By Dave Sewell in Greece
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‘In our countries we aren’t safe—so I preferred to risk death on the water’ How refugees in Athens risked death on the seas

This article is over 8 years, 2 months old
Issue 2487
Refugees in Athens
Refugees in Athens (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Dozens of people died early this morning, Friday, as their wooden boats sank off the coasts of Greek islands. Initial reports suggest at least 42 deaths, of which almost half are children. They included whole families fleeing Syria’s civil war.

Refugees in Athens told Socialist Worker they too had risked death on the seas.

For Ashraf from Morocco the crossing took three attempts. “The first time we were stopped by Turkish police,” he said.

“The second time our dinghy began to deflate 2km out to sea. The mafia who run the crossing use old boats, often with holes in.”


Ashraf (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Zakaria from Algeria said, “I saw two dinghies go down with my own eyes. There were about 80 peoplefamilies, children, ordinary people. They didn’t stand a chance.”

Attempts to make the journey more difficult have increased the danger but haven’t stop people coming.

Keder, whose father was killed in Algeria, explained, “The crossing was terrible. But we need to find somewhere we can live in peace and freedom.

“In our countries we aren’t safe. So I preferred to risk death on the water than stay at home waiting for it.”

Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans who survive the crossing are tolerated by European governmentsfor now.

But the boats are a mix of many nationalities. All the others are denied the right to stay in official camps, or to travel on further into Europe.

Zia was a teacher in Pakistan, but fled after the Taliban destroyed his home. Now he sleeps rough in central Athens’ Victoria Square. “We’re very upset that they won’t let Pakistanis through. They know we have many problems. The European governments need to solve this.”

The square is home to a small community of migrants, mostly North African. A group of Algerians sang a song as volunteers handed out tea.

Some are fleeing persecution. Others are what the Tories callously call economic migrants. They are desperately seeking a chance to build a better life and escape the severe lack of housing and jobs in Algeria.

Mohamed said, “I come from a big family and couldn’t get a house. There are no jobs. I had to drop my studies because I couldn’t afford the books.” He plans to train as a barber in France, and work there to send money home.

Aziz was beaten by racists

Aziz was beaten by racists (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Aziz Ahmed fled the square after he was brutally attacked. “Six Greek men came,” he said. “Four stood lookout while two masked up and beat me. They shouted things like, ‘fuck you’ and ‘We don’t want Arabs’.”

Now he and Zakaria stay with 16 other men in a dilapidated empty building in an industrial district in west Athens.

“We have to stay here secretlyif the police see us here they will beat us,” Zakaria warned.

“When I made it to the Greek islands, I had to buy false papers to be taken to Athens. And when I went to the Greek-Macedonian border the police beat me.”

Daisy from the Dutch NGO the Boat Refugee Foundation said, “Most people here have tried the border at least once, some of them three times. They come back with big bruises on their legs from the batons.

“They left their countries for a reason and can’t go back. They’re not allowed to go forward. And there is nothing for them to build a future with in Greece. So they are stuck here in a hopeless situation.”

Hundreds of protesters are set to leave Athens on a special train tonight, as part of a weekend of action around Europe to demand the borders are opened and the ordeal ended.

 “If the border is opened, I will be the first across,” said Zakaria. “Until then I will have to keep trying.”

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