Refugees in Moria on the island of Lesvos are now being relocated to mainland Greece in preparation for their deportation, having been stuck for weeks since the closure of the Balkans route into Europe. With deportation hanging over them, the refugees’ hopes for a future in Europe are getting slimmer by the minute. Men are driven to tears under conditions just too much for any person to bear.
The new deportation deal between the EU and Turkey means that certain groups, such as Moroccans, Iranians and Pakistanis are regarded as “economic migrants”. The reality is that war, persecution and genocide are also taking place in their home countries. The new agreement means that the treatment of refugees and these “economic migrants” in Greece is appalling. The deal violates human rights and international law as it compromises people’s right to seek asylum, makes human trafficking worse and makes resettlement conditional upon refugees risking their lives to cross the Aegean Sea, through its inhumane “one-in, one-out” plan.
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The so-called “economic”, “irregular”, “migrants” fall through the holes in the system, as asylum becomes harder with the risk of summary assessments; grouping people to assess them homogeneously is a clear violation of international law which insists that people have to be evaluated on an individual basis. The fact that many of those in Moria have fled from false allegations of blasphemy, apostasy, being LGBTQ or genocide, makes such an approach very inefficient in identifying vulnerable cases, as it inhibits those in question from stepping forward; doing so could put their lives in danger again by recounting their situation in the presence of their fellow countrymen.
I spoke to Adi, a man in his thirties who embarked on his journey to Lesvos 30 days ago, going through Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. “The trip was very dangerous,” he told me. “There was a hole in the dinghy and the water was flowing in, but Allah Almighty sent his angels in the shape of a ship to rescue us.” There are many problems in Pakistan, he explained, with terrorism, war and unemployment. “Even Master’s students end up jobless.” He stressed that there are issues with corruption and the government in general, as nepotism is rife due to the desperate circumstances. Adi claims that he just wants to stay for a year to give him time to get safe, find work and skill up before returning to Pakistan with more resources for a fresh start. He told me that his uncle tried to strangle him several times, calling him a traitor for wanting to go to Europe, something that Adi thinks is his right.
He needs to seek protection from the social issues affecting Pakistan, with Daesh, the Taliban and other groups constantly threatening the country. US drone activity is another issue, with many innocent people being killed in the name of the “War on Terror”. Adi told me that the violence in Punjab is destroying the obligations of men and destroying their hope. If he gets deported, he insisted, he will be killed by his uncle, if he even gets that far. The Pakistani government will not recognise deportees without a passport, which most do not possess, so they may have to smuggle themselves back into their country. If he claims asylum in Greece, his family will be in danger in Pakistan as he will be seen as a traitor by the state which will deny claims about warring groups and the deteriorating economic conditions.
“I see Europe as having the same generous spirit of Islam,” Adi concluded. “That is why I hope that they will start registering us.”
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His friend from the camp, Uman, is a Pakistani journalist. He explained that the government in Islamabad has stopped him from doing his job as there is no freedom of speech, and he has been targeted by the Taliban, Pakistani officials and other groups. He is fleeing persecution but is fearful that if he seeks asylum his family back home will not be safe. “The government makes fake claims that I have done something wrong to [justify] taking me to prison and punishing me,” he said.
Uman has worked in journalism for seven years and has, over the past four years, been threatened by the police and armed groups, such as the Taliban. He has three legal cases of alleged land grabbing against his name, used as a means to prevent him from working as a journalist. He cannot return to Pakistan without being persecuted and killed, he insists. This fills his eyes with sorrow and despair as he recounts his flight from a small village in Pakistan, after being shot several times in his thigh and hand. With hopes for a secure future, he travelled through Iran, Kurdistan and Turkey before making the dangerous sea crossing to Greece. He now fears for the safety of his wife, mother and two sons back home.
Smugglers and kidnappers
Most of the refugees to whom I have spoken in Moria have been kidnapped at least once on their journey to get there, either in Turkey, Kurdistan or Iran. Refugees get robbed, face extortionate ransom demands and are tortured. This exploitation appears to be well-organised, with human rights violations on a regional scale. “They [the smugglers] wait in the forests, they know the paths,” said engineering student Kabir. “Sometimes the smugglers even tell the kidnappers or become kidnappers and start beating us very hard. He told me that his group was taken for ten days and beaten until their families could transfer another $2,000. His family is very poor and had to take a loan to pay the kidnappers. “Now there is even more reason to stay in Europe, as I have to seek safety and earn enough to repay my loan, otherwise the authorities will kill me.” He alleges that the Iranian police were made aware of what had happened but didn’t do anything about it. He also accuses some of the other refugees of being kidnappers themselves, disguised as “agents” supposed to secure the journey.
“Our group took a taxi in Turkey and after telling the driver where we wanted to go, he took us captive,” claimed Fahad, a computer science graduate. His brother had to sell his house back home to secure the ransom to free him from captivity in the mountains where the taxi driver had hidden him and his companions.
Amid fled from Pakistan because his mother and two friends were shot. Although injured when gunmen entered his class at university, he survived. “Then I decided to come to Europe,” he explained. “Perhaps I can get protection here.” He urged Europeans to understand the need of people trying to enter the continent.
Greece on its knees as NGOs opt out on moral grounds
What awaits the 60 per cent of the refugees in Turkey who are not Syrian is statelessness, and everything that comes with such status. As Turkey has a geographical boundary derogation of the 1951 Geneva Convention covering refugee rights, it has no asylum procedures for refugees from outside Europe. The Syrian refugees will thus fall under the one-in, one-out plan but for everyone else who is unable to go back to, for example, Iran or Pakistan, due to the fact that they do not possess passports and will have left illegally in the first place, deportation means death or a life of statelessness in Turkey. There they will not only work in the informal employment sector in low-income jobs, but also face being kidnapped and tortured again.
Europe needs to listen to international NGOs and those on the ground which are opting out of helping to implement the deportation deal on moral and human rights grounds. Even the UN has taken a stance against it and now refuses to cooperate, leaving the Greek authorities in charge of the process. Given that they are unprepared and understaffed, we can only wait and wonder what awaits the refugees in the days, weeks and months ahead.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.