Monday, August 03, 2009
Manos was born in Greece in 1977, his parents immigrants from Iraq. He studied in the 17th primary school, Peiria and the 2nd junior high school, Renti. Everything went smoothly until 1992 when his father died. Manos was just 15 years old when his mother, unable to deal with the loss of her husband alone in Greece made the fateful decision to take her children to visit her home country, Iraq. It took just a few days for her to realise that this was a mistake, however, there was no going back.
The regime of Saddam Hussein welcomed them then slammed the door shut. Despite the fact that Manos was a stranger in his country of origin and didn’t even know the language he found himself doing his military service in the Devil’s Triangle, on the border between Iraq, Iran and Kuwait. He lasted just six months before deserting. However, luck was not on his side and he was arrested by the Iraqi authorities and subsequently spent 3 years 8 months in jail.
We asked him what it was like there. He falters, words are not enough,
“A fellow prisoner couldn’t take it anymore and killed himself in the the only why he could by banging his head against the wall until he passed away. Right there, in front of our eyes”. he explains.
And his own experiences? He shows us the scars on his face and body a from cigarettes burns. “They would put us in a crate 1.5 by 1.5m and keep us there for 2 months”. And for the rest of the time? “15 of us lived in a cell, 5m by 3 with cameras everywhere. They would make us beat fellow prisoners, If we refused they would kill us.”
When he was released in 2000 he couldn’t remember his name for many hours. “In prison, you see they call us by a number, mine was 481352.”
“When did you return to Greece, we ask?” “A few months later I applied for a visa from the embassy in Greece but they never gave me one”.
So he decided to come to Greece, his own country, illegally. During his first attempt he only reached as far as northern Turkey before being arrested by the Turkish authorities. After spending 17 days in jail in Kurdistan he managed to escape.
During his second attempt the same thing happened again, however, his third attempt was more successful when he managed to cross into Greece via the Evros river. Unable to pay smugglers he used a dinghy to cross the river, however he was picked up by border guards in Mandri, near Soufli. He explained his story at the local police station but the police accused him of smuggling and sent him back to Turkey illegally.
There he claimed that he was from Palestine and after spending five days in jail managed to re-enter Greece, this time getting all the way to Athens via Alexandroupoli in 2005.
We asked him about the gangs that smuggle people into the country. “I didn’t have any money so I came on my own. However, when I was in Turkey I made sure I found out everything so as to follow the same routes and tactics they used. Google maps helped me a lot.
A good spot in Turkey is in Istanbul, in Kourtoulous (Tatavla) 2km from Taxim square. From there people smugglers drive 20-30 immigrants to Evros. They take them across the river in dinghies and with the help of Greeks send them to Athens. There they are kept hostage in some home until they pay the smugglers. If the border patrols catch them they are secretly sent back to Turkey with the help Turkish authorities and Greek hunters. Otherwise they are imprisoned for three months and sent to Athens where they are served a deportation order.
A second route is from Turkey to Greece is via Bulgaria and then through Pomak villages. The third route is by boat from the Turkish coast to Greek islands such as Mytilini, Samos and Chios. These journeys cost between 2000 and 5000 euros.”
“How exactly did you you enter Greece the last time?”
“I found somebody to take me as far as the border, on the Turkish side of the Evros river. I gave him 200 euros. I had got myself a dinghy and clean clothes which I put inside a waterproof bag. This bag, along with another inflatable one served as a life belt. I crossed the river then changed into my clothes. I knew about the police road blocks in Mandra and so I avoided them. Another serious danger are the minefields but they’re further north in Didimoteixo. If you know that you’re not in danger.”
“Once I was in Athens I looked for a lawyer in order to become legal”. The lawyers, as he explains to us, are not so different to the smugglers, they ask for money for everything. From 2000 euros for a residence permit to 10,000 for full Greek citizenship. I started to work on the black market and 2 years later I met my girlfriend, Christina who persuaded me to apply for political asylum.”
“I went to the aliens bureau in Petrou Rally street. when I got there at the crack of dawn one Saturday a fewe months ago the only thing I could see were thousands of heads. It was raining and the police kept on hitting us with clubs and shouting at us to sit down. One cop started to threaten me but changed his attitude when he saw that I could speak Greek. I told him that I was Greek and so he took me to an office where I explained my story and got an appointment to claim a pink asylum seekers card immediately.”
“What will you do now?”
“I don’t know, he answers. The card runs out in one month and I hope that they will re-new it. However, I’m not sure at all about that”.
Manos is one of the hundreds of thousands of who were born in Greece who studied in Greek schools, who think, dream and fall in love in Greek. But Greece, their de facto homeland does not recognise their right to be Greek.
If Manos had Greek citizenship he probably wouldn’t have gone to Iraq and would have avoided what happened to him there. He would have been dealt as a ward of the state and a special case and not be just an asylum seeker with a pink card. A card that will probably run out. And so having no other choice he will remain an outlaw in his own country. A Greek illegal immigrant in Greece.
The text and all images belong to Afrodite Al Salech. (translation by Teacher Dude). The original article can be found on the Αφημένες κάποιες Σκέψεις blog.