Human aspect of refugee crisis: When can my life start again?

This text is published with permission from Are You Syrious (AYS): a group of volunteers working with refugees across Europe. They produce excellent daily news digests on refugee issues, you can read it here.

Refugees seeking asylum in Greece are being given dates up to a year in the future just for the first interview with the asylum office. And when that date does finally arrive there is no guarantee that the interview will even happen.

One such individual has spoken to AYS about his experience of applying for asylum in Greece and the many frustrations he has come across. He has just been told that his final decision will take a further year. Why? Because employees of the Greek asylum service are striking along with other Greek labour unions against the latest bailout bill going through the Greek parliament.

As the EU squeeze Greece, so the Government squeeze the working people and in turn those who seek their services are also negatively affected. Accurate figures for the number of those awaiting asylum decisions in Greece are not available at the time of publishing. It seems that they are a little behind with their statistics. What follows is the testimony of one of the many young people whose lives are effected by the bureaucratic inefficiencies of the Greek asylum process:

My name is Ramiar, I am a political refugee from Iran. I arrived in Greece and have been living here for almost two years. Since I arrived my time and life have been on hold, waiting without any status or basic human rights. It took me over a year in the beginning to get a Skype interview with the asylum service (Skype is the only way to do this). After I finally managed to get through, they told me that I needed to wait nine months to have my first interview to seek asylum. I was disappointed that I would need to wait even longer, but totally understanding, since over 50,000 people are going through the same system and it would surely take long to process them.

During the one year and nine months were my life felt on hold, I committed no crime or wrongdoing. I focused all my energy on being helpful, applying the languages that I could speak and any other skills that I had to help others that were in the same situation as me; I worked as volunteer in Lesvos from the very first moment I arrived (I am featured on a BBC story, that shows what I was doing and where I was working).

Eventually in March 2016 our organisation was pushed out from the island, at which point a collective of volunteers including myself came together to found Khora, a community center that serves over 1,000 people daily with their basic or complicated needs, which I have dedicated myself to for the past 18 months.

Once in Athens I managed to get accommodation for myself, without any support from the authorities and was awarded a scholarship to study at the American College of Greece through a specific program for refugees. All this was possible with the protection card that was given to me by the asylum service. All of this was done with the hope that on December 19th 2017, I would have my interview and be given my basic rights.

When it came to the moment of my second interview, a day I had waited so long for, preparing myself mentally, I was told that my case handler was on holiday. I was sad and frustrated, but again accepted that I would have to wait just a little longer, as it was rescheduled for January 15th 2018, around 20 days later. Finally, when the date came around, I went to the asylum office, at which point I learnt that my case handler was on strike for their low salary, they told me that yet again my interview would be rescheduled.

Of course I was pissed off and angry, but with understanding that other people also need to seek their rights. It wasn’t until they told me that the date of my next interview will be the 23rd of January 2019, more than a year from now, that I really began to feel upset. Back in Iran I was arrested, assaulted, punished and tortured for no other reason than being a tattoo artist, for speaking my mind and using my right to protest. Actions that are known as a sin by the Iranian government. I left to find peace, safety and to live my life without judgement, in a country where I would be allowed my basic rights. Being on hold for three years with no knowledge of what might happen to me is not much less than the torture and pain that I went through in an Iranian jail, it’s unjust, unfair and an abuse of human rights.

I am not the only one in this position; there are thousands other people from everywhere that are going through similar, or even worse, experiences. Many of these people do not have the opportunity, connections, or language to shout and speak up and ask for their basic rights. I want to expose this story so that the world knows the pain and suffering that I and so many others are enduring.

Some people may want to ask why I am frustrated and upset, I have a place to stay, food to eat and am able to study and be a part of a big project. To this I would clarify; my flat is rented in someone else’s name as I don’t have the right to do this, I eat for free at Khora, unless I am given asylum here I can’t keep studying, or ask for an extension to my scholarship, the money I do have is trapped in my paypal account, since it has been closed and put on hold because they will not accept my protection card as an official form of ID, I am also unable to get a bank account until I am given asylum. My rights as a human being are not being met.”

That damage can be done to humans by authoritarian states, torture and war, we know. That is why people seek asylum in the first place. That such damage is continued through poor management of a situation and ineffective policies, is ridiculous and unacceptable. This may be only one aspect of the broken system we fight with daily, but it also something simple to fix.

So let’s focus on that, and fix it.

Emma Musty, AYS and Khora volunteer