The “invisible” people of Athens and the journey of an unaccompanied minor that remains homeless
Day by day the problem of people who are left out of the protection system, a system far from complete, intensifies. As a result of this reality, even more individuals lack legal documents, are homeless and have no access to services. These people remain “invisible” while at the same time they are exposed to countless dangers and no one seems to take notice of them. Within this population there are many vulnerable people, such as women, children and particularly unaccompanied minors and people with health problems.
Mustafa’s testimony records the dangers and problems that an individual seeking asylum and international protection faces.
Above all, however, it reveals another major problem that a large number of asylum seekers have to deal with; specifically that they are not recognized as citizens of any country remaining in essence stateless. This phenomenon arises due to the lack of information that both the reception country’s authorities and the refugees themselves are subject to, forcing the latter to register a country of origin, any country, in order to avoid obstacles regarding their asylum procedure. In fact they are the people affected by statelessness.
In the case of Mustafa, the Embassy of Afghanistan did not recognized him as a citizen, nor did the Iranian authorities, the authorities of the country he was raised and educated in.
For obvious reasons, the real name of the interviewee is not mentioned.
“My name is Mustafa and I was born in Afghanistan, but I was a baby when we left for Iran with my family. Today, I am sixteen (16) years old. My family consists of three persons; me, my mom and my younger brother who is fourteen (14) years old. My brother is now in Iran with my mother. I never met my father, but from what my mother told me he was fighting in the wars back home. He left my mother and married another woman. My mother says he was killed in one of the conflicts. ”
Life in Iran and the Refugee Journey
“I went to school in Iran for eight (8) years. At some point I was kicked out of school because I didn’t have papers. The situation there was very difficult because every day I was living in fear that they would arrest us and return us to Afghanistan. In the region I come from, the war continues to this day, and the Taliban dominate the territory. My mom used to work in different houses, she was cleaning, she was doing everything she could to bring at least one plate of food on our table. We were able to pull our weight but the possibility of being captured by the authorities and deported back to Afghanistan was an everyday terror for us”.
I really don’t remember the journey to Turkey at all. I do remember, though, that it was very difficult and dangerous. On my way to Turkey, I found other friends trying to make the trip also. One of them was captured by the Turks and was deported right after. He was then 17 years old. I hope he is fine. Most of us were of the same age (minors).
I traveled alone. There was no money for my mom and my brother to follow. From Tehran we reached the Iranian border by car and from there to Turkey we spent many hours walking, passing mountains and rivers. I finally arrived at Dogubayazid. There they provided some paperwork for us in order to continue our journey. From there to Constantinople it took about twelve (12) hours by bus. I stayed and worked in Istanbul for a year as a tailor. Life there was very difficult. I had no papers proving who I was while the owner of the store I was working in used to say “when I shout you must hide”. I was making a thousand and two hundred and two hundred turkish liras (183.60€) a month and I was working twelve (12) hours a day. In the houses we stayed in, we paid more than others because the owners told us there was a risk that the police might catch us. At some point I had to leave. I knew I needed a lot of money to make the trip to Greece and that if they caught me on the way they would have sent me back to Afghanistan. I stayed in Istanbul for less than twelve months. ”
Arrival in Greece
“I had to find a smuggler. Initially I was thinking of going to Germany. I had already learned that in Germany I could have a roof and live in a protected environment so that I could go to school and then stand on my own feet. That’s why it was important to me. For Greece, I knew that it was a difficult country for refugees. I knew the conditions there were difficult, that people lived on the street. I expected, at least, that I would have somewhere to stay, to eat. What I learned about Greece is that you cannot build your future. You can’t make plans, study, work.
I arrived in Greece about five (5) months ago. We were in a van for eight (8) hours. We stayed for two nights in a forest. We were bitten by countless mosquitoes. At some point we started walking towards the sea. We found an inflatable boat which we, ourselves, inflated. We got into it from Alexandroupolis and took us five (5) hours to reach to Athens. We were thirty-four (34) people in the inflatable boat. Eight (8) to ten (10) people were traveling alone and the rest were children with their mothers and fathers.
At some point the Turkish coast guard was after us. They had something like a hook that they threw on the boats machine and managed to dismantle it and take it. The Turks fired their guns into the air to stop us. We reached a point where we could see the Greek ships. Five (5) people, including me, swam to the Greek ships. Everyone else was gathered by the Turkish coastguard after our inflatable boat was surrounded by them. The Greek Coast Guard picked us up and we stayed with them for about two (2) hours. They were talking on the phone to see where they would take us”.
Problems of registration and my time in the closed structure of Drama
“Eventually they brought us to Alexandroupolis. We arrived at the police station. We were asked various questions about the trip and there was also a translator with us. Then they sent us to jail. When the time came for my registration, they asked me about my age. I said I was sixteen (16) because before I left Iran, I asked my mother about my age. Unfortunately, however, I have no document that proves who I am, where I come from. Police officers wrote in the document that I was born in 1/1/2003. I stayed, then, for forty (40) days at the place were the registration process was materialized.
