Tag Archive for 'refugee'

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

Update: Refugee protest against the delays in Dublin transfers of family reunifications from Greece to Germany Athens, 11.10.2017

We are more than 4,000 persons awaiting our transfer to Germany. Most of us are families who are waiting already more than 18 months in Greece under deplorable conditions. We escaped from war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to find security and peace near our beloved. We applied for family reunification. Many of us have received the acceptance from Germany already since more than 6 months, passing the maximum deadline for the transfer as prescribed by law. The waiting period nowadays has reached nine months from the date of acceptance. Currently, people who get tickets issued have received their acceptance in January 2017. Everybody has to pay his/her ticket by him/herself.

We are protesting since more than three months against the limitation of transfers to Germany for family reunifications and we will continue our struggle until we succeed. As it was agreed on 17th of September during the last protest we held in front of the Athens Asylum Service near Katekhaki metro station, a refugee delegation consisting of four representatives visited the offices on October 5, 2017 in order to get the promised update on promised improvements from the responsible authorities. During the visit, representatives of the asylum service and the Dublin Unit specifically, informed us that the number of transfers had increased to over 70 persons per month since July and had reached approx. 300 in September. According to them, the Greek authorities had the will to further increase transfers to 600 per month. In the meantime, the Dublin office has reportedly employed three additional officers in order to fasten up procedures. Furthermore, they acknowledged the problem of the expenses forced upon us for the airplane tickets and expressed their will to improve the situation by hiring a number of charters only for family reunification transfers. Finally, and answering our demand on transparency, the exact numbers of transfers will be issued on the internet-page of the asylum service.

– We have been promised many things.
– We have heard these promises many times.
– We are tired to listen, tired to wait, tired to hope.
– We have not received at any point of time a clear answer on who is deciding how many people can leave in one month or who is putting numeral limits on transfers.
– We have not received at any point a clear answer on who is deciding which persons are considered vulnerable and can travel faster and based on which criteria this is decided.
– We just want to know now when we will go to our families. And we want to be treated all equally without any discrimination and according to law.

On Monday 16th of October 2017 we will meet the authorities again, as they promised us that until then they will be able to show us results of their promises. We are in expectation of a quick positive change with prompt transfers to destination countries for all separated families. Otherwise we will have to escalate our struggle for our fair demands.

Refugees from different camps and places in Greece

UPDATE: Hunger strike in the hot spot on Samos Island

another refugee needing emergency care after not eating for 3 days in the camp's hunger strike. For months he has not received proper medical treatment for his condition.

Posted by Hessam Ghafelpour on Montag, 6. Februar 2017

In it’s third day of hunger strike a second protestor had to be transferred to the doctor.

Letter by the last 9 refugees staying in Oraiokastro Camp

Dear Authorities,

We the last remaining nine residents of Oraikastro Refugee Camp are PROTESTING against the moving of us to yet another military camp. We understand you have to close the camp.

But we do not want to be moved to another camp. The camps Veria and Alexandria that you are suggesting is too far away. We have friends and family in Thessaloniki. Some of us have been split up from our siblings as we are not considered to be part of their family. We may not even be relocated to the same country as them. We may not get the opportunity to see them for many years. Please don’t rob us of this last opportunity to stay near our friends and family before relocation.

We stayed in Idomeni camp and now Oraikastro in very poor inhumane conditions. We don’t want to move to another camp and be unsettled again. No matter how good the other camps may be, camp conditions are not good for us. It takes time to become used to a new camp and every move has always led to new problems. None of these camps are suitable for human beings to live in.

Some of us have also had our second interviews and we were promised to be moved into an apartment or hotel after the second interview.

Today the families were moved to a hotel. We understand that families with children should be priority and we are happy they will be living in better conditions now. BUT WHAT ABOUT US??

We simply asked for our right to stay in a better condition also and we were refused. Unfortunately one of the ministry professionals who attended today was rude to us. We are sorry that some of us shouted and became angry. We are sorry that one of us pushed a member of staff over. We have suffered a lot in our countries that sometimes we can’t control our emotions. We are sorry if we disrespected or hurt anyone. WE ARE SORRY.

We fled war. Our family members and loved ones died. We are split up from our families. We lost homes, our education and our dignity. We are traumatised and although we may seem like strong young men some of us are vulnerable too. WHAT ABOUT US??

We have been told that if we don’t move then the Greek ministry will send police to evacuate us by force. We know what that means and we have seen it before. THEY WILL HURT US.

We the last nine remaining residents of Oraikastro Refugee Camp are appealing to UNHCR and Norwegian Refugee Council to please help us. We don’t want to fight and we don’t want them to force and hurt us either.
We promise to be calm and we promise to peacefully protest but we don’t want to move to another camp.

Norwegian Refugee Council and UNHCR please give us back our dignity and keep us safe from the harsh nature of the military police who maybe coming for us. Please protect us. Give us our right to at least a standard living condition. There is nine people left and we request three rooms for nine of us to share. That is all.

