Tag Archive for 'Dublin III Regulation'

“Daddy is there a problem with the aeroplanes in Greece? Why aren’t you coming?”

A campaign to reunite families separated between Germany and Greece (5)

In 2016, upon arrival to Greece, life in Moria was unbearable for the little family and their baby. They escaped to Athens where they stayed first homeless and then in a squat

A father in Greece – his wife and two small kids in Germany, one of whom he has never met

This family belongs to Frankfurt!

Waly* is a 29 year old father from Afghanistan. For a year and a half, he has been far from his family. His wife and his two sons live in Germany where they obtained residence permits. One of his sons was born there. Waly has never met him, he has only seen him on video calls. 

When Waly’s wife escaped Greece, their elder son was still a baby. Now he is old enough to talk and he watches the aeroplanes in the sky over Frankfurt. His son asks him,

“Daddy is there a problem with the aeroplanes in Greece? Why aren’t you coming?”

The truth is that is is impossible for Waly to join his family in Germany legally, since they are categorised by authorities on both sides as a ‘separated family’ case.

Also, his wife’s asylum claim was first rejected in Germany, which is another of the most common arguments used in rejections issued by the Germans when asylum seekers in Greece apply for family reunification. 
After taking a private lawyer and appealing before a court his wife got a one year status called ‘Abschiebungsverbot’. With this national humanitarian status issued mostly to vulnerable persons whose deportation is not feasible, family reunion via Dublin or the German embassy is not possible. Waly’s wife has not even been able to obtain a travel document in order to at least visit her husband in Greece and let their kids see their father. 

Life was unlivable for the family when they were together in Greece. They arrived on Lesvos and after six months of frequent experiences of violence in Moria they couldn’t bear it any more. They travelled together to Athens but as they had left the island with a geographical restriction stamp on their cards, they reached the mainland irregularly and could not progress their case.

Since March 2016, when the EU-Turkey Deal was implemented, asylum seekers are forced to stay on the Aegean Islands. Only upon identification of a vulnerability can they move to the mainland, or in cases of family reunification or if their asylum procedure has been concluded positively. Families with children where both parents are present, are not considered ‘vulnerable’ enough.

Upon arrival to the Greek capital, the family’s living conditions did not improve. They were homeless and they had no access to shelter. They couldn’t find support or even food. For two years the family lived in a squat together and eventually decided they had no choice but to use the little money they had left to escape these conditions. 

As they did not have enough money to travel together as a family, Waly’s wife and their son were forced to move to Germany alone. After they left, the squat that the family had been staying in got evicted by riot police. Following that terrifying event, Waly has spent the last year and half in Athens in the same unbearable conditions, but now alone, far from his family. 

Waly has been to many lawyers in Athens but they tell him they cannot help, because the 3-month Dublin deadline has passed and he separated from his wife and child ‘voluntarily’. 

“How is something voluntary, when you have no other choice?? Being far from my family is no life. In Afghanistan we were always scared of dying, but there you die once. Here in Greece I feel I loose myself every day that I am without my wife and my kids. How is it that I have not even met my own child? Last year I tried many times to end my life. Today I understand I must try and stay strong.”


*names changed

Not a happy day!

International Day of Families cannot be celebrated by those separated by borders!

copyright: Salinia Stroux

“My thoughts are dark. There are so many problems. I wouldn’t know it’s the International Family Day. I am feeling scared and worried inside the camp we stay in Greece. Even if I sometimes feel a second of happiness it gets lost in the manifold problems we face. Our kid is alone in Germany. He feels pain in his heart from the stress. He asks for help, but I am far. My wife’s situation gets worse day by day. She cries, she forgets, she loses control of her body. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, but I try not to loose hope.”

Morteza B.*, father and husband, whose story is here

In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed that the 15th May would be observed as the International Day of Families. While some families can celebrate this day, many others cannot. They are separated from each other, unable to live as one. 

