Asylum Seekers Stories By Voices from the Road

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Friday, February 23, 2018
Asylum Seekers Stories By Voices from the Road

February 2017 
My name is Guhdar Younis Ibrahim. I come from Kurdistan, Iraq. I am 45 years old, and I have six children -- four boys and two girls. 
My life used to be good. I had my own shop, and I led a normal life, until my brother fell in love with the wrong girl in Zakho, our town. She was beautiful, but her parents didn't want her to marry him. So he and his beloved eloped and fled the country. 
Days later, the bride's parents came to my house, armed, and told me I had three options.
Either I handed over one of my daughters for their son to marry, or I paid a $6,000 fine, or they would kill me within a week.
I am not a wealthy man, and I couldn't possibly have paid them that sum. And the option of handing over my daughter like that was not an option. So we fled, even though Zakho is where my children feel at home and where my soul finds peace.
I had to move quickly. We went to Turkey in September 2016, knowing that we would only stay there a short while. The Turkish authorities arrest anyone who has entered illegally, and Kurds get the worst treatment of all.
We went down to Izmir on the coast, and we managed to find a smuggler who promised to take us all to Italy. That way we could avoid getting trapped in Greece. His fee was very high, but he seemed confident so we trusted him. 
One night, we climbed into a wooden boat, our hearts filled with fear and hope as we turned our backs on Turkey.
The smuggler claimed we would reach the Sicilian port of Catania within 24 hours. But things did not turn out that way.
Four hours after we left Izmir the waves became very high, and our boat rocked from side to side, making us fear we might drown. 
We had no choice but to contact the Greek coast guard. They saved us and took us to Samos island.
Now, we've been stuck here for four months. We've been told we have to apply for asylum in Greece, or else we won't be allowed to leave Samos. We've also been warned we won't even have access to proper healthcare if we don't apply.
But our goal wasn't to seek asylum here.
To date, the only experience we've had of Greece has been of the Greek authorities holding us here for no reason.
We want to go to a place like Germany, France or Sweden, where refugees are more welcome.
Look at the camp here in Samos; it looks like a detention camp, not a warm refugee camp like it should be.
None of us here in Samos came because we wanted to. We came because we wanted to stay alive and to ensure our children have a chance at a future. 
We didn't expect to be treated this way. 
The food isn't fit for humans. We can't eat what they give us, so every day I go to the port for eight to 12 hours, just to clear my head, and to fish for my family so we can have a fresh, decent meal.
Every day, my children ask me why we came here. They say life would have been better had we stayed back home. But for me, all the options are bad -- either we're prisoners here, or I would have been killed back home.
My son, who is 18, has asthma, and he is psychologically not well. Last month he cut himself with a knife and said: "I don’t want to live here." 
My daughters are also depressed.

But keep telling my kids that there is no way back to Kurdistan or Turkey.
I have asked for medical care for my son, but we keep getting told to wait. When I complained, they told me we should apply for asylum to speed things up. But that's not right.
Like in prisons all over the world, the camp authorities don't really let us speak to journalists. They don't want anyone to know how terrible things are here. When we hold protests demanding better food and living conditions, the police beat us.
It feels like we are kept from view, so that everyone can pretend like we don't exist.
It shouldn't be that way. 
I hope the world takes mercy on us and understands what we're going through.

February 2018
Guhdar with his family are still in Samos till the moment of writing this post.
“Last week I came back to the container we live in inside the hotspot (the camp) in Samos to tell my family the bad news. My children were waiting for me in bed, huddled together like little rabbits, and their eyes glimmering with anticipation.
I told them our application for asylum in Greece had been rejected for a second time. They all burst into tears,” he said.
Guhdar has stopped going to fish and he is heartbroken to see his children denied an education, doing little with their time but playing with junk and broken bikes. They play hide and seek — but rather than cops and robbers, their characters are refugees and police. 
The family had been in Samos’s hotspot for 16 months and after the second rejection and without the right to remain in Greece, Guhdar and his family now face the threat of detention, and even deportation to Turkey — where they, as Kurds, would not feel safe. 
Asked how he would feel if they had to return to Iraq, Guhdar said: “That would be our worst nightmare.”

Photo by Mohammad Ghannam MSF

Φωτογραφία του χρήστη Voices from the road.


My name is Jamal and I am 50 years old. I am Kurdish from Iran, but for 12 years I lived and worked as a university professor in Erbil, Iraq after I fled my home country because of my activism. 
I have a wife, Zahra, in Iran, and my two grown children live in Germany. They are 25 and 20 years old. 
I fled Iran in 2005 after the authorities there imprisoned me because of my political beliefs. The regime threatened my wife, telling her that either she convinced me to return to the country — so I could be thrown back into jail — or she would lose her job. I decided the only way out for her was for us to divorce, even though in my heart she is still my wife and we still love each other very much.
Even in Iraq, my safety wasn’t guaranteed. In 2016, Tehran asked the Kurdistan regional government to deport me, reporting the fact I’d been arrested many times in Iran since 1984. I really had nowhere else to go but Europe. Turkey, as you know, isn’t a safe country for Kurds.
I came here to Samos in September 2016, feeling like a bird freed from its cage. But ever since then, I’ve been waiting for permission to go to Athens. 
I had been dreaming of living the rest of my life in a country where human rights are respected, where there is a democracy. But less than 24 hours after I arrived in Greece I knew it was a pipe dream, and that I had simply gone from one cage to another. 
I live in a tent now, for one person. Inside, I have my clothes, a heater to keep me warm and to heat up my bread, and a toy that reminds me of my children. I also keep all my dreams and memories with me, in my mind. 
One could call Samos the most beautiful jail in the world. It’s a lovely island, the weather is beautiful. But that’s only for tourists. For us, Samos is a detention center. 
I wish people would understand: no one leaves his country for a packet of juice and a biscuit. 
We’re going to be stuck here for months. I can’t go back, but I am not allowed to move forward either. All I can do is hope — but hope for what? 
I’ve just gone from one exile to another. I dream of being reunited with my family one day. I am tired of running all the time.
Now I am in Athens for 8 months and I feel l like I have been moved to a bigger prison.
Coming to Athens had given me hope and joy because I thought it will be one step closer to join my son in Germany but it did not work.
The Germans refused my application for a family reunion. 
However, I am still feeling like a trapped bird, exiled and isolated from his family.

Photo by Mohammad Ghannam MSF

Φωτογραφία του χρήστη Voices from the road.