The Golden Dawn and the Stranded Refugee Children in Greece
Looking into the lives of refugees who left Turkey for the Greek Islands seeking safety and security.
The image of a drowned three-year old Syrian boy on Turkish shores in September 2015 caught the imagination of the world. For months, all eyes were on the plight of the refugees risking their lives to reach Europe.
Cameras zoomed on small boys and girls, and men and women crossing the deadly waters of the Aegean Sea to Greek Islands.
Refugee stories, and pictures of helpless children inundated the news. Journalists told tales of refugee trauma and perseverance. Pundits analyzed. And policy makers promised help.
By the end of 2015 more than one million refugees and migrants entered the EU. In March 2016, a deal between the EU and Turkey temporarily halted the massive flow of people to Europe.
Numbers of dwindled. The cameras moved elsewhere. Journalists left for other crisis zones. And policy makers promised tight border control to save refugees from the “treacherous human smugglers.”
Turkey to Greek Islands
Meanwhile, seeking safety and security, refugees kept leaving Turkey for the Greek Islands in smaller numbers. As months passed, their numbers increased. One thing was now very different from the past.
The new arrivals were no longer allowed to leave without a permit from authorities. Paying lofty sums to human smugglers and risking their lives, the refugees were trapped in “prison islands.”
Leaving for Athens to continue their journey required paying even more money to smugglers. Those without money had to wait for rescue week after week, and month after month.
More than 27000 children, and 2,250 unaccompanied minors are currently waiting in Greece. Many are wasting away on the Greek Islands.
In August, I traveled to Chios Island to learn about the experiences of the children trapped in the small refugee camp of Souda. The dire conditions facing the children and their families have to have further deteriorated in recent days.
A spate of attacks by neo-fascist forces in recent days has made life in Souda nearly impossible for many. The children of Souda need help. No one is paying any attention.
This is a glimpse into their lives and stories.
Fate brought these two Syrian and Afghan boys together in Souda. The boys play ball, wrestle, and do what boys do. The Syrian boy is seven.
Chances are that he and his family will be accepted as refugees in the EU. To be accepted, the boy’s family has to prove that their lives are in danger if returned to Turkey.
This may take time. However, the chance to be accepted exists for the Syrian boy. That is not the case for the Afghan boy.
He is eight years old and stateless. Born in Iran to a family of Afghan refugees, he is not the citizen of any country. He has been trapped in Souda with his family for the past seven months.
He hopes to be allowed to leave for Germany or elsewhere in the EU. According to a recent deal between the Brussels and Kabul, most Afghan asylum seekers will not receive protection in Germany or anywhere else in the EU. They will be deported to Afghanistan.
The young boy is unaware of the new deal. He is likely to be among the deportees. Only chance and unusual compassion on the part of asylum authorities will save him.
She was born in Iran only 10 months ago. She has spent most of her life in transit through Turkey and in a refugee camp in Greece. Too young to know her predicaments, she smiles at strangers, and charms everyone around her.
She sooths the pains of others trapped on the prison Island. If deported, she will join millions of other girls caught in the abyss of violence in Afghanistan.
He is among the handful of African children in the camp, and the only one his age. He has no friends. He is a lonely child refugee trapped on a foreign Island. Nobody understands his language.
Other children don’t play with him. Most never saw dark-skinned kids before arriving in Souda. Syrian kids push him away. They throw him a punch or two when he grabs their football. He cries and walks away, and runs to adults for attention and love.
Her name is Shakila. “This time for Africa,” she said in a funny accent and did a little dance when I first met her in mid August. Shakia is eleven, and born to an Iranian Azari mother and Kurdish father. She spent all her life in a camp in Northern Iraq and now in Souda. We met the first day when she arrived in a dinghy.
Life goes on. Souda is a makeshift camp on the shore of the Aegean Sea. A brief afternoon swim in the sea works miracles for the stranded children.
I left Souda at the end of August. In the early morning hours of November 15th, I received a message and a series of photos from Shakila’s father.
“Our situation here is very bad. Our lives are in danger. For the past two nights, a group of locals (supporters of the Golden Dawn) have been attacking the camp with firebombs, and setting the tents on fire. We are afraid of burning to death while asleep. We are now sleeping outside in the cold.”
This is Shakilla sleeping with her two-year old brother outside in the cold.
“It is very cold here. Women and children are shivering. I am also very cold. Single men are guarding the camp in case of another attack. The UN did not come here today. We are afraid.”