Then we were transferred to a structure in Drama. The behavior of the police from where they picked us up in the sea to the prison was generally good. But in the structure of Drama they were very hostile towards us. They were yelling and cursing at us. It was a prison actually. There the police went on to make a new registration of us. We went to the doctor for an examination. After that we were given a new document which said that I was now eighteen (18) years old. I had reached a point where I no longer knew and up to this day I do not know how old I am.
In the structure of Drama about eight hundred (800) people were living there. We had no right to go out of the camp. From 8am to 11pm we were free to get outside our rooms and we were strolling in the courtyard. After 11pm we were not allowed to be exit our rooms. We were told that we would stay there for up to three (3) months. Only the police was present in the structure. At some point they gave us a document and put us in a van. They left us further down the street and told us that you are free to go wherever you want. I had no papers that proved that I was Afghan, that proved who I am. I only had the document they gave to me. Every day about ten (10) people were released. When they released me, there were five other individuals with me. From there we took a bus and went to the train station in order to travel to Athens.
Alone and homeless on the streets of Athens
“I had no money on me. The others gave me money to buy the ticket. I arrived in Athens about a month ago. From the Pedion tou Areos I went to Victoria Square. All Afghans in Turkey know Victoria Square. If you want to find a smuggler, find a place to sleep, or meet people generally, you have to go there. My friends called some of their friends abroad who, in turn, sent them some money in order to rent a room to stay. We were five (5) people and we found a room in an apartment for five hundred (500) euros a month. The others, soon enough, found a smuggler and were able to leave the country. Suddenly I found myself on the street. They knew that I had no money and, therefore, I could not travel. I stayed with them for ten (10) days until they left Greece. When they left, I stayed on the street. All I had with me was a sleeping bag and some clothes.
So I went to St. Panteleimona’s church and slept outside. I stayed there for over ten (10) days. Then I found your phone number online (Greek Forum of Refugees) and saw that you could provide me with information in Farsi. In the meantime I had nowhere to stay. Some nights I slept in your office (in the office of the Greek Forum of Refugees).
Mustafa’s daily routine, postponement of registration with the Asylum Service after five months and the uncertain future…
“I have been registered in the Red Cross and go there everyday after 08:00 am in order to use their wifi and obtain for information. After 10:00 am I go to another place in the center of Athens that gives us a couple of cookies. At noon I go to the municipality building (to the service that provides free meals) and stand in line. Then I go out to the streets until 17:00 and come again to you Greek Forum of Refugees).
When I access the wifi I look for information regarding the asylum procedure. In order to learn what I have to do. I also read a lot of news. I read and hear to as much information as I can about Greece. I’m searching on google and try to find out what’s going on here. Unfortunately I see many unpleasant things. From the first moment they asked me in the jail of Alexandroupolis, I said that I wanted to apply for asylum and stay in the country. They gave me a document and I signed it. I was told that I should send an email and apply. I couldn’t, so I sent it to a friend of mine. He knew how to do this. When my answer came, unfortunately my friend had already left the country. (this happened while he was living in the park).
I don’t know what the future holds for me here. But I do want to go to school by any means. I’d love to learn more about the world. I’d love to learn more about religions, cultures. I read about Greece and then about Christianity. To be honest I believe in one God for all people. That’s where my mind always arrives to. I consider myself neither a Muslim nor a Christian.
Ever since I know myself, I’ve been hearing a lot about religion. So, I started reading about it. I understood that its preferable not to belong to something specific, but to know God. I was reading various books. I also read what Einstein said about religion. With all that I see around me, with all that I hear. In the name of religion I have seen many bad things unfold. I understand this and I don’t like it. For Greece I know it has many churches and is more religious than other European countries. I learn more every day and am curious. I keep searching.
Today, in the region from which I come from, I know that the Taliban are prevailing and that the war is ongoing and ugly. I was only one (1) year old when we left. My mother used to tell me that I should always be a good Muslim. That means praying, not lying, not to wrong other people, choosing the right path in your life and not bothering your neighbor. I am looking for a job and I will speak to anyone who speaks my language. I have gone to many shops and offices where I have applied for a job. But I need a residence permit, ID number and AMKA. I don’t even know what all of this means. But I know that I want to stand on my own feet and live. I want to go to school.
I want to find a life for me that will allow me to help my mom and brother, so they won’t have to endure the same things I did. I know too many children who are currently homeless in Athens. Near Victoria, Saint Panteleimon, women and children, whole families living in these rooms where many people live together.”
The story of Mustafa, a homeless, confused, lonely child, is one of the many that exist right now in Athens and throughout the country. It is one of the many that we deal with on a daily basis, along with the refugee and migrant communities.
When he turned to us for help, we contacted the Asylum Service immediately and confirmed his appointment on January 14 to register his asylum application. Mustafa returned in tears from the Asylum Service and told us that his registration was postponed for 25/6/2020. Mustafa is now ill with a fever, homeless and without an asylum seeker document in his hands, which prevents him from accessing the necessary services.
We ask that all the respective authorities assume their responsibilities, and we consider that the cooperation and partnership of all the involved services is essential in order for no one to be left on the street, especially unprotected children.