When it comes to seeking asylum, Greece is the gateway to Europe. But the Greek asylum system is a mess. Paul Mason spoke to one man who has spent more than a year on the road – in squats, living rough and for a time in detention – about the experience of trying to claim asylum on Europe’s frontier.
It was hard to forget Mohamed Lamhoud. I met him in a shattered factory in Patras, Greece, squatting there alongside hundreds of other young, male migrants. Their clothes were filthy; many had wounds consistent with being beaten up, or fleeing being beaten up. They were drinking and washing from a standpipe.
Mohamed was different in one way only: in his pocket he had a book by Jean Paul Sartre. And while I tried to engage him about the conditions in the squatted factory, he tried to engage me in a discussion about Nietzsche.
That was in February 2012. The 26-year-old Moroccan had been living there for months. As I left that factory, I never thought I would see any of the men living there again.
But three weeks ago, on Facebook, somebody friended me and immediately sent me a pop-up message: “C’est moi, Mohamed, sociologique.” Through Facebook and Franglais he was speaking to me from inside a migrant detention centre in Corinth. And he had big news. He would soon be released.
K.M. (21, Syria) reported to the “Movement United against Racism Athens” being ill-treated by the police guards in Corinth Detention centre on March 10th. In the afternoon around 18 / 19 o’clock during a struggle between guards and refugees when the first did not bring the cigarettes and telephone guards to purchase. The Riot Police started beating the detained refugees until they returned into their cells. there again they were beaten. K.M. was documenting the ill-treatment with his mobile phone. When the Riot Police noticed that they took him to his cell and beat him all over his body. K.M. has a chronicle respiratory problem and found himself lying on the floor with difficulties to breath. His phone was broken. efimerida ton sindakton (in greek) roz karta (in greek)
Cramped, without warm clothes, no hot water, no heating, in appalling hygiene conditions, malnourished, without barely access to medicines, in a legal situation uncertain and subject to harassment and occasional beatings.
They are the conditions in which Greece maintains several thousand immigrants and undocumented refugees, in the so-called”detention for foreigners”, which are so degrading to inmates of one of them, of Corinth, ironically call it with the same name of the notorious us base: Guantanamo.
“They kept us locked up like animals. We don’t have rights”, complains Ali Hasan, an Afghan fleeing from their country and who remains detained for two months along with 800 others in the center of Corinth, a former military barracks.
Solidarity poster for the detained migrants in Corinth and Komotini whose protests against imprisonment and detention conditions were violently cracked down by riot police with tear gas and beatings. In Corinth 24 of the protesters and in Komotini 55 of them were criminalised for their protests and brought to the court.
– This poster is spread in Patras by the Initiative against the statal, social and civil fascism.
The provisory detention centre for sans-papiers was opened about four months ago in an overnight action by the Ministry of Citizen Protection and Public Order. It is one of three mass detention centres – the others are located in Xanthi and in Komotini – which were set up by the new government in the summer to fit the thousand arrested sans-papiers captured during the Xenios Dias sweep operation. There have been repeated protests by the mayor of Corinth against the creation of this detention centre. He even reached the point to cut off the water supply.
Corinth provisory detention center in a former army camp
The building was originally an army camp at the outskirts of Corinth city. Sans-papiers were arrested in massive sweeps and were brought from various places, such as Corinth and Patras, to this detention centre. A couple of NGOs have tried ever since to enter the prison in order to monitor the situation, screen the detainees and offer legal aid, but access has been denied. They could only see a hand full of detainees of whom they had their names in advance.
Yesterday, solidarity groups from Patras and Corinth but also from other places hold a protest in front of the detention centre. A delegation of seven persons entered the detention centre (with 2 parliamentarians of Syriza, a doctor, a lawyer, interpreters and members of the Movement for the Support of the Rights of Refugees and Migrant of Patras as well as the Antirascist Initiative of Corinth) More than 650 persons were detained in the overcrowded detention centre for the reason of “illegal entry”, “illegal stay” or “illegal exit” to/in/from Greece.
Detainees reported to the delegation that they were lacking warm water, they have insufficient food, no access to information and lawyers and seldom visits of doctors always without any interpreters, many lack medicine they need to take and thus remain sick in their cells.
Among the detainees were many minors, there were family fathers whose families upon their arrest were left behind without anyone to take care, there were persons who wanted to apply for asylum but could not manage and others who had applied 4 months earlier but were not released within the legal maximum period of detention for asylum seekers (3 months). Others had managed to apply for asylum but received during detention the rejection and lacked any information and legal aid to appeal within the given period of 15 days, therefore, falling out of the asylum system.
Reportedly, there are also many cases of ill-treatment by the authorities.
... 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.
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