The other face of Europe

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Photo: Yousif Al Shewaili

On July 14, 15 Syrian families protested in the streets of Mytilene after the Greek government rejected their asylum applications and threatened them with deportation. The Greek police violently ended the demonstration and injured a girl on the ankle and hit a pregnant woman in the stomach. We meet one of the family a few days after the protests in Moria. We want to know what human rights and freedom of expression from the EU really means.

It is too warm, too loud, and too dangerous

It is warm, dusty and flies buzz about trash and dog droppings. Tent after tent is lined up in Moria, Europe’s largest refugee camp. The “Syrian Quarter” is a fenced-in tent collection, with several families living here together. There is electricity, if only for two hours a day, and the toilets are simple Dixie toilets that hundreds of people share. The camp is on a slope, trails are winding between the tents up the mountain.

A friend of the family greets us and we enter her simple home. “Welcome, my friends” she says and we sit down together on a mattress on the floor. Raaed, his wife, and their six children share the mattress at night, but most of the time they can’t sleep anyway, tells Raed’s wife Dalia explaining that it is too warm, too loud, and too dangerous. The family has been living here for seven months, and they have to queue for hours every day to get food. There is only one bottle of water per head per day. Her youngest daughter crawls on her lap: “Look at how we live. My kids don’t even have clothes.”

Raaed lived in Germany

To our great surprise, Raaed speaks German: “I lived in Frankfurt for two years and worked as a mechatronic engineer in Darmstadt.” We ask why he was no longer in Germany and he tells us that he was denied family reunification: “I love my wife and children and they were in great danger, I had to go back to Syria to protect them.” And so he voluntarily decided to return.

Together with his family, Raaed had to take the dangerous flight a second time putting himself in the hands of human traffickers, leaving everything behind and venturing across the sea. The mood in the EU has changed, far-right parties are growing, asylum procedures are being delayed and the problems are being outsourced to the Greek islands, far away from the public, behind the fences and walls of the camps. And so the first application for asylum is rejected for Raaed and his family. The reason: Turkey is a safe country for Syrian refugees. International organizations such as Amnesty International have long complained about the inhumane conditions in Turkey and report exploitation, torture and ill-treatment. And at the same time, Turkey is the country worldwide that receives the most refugees by far. Asylum seekers are sometimes threatened with violence if they do not want to sign the documents on their alleged “voluntary return”.

Syrians do not receive asylum

Raaed and his wife file an objection; a return to Turkey or Syria is not an option for them. Refugees have the opportunity to do this once, with a second negative decision no further objection is possible, but only a new application and only if there are new reasons for fleeing. The problem is Syrian applications are now categorically rejected and the reason is the same as in Raaed’s case, so that regardless of the reason for the flight, people are denied asylum directly. Only two Syrian families have been granted asylum this year, and 1,400 cases have been issued with negative decisions.

A few days ago, Raaed also received the second and thus last negative decision. But Raaed knows his rights, he knows that the EU is breaking its own right to asylum here. He rounds up 14 other families and together they decide to protest peacefully.

Protest for freedom

On July 14th they gather at the port in Mytilene, the largest city on the island. They demand their onward journey to Athens. His six children are with him, as is Dalia. She is eight months pregnant. “Freedom” is written on the chest of her son, they are all sitting on the side of the road, peaceful and hoping that someone will come and listen to them. But it happens completely different: The police come with batons and start to disperse the group. Suddenly you hear screams -the police hit Raaed. Dalia rushes to her husband’s aid and the police hit the pregnant woman in the stomach. A Syrian toddler starts screaming and she is also victim of police violence. Another family is attacked and people are forced to leave the port.

They move on and go to a park, but the police threaten them again. In the end, the families gather again in Saphos Square in the city centre, but the police find them and force people to give up their protest – “Illegals have no right to protest”. The families are put on a bus and brought back to Moria.

We ask the family whether they have received medical attention, whether the pregnant Dalia is doing well. Raaed smiles mildly: “If you want to see a doctor, you have to queue in the sun for hours. There are huge crowds of people trying to get an appointment. If you weren’t sick before, you are afterwards l.” Her due date is imminent and she explains to us: “I very much hope that I can give birth in the hospital, but the ambulance often does not come. And when I am in the hospital, my husband has to decide whether to leave me or the children alone because the children are not allowed in the hospital and at the same time there is no care in Moria.”

We are impressed by Raaed, Dalia and their children -their strength and courage. But the EU shows its true face at its external borders. While human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights are all written on the flag in Brussels, the Aegean Islands are arbitrary. Police violence and racism have become a common occurrence. People are deported without a hearing. Children live in cages and the severely sick die in misery. But with Corona, the EU has found the perfect excuse to lock people up behind walls so that tourists can happily enjoy their cocktails on the beach. Out of sight out of mind.

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