Malakasa (Greece): The long wait of Afghan refugees in Greek limbo | International

The wait for a future outside the Malakasa countryside is so long that someone has found the time to cultivate a small vegetable garden near his bin. There are others who have planted vines to provide shade on a makeshift porch and there are those who have set up a workshop to attach bicycles to theirs. Some 1,900 people live in this camp, 40 kilometers from Athens, one of 28 in mainland Greece, almost all Afghans (96%). 43% are children like those who come daily to see Sharif, who also repairs bicycles next to the white container where he lives with his wife and daughter. They left Herat three years ago and hope to be able to join their son in Switzerland. They have been in the field for a year and a half. “We spent the first nine months in one store and now we have nine in this container,” says Nahid, Sharif’s daughter, who also recalls the early days in Athens, when they ended up sleeping on the streets in Victoria Square, the epicenter of the community. Afghan in the Hellenic capital. Neither Nahid nor Sharif are the real names, nor, to protect their identity, those of the other refugees who appear in this report.

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To the anguish due to the long wait is now added fear for relatives who have remained in Afghanistan. The news spread through audio messages on WhatsApp, with images and videos arriving on mobile phones suddenly making those who have been in the fields for months and years, the lucky ones, those who have managed to come out on time with the deceptive promise of a better future for Afghanistan. In Greece, at the end of June, there were some 105,000 refugees and asylum seekers, 29% of them Afghans, according to a UNHCR estimate.

Sayed fled as soon as he could. He is 22 years old and he also left Herat two years ago: “The Taliban demanded that I fight with them and I refused. They held me hostage for 20 days until my family paid the equivalent of 5,000 euros and they released me. And then I left.” Sayed does not live here. He came to Malakasa to help distribute food for the Spanish NGO SOS Refugiados, which has been operating in Greece since 2015. Together with the other volunteers, Sayed unloads Dozens of blue plastic bags containing basic food from two vans.Today they also distribute eggs and fresh fruit, something unattainable for many here, such as those surviving in one of the small tents set up at the Inside a warehouse. Some are not even registered. According to the latest report from the International Organization for Migration, there were 703 unregistered people in Malakasa at the end of July.

Tents in a warehouse in Malakasa refugee camp, Greece.Mariangela Paone

In this warehouse there are also those who, despite having obtained refugee status and, therefore, not having the right to be in the camp, find themselves stuck here without an alternative. Like the family of Shakila, a 16-year-old girl who shares a small tent with her mother and her two brothers, aged 9 and 15, and her 17-year-old sister, from Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, and arrived three years ago on the Greek island of Lesbos. Since then, Shakila has not set foot in an institute. His good English owes it to the courses he takes in line on YouTube by yourself. The mother suffers from type 1 diabetes. Although they have already been recognized as refugees, they have to wait for the residence permit.

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“The paperwork can take six months and up to a year,” says Minos Mouzourakis of Refugee Support Aegean (RSA), a non-governmental organization that provides legal aid to refugees and asylum seekers. “In March 2020, the government took a series of measures to try to get refugees out of camps or houses in the Estia accommodation program and reduced the time they can stay after refugee status was granted to 30 days. Before it was six months. Last summer, many people who left the Aegean islands ended up sleeping rough in Victoria Square. There was uncertainty and chaos. Even the authorities did not know how to move and in the end many people ended up in the camps where they remained as unregistered residents. They shouldn’t be there, but they are there… These are very precarious situations because there is no help for them,” adds Mouzourakis. A bureaucratic vacuum made up of interminable waits, uncertainties and lost years for many young people trapped in a country of this Europe where they hoped to start a new life.

The Greek government has reiterated in recent days that it does not want the country to be the gateway to Europe for those fleeing the Afghan chaos, as happened with the refugee crisis between 2015 and 2016. Days before the situation in Afghanistan escalated, Greece, along with Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Austria and Holland, asked the European Commission not to stop deportations to the country. Asian.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ executive approved a decree last June that officially declares Turkey a “safe third country” for refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Bangladesh and Pakistan. “This means in practice that the procedure for them is no longer to examine whether their asylum application is admissible, but to ratify its inadmissibility, by applying the criterion according to which they could have already applied for asylum in Turkey, a country to which they should return” explains Mouzourakis. And this despite the fact that Ankara has not accepted any returns since March 2020.

The RSA lawyer recalls that among the 13,864 applications from Afghan citizens who were still awaiting examination at the end of June, there were more than 6,000 whose first interview had not taken place and , therefore, they were likely to be considered under this new framework. . This is the case of Noor who has already spent more than two of his 20 years in Greece. Her father, mother and younger brother, after the wait was lengthened by the covid pandemic, had the first interview in January. She and her sister were canceled and now her candidacy falls under the new criteria. He doesn’t know when the wait will end. He wants to go to Germany where his older sister is already. “But I hope to be able to study and one day go to Afghanistan and be useful there.”

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