Abdo Alrajab, Raed Anbtawy, Mustafa Aldeider, Shas Alkasem, Basel Yatakan, Abdelilah Alhamoud, Loay Ammar, Mahamoud Bayer AND Belal Mustafa

Hunger Strike in Elliniko Camp

On 5th February 2017, most of the adults among the 711 refugees residing in a state-run Camp in the former Athens National Airport (Camp Elliniko II), in the majority coming from Afghanistan, started a hunger strike to protest against their degrading living conditions demanding for their transfer to homes, papers and freedom of movement for all. As reported by one of the refugees, it is very likely that residents of the two other camps in Elliniko (the nearby Olympic baseball and a hockey stadiums) might join in the protest tomorrow.

Hunger strike starts in Elliniko Camp

Among the 1,600 refugees living in the three camps of Elliniko there are some who are there already since one year. Elliniko Camp was opened already back in autoumn 2015, in a period where thousands were arriving to Greece and many stayed homeless in the parks and squares of Athens. Planned as a temporary solution to ‘clear’ the capitals’ streets from the many homeless and repeatedly announced to be closed as belonging to one of the most infamous camps in Greece, it still stayed open until today, but always portrayed as ‘provisory’ under the UNHCR-category ‘informal site’.
Continue reading ‘Hunger Strike in Elliniko Camp’

Refugees on hunger strike

In Samos hot spot and corinth pre-removal detention center refugees are protesting devastating living conditions and lacking access to asylum procedures as well as long waiting periods.

copyright: Hessam Ghafelpour

On 31st January refugee from Iran and Afghanistan in the hot spot in Samos started a hunger strike protesting against the long lasting asylum procedures, inhuman detention conditions and the restriction of their freedom. On the second day, one of the strikers

watch the strike here

copyright: Generation outside of Afghanistan

Yesterday detained refugees in Corinth pre-removal detention centre denied to eat lunch and dinner in protest against the bad detention conditions and lack of access to the asylum procedure. According to refugees, some of the detainees have been more than six months in detention. They suffer from bad food and the lack of warm water amongst others. Mainly people from Pakistan and Algeria are detained in Corinth these days. The refugees on hunger strike demand first of all their freedom.

interview from Corinth

Welcome to Europe / Infomobile Griechenland: Aufruf zur Solidarität mit Flüchtlingen in Griechenland

Gegenwärtig erreichen – nach Schätzungen des UNHCR – täglich etwa 1.000 Flüchtlinge Griechenland. Die meisten von ihnen kommen von der benachbarten Türkei aus auf den Ägäis-Inseln an. Lesbos, Chios, Kos, Samos, Leros – um nur einige der Inseln mit einer hohen Zahl von Neuankommenden zu nennen – stehen vor einer humanitären Krise, mit der sich nicht allein die griechische Regierung beschäftigen kann. Die staatlichen Stellen sind von den stark ansteigenden Flüchtlingszahlen komplett überfordert und internationale Hilfe ist kaum vorhanden.

Europäische Solidarität ist dringend notwendig.

Auch in der aktuellen politischen und wirtschaftlichen Krise zeigen sich Menschen aus der Zivilgesellschaft in Griechenland solidarisch und versuchen gemeinsam mit der lokalen Bevölkerung und Touristen dort Unterstützung zu leisten, wo sie am dringendsten benötigt wird. Hunderte, wenn nicht Tausende von Flüchtlingen, verbringen Tage und Wochen unter verheerenden Bedingungen in provisorischen Zeltlagern, Haftzentren oder auf der Straße, dem Wetter ausgesetzt und ungeschützt. Sie haben keinerlei sanitäre Infrastruktur, die den Bedürfnissen genügen könnte. Die Frage der Hygiene wird mehr und mehr zu einem ernsten Problem. Viele Menschen erleiden Hauterkrankungen oder Infektionen. Es fehlt an Nahrungsmitteln, Kleidung, Hygieneartikeln, Medikamenten, Reinigungsmitteln, Zelten etc. Alles wird gebraucht.

Homeless refugees in Omonia Square

Homeless refugees in Omonia Square


Continue reading ‘Welcome to Europe / Infomobile Griechenland: Aufruf zur Solidarität mit Flüchtlingen in Griechenland’

DW: Syrian Families Greek Odyssee

Syrians are currently the second-largest refugee group to cross illegally into the European Union. Most of them arrive in Greece.

DW’s Marine Olivesi accompanied one Syrian-Palestinian family on their arduous adventure.

Sixteen Syrians minus a baby girl are putting their shoe laces back on. The extended family has just been released from the police station of Mitilini, on the Greek island of Lesbos.
“Did you eat in the prison?,” asks local activist Efi Latsoudi. “Did they give you food regularly?”
“Bad food,” answers one of the teenagers.
“And how many days did you stay inside?”
“Four days.”
“With the kids?”
“Yes, with the kids.”0,,16697052_401,00
Continue reading ‘DW: Syrian Families Greek Odyssee’

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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