But what makes one family different from another? Nothing! A family is a family no matter what papers they have or don’t have. Families should not be separated by passports and borders! The International Day of Families should not just be for some families – it is for all families! In fact, every day should be family day. 

Recently, the Infomobile started a campaign, sharing stories of families separated between Greece and Germany. We want to shed light on this issue and to struggle with people for their right to family life. Our demands are not exceptional. We do not ask governments do something extra, or out of kindness. We simply demand that European governments fulfil their legal obligations to reunite families, under the European Dublin III Regulation, national and international laws. 

And we will not be silent. These are just four stories of hundreds and we will continue to publishing more:

father is alone in Germany, fighting cancer away from his wife and their 8 year old boy in Greece. They lived in a tent on Samos while he was dying, he had to leave Greece but now he is alone. The family have been separated for 1 year and 4 months already.

12 year old boy is alone in Germany, his mother is dead and his father and three siblings are stuck in Greece. The boy got lost when the family tried to escape Greece together. They were trying to leave because they had suffered sleeping in a tent in Moria together, and then witnessed a terrible fire in the camp on the mainland they were sent to. Now the Greek Asylum Service will not allow them to apply for family reunification. The family have been separated for around 1 year already.

17 year old boy is alone in Germany, away from his parents and three siblings who are in Greece. They were violently pushed back to Greece when trying to escape together as a family. The Greek Asylum Service will not allow them to apply for family reunification. The family have been separated for 2.5 years already.

mother is alone in Germany, fighting cancer away from her husband and four year old son who are in Greece. Their boat almost sank when they risked their lives to reach European soil. Now the mother can only watch her son grow on the phone. The family have been separated for 8 months already.

!The separation of these families, and any families, is unnecessary, unfair and unlawful!

Although an evident injustice, as we say in our introductory statement to the campaign, thousands of families remain torn apart and are kept actively separated by national authorities.

We must raise our voices together with those who are separated from their loved ones especially today and every day!

A psychological expert opinion published as part of our campaign´s introduction, clearly describes the damage that separating families causes. Having that in mind, we insist once more that the well-being of children must be prioritised and their best interests have to be upheld!

Hey governments! Hey politicians! These are real people, like you and I! 

Kids should not be without family to look after them!

Partners should not be apart from each other!

Families should not be missing children!

WE DEMAND ALL FAMILIES TO BE REUNITED NOW!

“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!

“Home is where your family is – together!”

A campaign to unite families separated between Germany and Greece (2)

Massoud* (17): “When I was in Greece, we lived in a tent.”

A mum and a dad with three young kids in Greece – their 17-year-old son alone in Germany

This family belongs to Hannover!

Morteza B.* (37) from Afghanistan escaped his country after the lives of his family were threatened. He arrived to Greece with his wife and four children shortly before the EU-Turkey ‘Deal’ was implemented at the end of February 2016. After a few months feeling unsafe in a Greek emergency refugee camp near Athens, the family tried to continue their flight through the Balkans.

More than ten times they were intercepted and unlawfully pushed back to Greece. Once they finally reached Serbian soil, they were intercepted again and pushed back arbitrarily to Bulgaria, where they had never been before.

In winter 2016, after a week-long odyssey, they were finally returned from Bulgaria to Greece. Left with no money, they saw no option but to send their eldest son Massoud* (now 17 years old) to Germany, where they thought he would be safe, as he had been the one along with his father threatened most in Afghanistan.

Their family reunification application was never sent by Greek authorities despite repeated promises. Instead after two years in Germany and despite having claimed asylum there, Germany attempted to return the family’s minor son back to Greece. When Greek authorities refused to take him back, he was allowed to continue his asylum procedure in Germany. He finally received a one year national humanitarian status (Abschiebungsverbot). He is legally resident in Germany and goes to school there ever since. But he is alone.

“Our son was almost kidnapped in Afghanistan. Masked men were waiting for him in front of his school. After this terror, we had to take our kids from school to keep them safe. We fled to Greece. We tried for months to move onward all together through Macedonia and Serbia as we felt unprotected among the hundreds of other Afghans around us.

