We are still in Belgrade. One of us joined the Cars Of Hope Wuppertal team, who are working with refugees and support the Soul Welders projects in the Serbian capital. Another short impression from Belgrade.
Solidarity not charity! The situation in Belgrade changed since the last time I was here. The conditions people are forced to live in due to border closures are dehumanizing and many people work hard to stop that.
Yesterday there was a demonstration against Refugee detentions in Hungary and border closures in Röszke, at the Hungarian/Serbian border.
Image: Demo against Refugee detentions and border closures in Röszke, Hungary on Saturday. Image by Twitter account freetheroszke11
I had actually planned to go to the demonstration but changed my mind as we are leaving Belgrade in a few days and there are loads of work to be done here.
Yesterday we supported the shower truck of Soul Welders again. This time at the barracks behind the main train station of Belgrade. Many refugees in Serbia live outside or in abandoned buildings and have no access to running water. Refugees can take a shower in the shower truck and get a clean towel, a t-shirt, socks and underwear. Soul Welders also distribute soap, shampoo, tooth paste and tooth brushes. The truck drives to Belgrade, the Serbian/Croatian border and the Serbian/Hungarian border. Soon we will publish an interview with Soul Welders activists about this great project.
Nobody knows how much people are living in and around the barracks. I guess there are about 1500 people here. Many people here are nervous, because they are afraid to be evicted soon. The huge construction site of the “Belgrade Waterfront” gentrification project is coming closer and closer to the barracks.
We observed that Serbian police is doing a lot of ID checks around the main train station in Belgrade. Much more compared to the last time we were here (February 2017). We also spoke with people who were intimidated by Serbian cops, especially close to the borders. People who are supporting refugees there hear sentences like: ‘The next time we see you here, we will arrest you! ”
That makes the conditions people are working in even more difficult, but the motivation to continue the work with refugees is high.
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As of February 8th, refugees living in tents in the Torbalı and Bayındır districts of İzmir are being evacuated in accordance with district governorate decisions through the intervention of its gendarmerie State paramilitary force. The tent areas are being removed. Thousands of refugees, who left their countries because of the civil war in Syria, have been struggling to survive as seasonal agricultural workers and living in the tent camps, constructed through their own efforts, in rural areas of İzmir.
Since Wednesday, many tent areas have been removed by gendarmerie without reason. Some tent areas were given until Monday to evacuate. Refugees whose assigned residence city is not İzmir have been expelled and people are being told they are expected to rent homes. However, for the majority of the refugees who work for very low wages it is not possible to earn enough money to move into a house.
In return for originally directing people to the tent areas and finding people jobs, “dayıbaşı” (the bosses of the areas) deduct money from refugees’ wages, pay irregularly or do not pay people at all. Since the agricultural workers need to live close to their working areas and don’t know the local language [Turkish], they are forced to accept the dayıbaşı system. Thus, being evacuated from their tents means taking away their means to an income.
What this means is that refugees who already left everything they had in Syria will, for a long time, now be unable to earn an income — demand for seasonal workers decreases in winter. They have survived through the cold weather thanks to tents, food, firing, diapers and hygiene products provided by a limited number of volunteers and CSO’s. The tent areas, which lack toilets, showers, clean water and have been covered in mud from rainfall, are being ignored by the authorities.
These conditions affect children the most. Children are exposed to illnesses and developmental disabilities as a result of poor nutrition and health conditions. Hospitals deny treatment to refugees without documents. Even the death of baby Noaf, of pneumonia, after being refused hospital treatment did not impact government policy; which makes it particularly hard for refugees to get registered. And there are lots of children suffering from pneumonia in the camps. The threat of forced displacement by the gendarmerie further deepens the trauma of children, initially caused by the civil war and subsequent poor living conditions.
Last May, before the harvest, these tent areas providing a living space for nearly 2,000 people were removed by the district governorate. It is thought-provoking that the same action is now being taken just before seed-time, when the demand for seasonal workers increases. All this despite three years of speculation that the district governorate and municipality had plans to move people from the tent areas to one central place; to improve the living conditions of agricultural worker refugees.
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.
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’.
Refugees used to live in the former airport throughout 2016 for months suffering under overcrowdedness, filthy insufficient toilettes and showers, inadequate food and without any information or legal aid. While the population has been reduced visible, the camp still is inadequate to host refugees and living conditions remain poor. Many highly vulnerable people still stay there. There are elderly, pregnant women, single mothers, people with mental health problems, people with chronic and
heavy diseases etc. In the meantime, many refugees are living there since one year.
Amongst others, refugees who started the protest complained about the quality of the food, lack of basic needs as for example milk and diapers for babies and toddlers, no hot water, no laundry, lack of translators for sick persons who have to go to hospital and no coverage of their transportation there. It is matter of survival, they state. They do not care about having more clothes or more food. But: food which doesnt’ make sick. Enough food, in order not to be hungry. Heating in order not to freeze.
“There are only a hand full of persons among us who speak English
and who can translate. They have to accompany anyone who gets sick to
the hospital, as the authorities and NGOs do not provide us with
translators for these purposes nor are there translators found in the
hospitals. We don’t even get the transportation costs re-funded for the
public transport used while accompanying some sick person. Some of us
got fined more than 30 times already for using the public transportation
without tickets. We will have severe problems in our asylum procedure,
to get an ID and passport, if recognized, if we have open fines to pay.
