A risky trip to Greece and ‘God’s will’
Despite the winter chill, asylum seekers are still trying to make it to Greece – only to be refused passage into Europe.
The refugees I saw in Athens were all young – in their teens and early 20s. They appeared broke, tired, and hungry. They waited outside the gate of a camp, which Greek authorities had allocated for refugees, at Ellinikon in Athens.
All of them were prevented from entering Macedonia and were forced to return to Athens. They held white papers that said they agreed to be repatriated back home.
Nabil put on a brave face. He said: “It’s God’s will” that he didn’t make it further into Europe.
Outside another camp in Athens for refugees and their families waiting to be relocated in Europe, a group of about 20 Pakistanis arrived. Their faces reflected the hardship of being refugees, wandering around a foreign city and searching for shelter.
“Sir, we are not well. We haven’t eaten for two days. We slept on the streets, no blankets, no water. We are human beings,” one man named Zahad said.
As with Moroccans Al Jazeera had talked to, the Pakistanis, too, were prevented from entering Macedonia because they were considered economic migrants. I asked how much it cost him to come to Greece.
“More than $4,000. I borrowed it from relatives and friends in Pakistan,” he said.
READ MORE: Tales from the Jungle – Two refugees share their stories
Victoria square in Athens appeared more like a large bedroom.
Refugees slept on benches or on the ground. Some were completely hidden in their sleeping bags.
Before arriving in Athens, I was in Cesme in Turkey’s Izmir province. It’s a short boat ride to the Greek island of Chios.
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I found Shia Afghans waiting for the water to calm so they could cross the Aegean Sea.
During the night I was cold and so were they. I asked them why they were risking their children’s lives. Some laughed at my question. Others said simply that they had to.
One Turkish volunteer who provided food for these refugees said they told him they didn’t want food but more boats to cross.
In an unfinished building near the coast, the room was packed with women, men and children as young as two months old. Life jackets were hanging on the walls, ready to go.
The cheap rubber dinghy was made by shoe-makers, someone told me.
One Afghan said he dealt with three smugglers to reach Cesme. He came through Iran and then Turkey. He was eager to reach Greece and then hoped to end up in Britain.
I saw nappies thrown on the beach, a broken wheel for a trolley, a shoe that fits a baby, and many other discarded items. I wondered if their owners made it safely across the Aegean Sea, which has turned into a watery graveyard for many refugees.
The human influx is endless. Old and young people are waiting and many are determined to take the risk for a better life.