On our way, we got illegally returned more than a dozen times. We were beaten, pushed by border guards, soldiers and police; our phones got stolen. We were forced to cross through the freezing waters of a river and were kept detained in Bulgaria for two months in miserable conditions and without being able to even go out.

Back in Greece, after our son reached safety in Germany and when we informed the Greek Asylum Service that we wanted to apply for family reunification they just told us they would send it but we had to wait. Every time we renewed our papers, they’d say the same pushing our patience beyond its limits. Until that day I will never forget, when they suddenly said: “No! We will not send your family reunification request. You will have your asylum procedure in Greece.” I felt I was breaking.

Me and my wife still try to understand that we will have our asylum interview in Greece in one year, exactly five years after we reached Europe, when we will have been separated far away from our son for 3 1/2 years already.

We still live in this refugee camp, a container village in an industrial area. My wife is suffering from severe psychological problems for years, she has therapy and takes medicines. Her situation worsened after the violence we faced at Europe’s borders, but her health is devastated since our eldest child is so far from us.

We have a few neighbours that have been with us all the time in the camp – they have created little gardens on the dusty soil. But I cannot think of putting even one plant in this earth, as we cannot build anything like ‘home’ when one of us is missing.

Home is where your family is – together!” 

On the other side of the continent, up in the North, the 17-year-old Massoud* is counting the days to see his family again.

“I miss my family. I wish they come here to live with me in a house. When I was in Greece, we lived in a tent. There was no language lessons, no school. I was very scared to go out alone. When my parents decided I had to move to Germany alone, I was only 13. They were scared to let me go and I was scared to travel alone, but I was more scared to stay in Greece.

I speak every day on the phone with my family. I want to give them strength. The good thing about Germany is that I am not afraid to go out and that I can go to school again. In my future I want to become a cook. I learned cooking by myself when I arrived in Germany and I had to take care of myself. My mum often cries when we talk on phone, but she is happy that I learned to cook, because she doesn’t need to worry about me being hungry. She knows I can fill my stomach now with tasty food.”

* names changed

“I dream every night of being with him again”

A campaign to unite families separated between Germany and Greece (1)

copyright: private

A single father with three minor kids in Greece – his 12-year-old son alone in Germany

This family belongs to Berlin!

Hassan H.* from Afghanistan arrived to Lesvos, Greece with his four children in August 2018. His wife had died in Iran shortly before they escaped from there. When the single father tried to leave Greece through the Balkans a year later, one of his sons got lost and he and his remaining three kids were pushed back to Greece. Later, his son contacted him from Germany, but the father was told by Greek authorities, that he could not apply for family reunification under the given circumstances.

“We stayed seven months in a tent in Moria. There were a lot of fights. I wouldn’t let my kids go out due to fear. I didn’t know how to protect them otherwise. When we were finally transferred to Athens in spring 2019, I was first very happy. From the port we were brought to Skaramangas camp. Upon arrival there I saw a huge village made of containers on a pier near the sea and in the middle, there were dozens of tents. We ended up again living in a tent without electricity in the cold darkness – again unsafe.

One night a tent caught fire and a family got burned. They nearly died. Refugees in the camp then held protests against the conditions. One of my sons got beaten by riot police in the turmoil. My kids were seeing nightmares every night from then on. That was when I decided we should try to leave Greece, because we weren’t safe at last.

I collected some money from friends and we decided to leave from the land border. One tragedy followed the next. My 12-year-old son got lost half way. I thought he had died or been kidnapped. We were arrested and sent back to Greece. … It was a happy day, when my son contacted me from Germany. I heard his voice and all my worries were gone for a moment. I went to the camp employees to ask how we could join my son in Germany. But they said it was too late and we were anyway a “separated child case” and we could not even apply for family reunification because we separated “voluntarily”. I don’t understand what they mean. Our choices are made in a state of emergency while trying to do the best for our family and our situation has not only been a result of our choices but also of our destiny.