And they will increase successively if unpaid.”
Refugees living in Elliniko are suffering also mentally from the living conditions in the camp and their insecure situation in Greece and Europe.
“There are often fights. No one feels safe. People are in a
miserable state. they don’t know what to do. Many fear to stay forever
in Greece, where even Greek people cannot survive. There are no jobs,
there is no future. We fear European policies, which aim to increase
deportations of Afghans. Some of us have their relatives back in
Afghanistan. They cannot sleep at night, because they left them back in
conflict. There are people staying here who drink and fight. There is no
safety in the camp. There is no survival in Greece and there is no
safety in Afghanistan.”
More than 60% of the refugees in all three Elliniko Sites are women and
Amongst the refugee population in the camp are women with their kids awaiting their transfer to another European state where their husbands are. There are small kids with Asthma, like this 4-year-old girl who has to go to hospital almost every single night. People lock the doors to protect the salon from the cold, so no fresh air can enter. Many people smoke inside, others cook. The sewage water from the toilettes smells. So many get problems to breath. There is also a young man who had so
severe psychological problems, that he had to be transferred into the psychiatric clinic for a month. He was paranoid, thinking at any point someone wanted to kill him. He is taking medicaments now, but he is back in the camp, staying among 700 persons with his family. There is this pregnant lady in her 6th month, who often gets pains and has to visit the hospital again and again. She still lives there. Another woman just gave birth in there one month before. She is also still there.
Now, the refugees are trying to rase their voices to the world. They are already self-organised, having elected five representatives and holding plenaries since months. Now they want to provoke change, as they cannot suffer any longer.
“I am in danger in Afghanistan. I am even in danger in Greece. I was
told to get myself an appointment at the Asylum Service via Skpye, but
Skype isn’t responding.”
A woman holding a speech on the protest today said:
“We left Afghanistan because of the life-threatening situation and
for a future for our children. You closed the borders in front of us.
You locked us up in Greece. Now you are responsible to provide us with
what is needed to survive at least. Our children get sick here, and the
one doctor we have here for a few hours a day doesn’t give them medicine
but tell them to go an drink some water or some juice. We have the right
to have a good doctor, to have medicine. Even a pregnant woman gave
birth here, because the ambulance came so late.”
“There are mice in here. There is so much garbage outside. People
get sick from being here.”
Most adult refugees living in the camp attended the hunger strike today and plan to continue until the authorities, UNHCR and Danish Refugee Council (DRC) who are responsible in the camp listen and react to their demands:
– Open homes! Open the cities! Immediate evacuation of all into
dignified living conditions!
“We need to stay in the city and in our own rooms or flats. We don’t
want to be transferred to just another tent camp or prefab camp at the
margins of society! We want our children to go to school and we want to
go to work and earn our own living by ourselves in order to build up our
lives independently. We want to be free and participate in daily life as
all others do in this country.”
– Give papers and residence to stay to all refugees and allow anyone who
wants to move to another country to relocate legally and to join their
relatives! No discrimination of certain nationalities!
“The relocation program is discriminative. The right of free
movement should be given to all refugees. Many have their mothers,
fathers, brothers or sisters, their children or grandparents abroad.
Everybody has the right to be with his or her families. All people have
the right to live and work, somewhere, where it is possible to survive.
Even Greeks are searching for jobs outside of Greece. They are surviving
by returning to stay with their families. We have no one to help us
here, no one to open his or her house for us or to give us food. If
there is a chance to survive here, to find a job here, then we will
stay. As long as there isn’t, we should be allowed to move on legally.”
– Stop deportations to Turkey! Stop deportations to Greece! Stop
deportations to Afghanistan! Stop deportations to any unsafe countries!
The right to life for all!
“We fight for our rights. We fight for the rights of the others too.
The ones who are on the islands now, should be allowed to come to the
mainland, to seek asylum here, to stay here. Currently, people hardly
arrive to Greece anymore. The Turkish and the Greek Coast Guard,
together with the European Coast Guard fight refugees back on the sea
border. They stop them, from arriving to a place for asylum and
protection. The few who still come should be given a chance to stay.
Some of them who were allowed to move to the mainland arrive to Athens
without a place to stay. They are not permitted in the camps. Others
come to Athens without permit. They even have to return to the island.
We want freedom for all.”
“They want to start returning refugees who have been fingerprinted
here after March 15th of this year, back to Greece. No one can survive
here. We like to be in Greece. There are some nice people here, the
weather is good and the mentality of the Greeks is a little bit like our
own. But there are no jobs and there is no help for us. So how can we
find a home? How can we secure food for our kids? We also liked much
more to be in our homes in Afghanistan. But there is so safety but but
“Europe is talking about the deportation of Afghans. Some countries
started already to return our people back even though their lives are in
danger in Afghanistan. Our president has signed a deal with Europe to
get money in exchange for taking refugees back. But our own politicians
keep their families in Europe for their own safety. European governments
advice their own citizens not to visit our country for safety reasons.
If we go back, we will die. Everybodys’ lives matter!”