I wish for us to have a peaceful and normal life together. I wish that no family in this world will get separated!”

* names changed

“We should be with him now, and he needs us too!”

A campaign to unite families separated between Germany and Greece (3)

Zinab* and Ahmed in Greece speak with Farhad, who lies in hospital in Germany

A man separated from his wife and young child stuck in Greece – he is dying of cancer in Germany

This family belong to Aachen!

Zinab* came to Greece with her husband Farhad and son Ahmed who is 8 years old. Now Farhad is in Germany, separated from his wife and son and he is in the late stages of cancer, with only months to live.

The family are Kurdish, from Afrin (Syria). It was in Turkey that Farhad found out he was seriously ill with cancer. But because he is Kurdish, none of the hospitals in Turkey answered the family’s questions or cared for his wellbeing. The family were harassed regularly in Turkey only because they are Kurdish. It was not a safe place for them.

So, in March 2018 the family risked their lives to find safety in Europe and travelled by boat to the Greek island of Samos. They spent 40 days sleeping crowded together in a summer tent in the ‘hotspot’ Vathy on the island. Farhad was incredibly sick – vomiting and unable to eat. Due to the dire living conditions his situation worsened.

When the doctors examined him, they said he was dying. It was cold and raining and the ground was wet beneath them in the tent. Ahmed was begging his parents to leave Greece – he couldn’t use the toilets they were so dirty. There was no warm water to wash with. Farhad was suffering in pain and his family had only cold water to bathe him and cold earth to sleep on.

Because Farhad needed urgent medical attention, the family were transferred to a refugee camp on mainland Greece. Farhad was in the isolated camp almost one month still in severe pain.

Once in the mainland camp, Farhad’s pain did not cease. On three occasions an ambulance had to travel the long distance to the family’s camp because Farhad was in such pain. They injected him with pain killers. Eventually, he was taken to hospital, where he stayed for 2 months. Farhad had many tests and an emergency surgery that lasted eleven hours. Zinab was warned that he might not survive this. Zinab and Ahmed slept in the hospital for 4 days because the camp they were supposed to live in was over an hour away.

A few days before Farhad left hospital, Zinab and their child were moved to an apartment in Athens and Farhad was discharged there. He had to go to the hospital every week and was constantly taking medication. The family stayed around six months together in Athens but everyone, including Farhad’s doctors, said that he would have a better chance of survival if he was treated in Germany because they had a better equipped public health system and secured access to the necessary medicines there. Farhad said his Greek doctors treated him very well but he hoped he would have more chance to heal elsewhere and survive his dangerous sickness.

Throughout his time in Greece, Farhad was suffering, he had even thought of committing suicide to end the pain. It was an unbearable decision and a gruelling journey but in January 2019 Farhad travelled alone to Germany as the family had no possibility to go together. He went to Germany to get well and to struggle for his life and for his family.

The family had no idea that they would end up separated for such a long period. When they understood how difficult it was to be together again, they found a lawyer in Athens who is assisting with their case for family reunification through the German embassy. But over one year later, the family remain apart. It is difficult to get essential documents from Syria because of the war and Farhad does not have long to live. 

The family video call almost every day but it is a cruel replacement for life together, especially when little time is left. In his waking hours Ahmed talks of his father – he tells his friends at school he will go soon to be with his father in Germany, he asks his mother when he will be able to kiss his dad again, or walk with him the streets. While asleep, Ahmed dreams of Farhad.

Zinab also cannot bear life without her husband beside her. She fears that nobody is there to do the simple things for him, to talk with him, give him a glass of water.

In the last weeks, Farhad has had multiple operations. Little Ahmed cries for days on end, he says he wants to see his father, he wants his family to be together. Zinab tries to be strong but she also cries often.

“We should be with him now, and he needs us too!”

Zinab

* names changed

Some facts about obstacles that cancer patients in Greece face

For many years, all cancer patients in Greece face huge obstacles to obtain timely access to necessary diagnostics, examinations and treatments. Austerity measures have hit the public health system hard since the start of the debt crisis in Greece in 2009. Cancer patients are among the ones who suffer most.

Funding for state-run hospitals was cut by more than 50% in the last decade. They suffer from severe shortages in everything, from sheets, gauzes and syringes, to doctors and nurses. The patients who can afford it, thus often turn to private health care. The others struggle.

A new study titled “A New National Health System” commissioned by Dianeosis, found out that Greece nowadays spends only 5 percent of its gross domestic product on public healthcare versus the European Union (EU) average of 7 percent.

“The minimum safe limit for every health system, as we have repeatedly stressed, is 6 percent of GDP.” 

Panhellenic Medical Association 2019

The authors of the study ascribe the healthcare crisis in Greece to cuts to funding, under-staffing and mismanagement—the source of which is linked to a decade of austerity measures. As one consequence, the young generation of Greek doctors was forced to emigrate in search for jobs. It is estimated, that more than 15,000 doctors left the country, mainly for the UK, Germany, Cyprus and Sweden.

The difficulties of accessing and using health services in Greece have grown particularly for those who need them most, thus jeopardising the element of equality and social justice. More than that, the study found, that today one in five Greek people are unable to pay for health services when they need it; one in three cancer patients are unable to see their doctor regularly while one in four have difficulties obtaining the medicine they need.

Access to necessary medication is a big problematic with possibly fatal consequences. Cancer drugs are vital, but often inaccessible. In February 2020, the Pharmaceutical Association of Athens denounced the severe lack of specialised medicaments in Greece, amongst others drugs used to control the side effects of chemotherapy for cancer patients, but also for the chemotherapy itself. The Hellenic Cancer Federation (ELLOK) taking action, appealed on 22.1.2020 to the Ministry of Health to take action in order to normalise the disposal of medicines. Deficiency of basic antineoplastic drugs for cancer patients, according to the Federation, means serious delays and cancellations of chemotherapy that have led patients and doctors to despair. 