How can it be too late for a family to be together?

Now my little boy is there and we are here. We live in a container now, but it is no life if you first lost your wife and the mother of your children, and then you lose a child. I dream every night of being with him again. And I hope until that day, when we can be together again in a better place, I can keep all my kids safe.”

* name changed

FIGHTING FOR THE RIGHT TO BE TOGETHER! A campaign to unite families separated between Germany and Greece

copyright: Salinia Stroux

All children have the fundamental right to be with their loved ones no matter what. Despite this fact it has been broadly accepted in Europe, that refugee families end up separated, due to limitations of laws and an even more restrictive interpretation of these laws by states. The “best interests of the child should be a primary consideration of Member States”, says the Dublin III Regulation, the primary legal tool within the EU to regulate the distribution of asylum seekers. Despite this fact, thousands of refugee children who reach Europe are held far from their parents, siblings or other close relatives such as aunties, uncles or grandparents, residing in other EU countries. 

In the dawn of the “long summer of migration” in 2015, thousands reached Northern Europe entering the EU initially through Greece. Many of their family members arrived later through the same route to Greece actually aiming to continue their journey and find protection near their loved ones in Germany or elsewhere. The following four years are marked by a sudden return from a short trend of a ‘welcome refugees’ EU-politics to the states’ deadly ‘closed gates’ approach, which came into force parallel to a right wing upsurge in the governments of different member states and left the vast majority of newcomers after March 2016 blocked in Greece. 

In an atmosphere ruled by repressive anti-migratory policies all over the EU, grassroots groups and networks across the continent are struggling against deportations, push-backs, police violence, repressive asylum laws, continuing border deaths, the criminalisation of solidarity and an increase in racist attacks. Silence persists despite the fact that thousands of families are torn apart and kept actively separated by national authorities. 

It is in this context that we want to share stories of refugee families split between Greece and Germany. It should not be accepted that failing to meet deadlines, separating with the best interest of children in mind or being separated by border policies, growing fences and intensified Frontex patrols / controls is an acceptable reason to keep families apart. Refugee families can in most cases not submit the necessary documents to prove they are relatives. They cannot supply authorities in many cases with passports, family books, birth certificates – all translated properly, because they escaped war and conflict, they came from situations and escaped under such conditions where most people lack such documentation or lose it on the way to safety. 

We chose to start this campaign on 15th March 2017, the date that marked the resumption of Dublin returns to Greece, following the European Commission’s recommendation that conditions had improved there. North European countries, most notably Germany, were keen to take the opportunity to force people back to Greece. Germany sent 1,887 take-back requests to Greece in 2017, 6,827 in 2018 and 9,275 last year, despite the ongoing systemic human rights violations documented by numerous organisations.

Protection seekers struggle to reach ‘safe’ territory and survive in Greece

Today, the right-wing government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Nea Dimokratia elected in Greece last summer is imposing more and more drastic measures to keep refugees out no matter what. Ruling politicians have re-introduced an anti-migratory, mostly racist rhetoric, offensively propagating even the most ridiculous measures that would supposedly seal the borders (i.e. floating fences). After a recent upsurge of attempted border crossings caused by Turkish Primeminister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s announcement that he would open the Turkish border to Europe at the end of February, authorities’ use of violence to stop people from entering Greek territory has been apparently justified. Refugees were teargassed, beaten, stripped naked, pushed-back and even shot with rubber-bullets at the land border. They were attacked and shot in the sea, their engines were broken and petrol stolen and they were left adrift in distress. In these two weeks, two persons were documented dead at the land border and one child drowned in the Aegean Sea. Greek officials have found it legitimate, to start criminalising newcomers in search of protection with prison sentences reaching four years and fines of up to 10,000 Euros for mere ‘irregular entry’. It has also been agreed that people will be returned swiftly back to Turkey or deported to their homelands without even being able to claim asylum. EU authorities have been silent on these breaches of fundamental human rights, instead offering Turkey and Greece more money.

