True Stories From Athens, Greece
By Rose Hanson
(ABOVE) Family having lunch in their tents. There are 10 people living in this home.
Athens, GR– This year has brought Europe’s refugee crisis to the forefront of mainstream media. With conflicting plans proposed by different countries, refugees are more often being displaced than embraced. Compounding the stress, when it comes to understanding the magnitude of this issue, media outlets report different views and ideologies of those residing in refugee camps, many not scratching the surface of suffering that refugees endure.
Determined to seek the truth for myself, I went to the ports of Piraeus in Greece to see the camps that were holding 2,000+ people from Afghanistan and Syria in an attempt to understand their personal struggles as well as their own stories.
The camp resides on the far edge of the ports, separated almost completely from any cruise and ferry ships. A few people wander outside their tents, as volunteers try to engage the children in an art activity. Far off in the concrete distance, a truck distributes meals for lunch. It feels more like a modern shantytown than government-funded aid. I spoke with families as well as individuals. Here are some personal stories.
Samim Wafair, Nangarhar Province
I am originally from Afghanistan and have been here for one and a half months. I was an economist, translator, and I worked in databases. I left my home because of safety; the Taliban invaded my home. I received a letter from them, they threatened me. They told me they would kill me. Then one day as I was in my car driving to work, I saw a man on a bicycle with a white flag attached to it. My heart was racing, it was them. I drove faster trying to lose him. While looking behind me, I crashed. There was glass from the windshield in my head, even when I arrived here there was still glass. [Wafaier rubs his head.] Nobody likes refugees. They won’t sit next to me on the metro. I am a university educated man! That doesn’t matter; we are all the same to them. I don’t know where to go; I don’t have any family. I left everything to come here. I am mentally stuck.
Anis Hasahi, Kabul
I am 37 years old; I am here with my daughter and son-in-law. They are 13 and 17. My brother is in Germany. I don’t have a husband, and I don’t have a father. I’m not happy here. I hope to go to Germany with my brother. I am from Afghanistan, but there are many gun terrorists. I am very sick. I have MS, and I need a walker. They won’t give me [my] medication here. I have only taken one class on how to speak English. Right now I am teaching my daughter how to read. [Hasahi motions to the notebooks and pencils scattered inside of the tent.] Ahmad Shah Qaderi, Herat I am from Afghanistan. Here is my wife, daughters, son, mother, and brother. I have been here for 4 months. It is small here, all of us in only 2 tents. Afghanistan is full of violence, it’s radical. My children had to stop school. The Taliban bombed my house building. I hope to move to Hamburg, Germany. Back home I worked at a sportsman shop. I used to power lift, do you know what that is? It makes me happy. I could lift 215kg! [Qaderi shows me videos of him lifting on Facebook.] I hope to continue in Germany, this really makes me so happy.
Samiallah, Amamdin, Fardin, and Ramin Kafak, Kabul
We are all from Afghanistan. We left our families. All of us came here as individuals so we had to stay in a tent all together. [Fardin speaks] I was on the island of Lesbos when Angelina Jolie was visiting. They were really nice to us days before she came. The kids were playing and smiling. That’s all the cameras showed. They did not show the long wait. They did not show the tents. That’s what makes me mad. Even here, they don’t give us meals during the night. We have to save the meals in the daytime for the night; it’s Ramadan. The food they serve us expired! Sometimes I think it’s better to just go home. There is no place like home. Even if none of the buildings are the same or gone. This place will never be home. I apologize. [Fardin begins to roll loose tobacco.] I know it’s Ramadan and this is wrong, but you can’t blame me. I know at least 20 people here do drugs. Heroin, meth, crystal cocaine. They all go to a park, over that way. [We all look off towards residential buildings in silence.] Do you know how hard it is here? There are no jobs if you can’t speak Greek. Not even for the people who speak English! I have lost a lot. My girlfriend was killed in a bombing, I am here all alone. I just want people to see us as people. I want them to stop for one moment and listen.
(ABOVE) Rows and rows of tents at Piraeus Port. There are an estimated 2,000 people at this single camp.