Many medicaments reach Greece but are then traded to other countries such as Germany who pay higher prices. Then there are medicines that are essential but so cheap that no company will import them to Greece. These should be covered by emergency imports, but the government agency responsible has no funds to pay for them and has stopped placing orders. At the same time, Greek commercial pharmacies are owed by the government, according to the Panhellenic Pharmaceutical Association (PFS), so many request payment for medication from patients up front.

“It is one thing to ask a patient to bring his own blanket to the hospital. And quite another to deny him a drug that means the difference between life and death.”

Persefoni Mitta, head of the Association of Cancer Patients in Macedonia and Thrace

During the Covid-19 pandemic things have got even harder. Today, the main problem faced is the long waiting lists for radiotherapy and surgeries. Zoe Grammatoglou, from the Association of Cancer Patients, volunteers, friends, and doctors in Athens, explains:

“In Attika Hospital in Athens the average waiting time for radiotherapy is currently 3-4 months. These delays existed also prior to the Covid-19 pandemic due to lack of staff in the hospitals. The average waiting time for surgeries is currently about one month. All appointments have been further delayed in public hospitals. It is very important to add, that in Greece there are no hospices for the care of persons in the last cancer stadium.”

Zoe Grammatoglou (13.04.2020)

In the case of refugees and migrants, there are even greater obstacles to access free medical care, especially since July 2019 when the right wing New Democracy party was elected. The new government refused to ascribe the Social Insurance Numbers (AMKA) to third country nationals. Medicines sans Frontiers (MSF) estimated in the beginning of this year that 55,000 protection seekers had remained without access to public health care, and specifically denounced the devastating situation for seriously sick children in the ‘hotspot’ of Moria.

“We see many children suffering from medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma and heart disease, who are forced to live in tents, in abysmal, unhygienic conditions, with no access to the specialised medical care and medication they need.”

Dr Hilde Vochten, MSF’s medical coordinator in Greece

Only this month (April 2020) is a parallel system called PAAYPA supposed to function in which asylum seekers should be ascribed a temporary Social Insurance Number. It was announced that the system would start from 15 April onward but is not yet working as promised. 

Covid-19 has presented further barriers to healthcare as protection seekers reaching Greece must first register their claim for asylum in order to regularise their stay, and only then will they be eligible for a PAAYPA number. As the Greek Asylum Service has been closed since 13 March and will remain closed until at least 15th May, people seeking protection are unable to claim asylum. Therefore people with chronic and serious diseases may have to wait for months until they can access necessary healthcare. Until then, only emergency care is available.

Furthermore, for as long as protection seekers cannot claim asylum, they cannot access the cash allowance for asylum seekers, which means that they have to pay for all medicines themselves.

Protection seekers arriving from the land border in Evros region face a systematic lack of reception conditions as their asylum claims are usually not registered in the Reception and Identification centre (RIC) of Fylakio. Upon release they reach Thessaloniki or Athens themselves staying most of the times for weeks or months homeless.

At the same time, protection seekers arriving on the Aegean Islands are stuck among thousands of others in the infamous ‘hotspot’ camps of Moria (Lesvos), Vathy (Samos), Vial (Chios), on Leros and Kos living in highly precarious conditions in tents or overcrowded containers. Since recent changes in law, newcomers after March 2020 are regularly detained and face even greater gaps when it comes to accessing the public health care system.

UNHCR Greece highlighted the problems in Moria ‘hotspot’ recently:

“Abdul, 67, sitting on a stool outside his tent. In Afghanistan, Abdul had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Abdul said he had been treated with nothing more than paracetamol since arriving in the camp. Medical workers at Moria and the local hospital are overwhelmed. NGO and volunteer doctors work around the clock. Even so, often they can only attend to the most urgent emergency cases and even serious chronic conditions are left untreated.”

UNHCR, 21 February 2020

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Greece has declared a nationwide lockdown from 23 March 2020. Meanwhile asylum seekers and refugees cannot #stayathome but have to #stayinthecamp. Until today, three refugee camps on mainland Greece have been locked down for a 14-day-quarantine as residents were diagnosed with Covid-19. Human rights activists all over the world demand that we #leavenoonebehind and evacuate Greek refugee camps and release people from detention. Calls have grown loud to relocate unaccompanied minor refugees from Greece and the first 62 have travelled to Luxembourg and Germany.

We must also raise our voices for the families who have been separated between two countries, who are victims of borders and restrictive migration policies such as the ones of Germany, who is systematically rejecting family reunification requests for more than two years.

Severe delays in accessing the urgent examinations and the necessary medicines, in order to provide for the medical diagnostics and adequate therapy/surgery for cancer patients can cost human lives.

STOP CUTS IN PUBLIC HEALTH CARE!

PROVIDE HEALTH PROFESSIONALS WITH ALL THE TOOLS THEY NEED TO SAVE LIVES!

ACCESS TO FREE HEALTH CARE FOR ALL!

CLOSE THE CAMPS AND OPEN HOMES!

REUNITE ALL FAMILIES!

The infomobile

... is like a “paper boat”. We chose this as a metaphor for what we want to create and for the situation of refugees and migrants in Greece. The paper boat is a folded boat able to swim – for a while. Then you have to build a new one to go on travelling. A paper boat is symbolic for the journey of life, vulnerable but in your own hands and to be recreated again and again. It is simple, but it carries many hopes and dreams. It can dance on a turbulent sea. It belongs to everybody. And it might become the small version – like a first draft – of a welcome-space.

Get in touch

email: infomobile.w2eu@gmail.com

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