New immigration laws introduced at the end of 2019 already had created numerous practical obstacles to protection seekers in Greece accessing their rights, with an increasing number of asylum claims being ended for arbitrary reasons and the number of rejections to asylum claims growing. No more social insurance number for asylum seekers (AMKA), new obstacles to get a tax number (AFM), no more direct right to enter the job market (only after six months from registration), big technical difficulties to access the asylum procedure through Skype, long waiting periods to receive social benefits for asylum seekers (people waiting for the cash-card for many months), increased periods to naturalize for beneficiaries of international protection (from five to seven years) and so on.

In mid-March 2020, the threat of the Corona virus pandemic has not only bought public life in Greece to a halt, but experts warn that an upsurge in infections is still to come next month and will hit the most vulnerable worst. Greek refugee camps where hundreds of vulnerable persons are living close to each other, usually without their basic needs being met are spaces of high risk of infection. NGOs have called for the immediate evacuation of the camps on the islands. At the same time, emergency measures for employees have limited the presence of site managing organisations such as IOM and NGO employees offering essential services to a minimum level. The Asylum Service has temporary halted its services to the public nationwide.  

On the Aegean Islands, thousands of refugees remain trapped in tents in and around the ‘hotspots’, many of which do not even have access to food, medical aid or basic sanitary infrastructure. Those arriving after March 1sthave been held in dire conditions in outside areas of ports and a navy ship in Lesvos Island for many days. After two weeks trapped on the warship they have been transferred to the mainland. On the islands, protection seekers are searching desperately for legal aid, to access information on their rights and procedures. Most remain without any help and go through the asylum process unprepared. The already burdened public health care system is breaking down and medical aid as well as access to medication is in fact not existent. In the meanwhile, locals infiltrated by fascists are protesting since weeks against the government’s plans to build closed immigration prisons next to the already infamous and overcrowded ‘hotspots’ on Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros islands. They have attacked refugees, aid workers and journalists alike. 

On the mainland, more and more people live in marginalised camps far from any possibility to find help, to integrate or to identify any future prospects for themselves. The number of people homeless is growing and with the announced exclusion of beneficiaries of international protection from state housing, hundreds more will be on the streets by the end of this month. People arriving from the land border to the cities do not have access to the asylum procedure. They cannot access reception conditions and have to stay unregistered inside camps without any social welfare and services for months while living in tents, overcrowded common spaces or other residents’ prefabs. 

In short, protection seekers risk their lives to reach European soil and continue to be at risk even upon arrival to Greece.

Germany actively hinders families from being reunited since 2017

With the surge of family reunification applications after the sudden closure of the ‘Balkan Corridor’ and the implementation of the EU-Turkey ‘Deal’, the German authorities started developing a harsh anti-reunification policy. First, hundreds of family reunification cases which had already been accepted were unlawfully delayed, keeping children for months and even years apart from their families. By the end of 2017, systematic and generalised rejections of such applications increased suddenly first from the German side and as a consequence also from the Greek side, using administrative grounds to keep refugee families apart for indefinite periods. Instead of authorities deciding in favour of refugee families being united, the families now have the burden to prove why it is best for them to be together. Today, it is a common story of desperate children, mothers and fathers, that they are told by the Greek Asylum Service and NGOs: ‘You cannot apply for family reunification!’ or ‘It is likely that your application will be rejected by the German authorities!’ 

Before, there was strong self-organised resistance from refugee families against the delays of transfers to Germany throughout 2017 / 2018. Nowadays, the extremely harsh interpretation of the Dublin III Regulation and German immigration law when it comes to family reunion, is being presented as a given fact and seems non-negotiable, despite the inherent injustice. Refugee families’ voices have remained widely unheard.

We want to platform these voices. We stand against EU-policies that focus on closing borders and subjecting children to extreme violence, we demand families must be reunited. Basic rights are superior to immigration and asylum law. The wellbeing of children has to be protected and their best interest must be upheld. Authorities of all EU member states must stop putting children’s welfare in danger and instead comply with the Dublin III Regulation, which explicitly states:

„(T)he best interests of the child should be a primary consideration of Member States when applying this Regulation. In assessing the best interests of the child, Member States should, in particular, take due account of the minor’s well-being and social development, safety and security considerations and the views of the minor in accordance with his or her age and maturity, including his or her background. In addition, specific procedural guarantees for unaccompanied minors should be laid down on account of their particular vulnerability.“ (paragraph 13)

„In order to ensure full respect for the principle of family unity and for the best interests of the child, the existence of a relationship of dependency between an applicant and his or her child, sibling or parent on account of the applicant’s pregnancy or maternity, state of health or old age, should become a binding responsibility criterion. When the applicant is an unaccompanied minor, the presence of a family member or relative on the territory of another Member State who can take care of him or her should also become a binding responsi­bility criterion.“ (paragraph 16)

End the separation of families!

Equal rights for all children and families!

Contact details for the families whose stories are included in this campaign as well as other separated families can be shared with the consent of the families in order to support legal efforts to reunite them with their loved ones. Contact us on facebook: www.facebook.com/w2eu.gr or email to: contact@w2eu.info

copyright: Salinia Stroux

EXPERT OPINION

Psychosocial repercussions of the authorities’ practice of not reuniting families 

From a psychological point of view, it is unjustifiable in a family separated by the circumstances of the flight, to deny the affected children to re-establish a relationship and bond with the parents and / or siblings, or other closest caregivers, who have taken the place of the parents (grandparents, aunts / Uncle), unless their behaviour is per se endangering the child’s well-being (‘Kindeswohlgefährdung’).

The experience of children who, together with their family, survive an often very long flight, is characterized by extreme forms of relying on one another. The habitual social framework is missing, which was enabling the children to take development steps outside of the core family. Instead, the family is dependent on itself in an unknown environment. The children are required to perform enormous adaption, which often puts them an unhealthy dependency from their parents or other adult relatives who replace them. On the other hand, children generally adapt to new environments and languages faster than adults, so that because of their faster language acquisition, they often have to carry out translations for their parents. They also experience their adult relatives helpless, humiliated and sometimes ill-treated by the authorities and police officers. Experiences of safety from earlier childhood are lost both externally and internally.

If, after such experiences, the children are separated from their parents and / or siblings or other close relatives, by the circumstances of the flight, they leave the family framework under circumstances that are already stressful. In addition to war and violence as reason for fleeing, many families have already experienced massive exclusion. As a result of the flight and its traumatizing circumstances – also in Greece, the families come under additional pressure and sometimes lose their old functions. On the other hand, they are the reference framework that is necessary for survival. Many children find themselves suddenly without their habitual family environment and often have to adapt to another foreign language in a foreign culture and environment without their main caregivers. The children are now trying to orient themselves on the given reference frame of the current place of residence, but remain very closely connected internally and through multiple phone calls every day to the separated family of origin – a family framework which is not practically liveable.

Children separated from families can have unforeseeable effects on their psychological development. In particular, their emotional stability can be so severely affected that the factual impossibility of seeing the family of origin again endangers the child’s well-being. Also, children who have been separated from individual main caregivers (mother, father, brother, sister, etc.) need contact with these people for their further development. If the family or individual family members remain unreachable due to authorities’ omissions, it is sufficiently likely that a child will dive successively deeper into psycho-somatic symptoms and develop them into a (virtual) world of their own. These children in a dysfunctional way, try to stay in touch with the separated parents, siblings or other close relatives who are replacing them, knowing and feeling that they are in a likewise bad psychological condition. Depression and other symptoms often become a self-affirming bond, which aims to keep the torn family together. This is particularly important if children are separated in the main phase bonding (up to the age of 3 years), as otherwise the bonding possibilities are likely to be disrupted.

A permanent separation from the family creates increasing risks for the psychological development of all affected children and consequently endangers their best interests.

Dipl. Psychologist and Family Therapist Reimer Dohrn

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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