A refugee working with refugeesSayed Hashimi, 30, is an Afghan refugee in Greece. He barely escaped death after Taliban groups targeted him and his family for his affiliation to awareness raising campaigns on human rights and equality. He has been a part of DRC Greece team in the refugee site of Elliniko, Greece, working with its mostly Afghan population as a cultural mediator and interpreter. With the financial support of the European Union, DRC Greece acts as Elliniko official Site Management Support agency and legal aid provider.
Just looking at their family pictures makes one smile: Kids building sand castles on luscious Athenian beaches, playing hide and seek in the National Gardens, sending cheeky kisses while being carried by their dad. Glancing at the innocent faces of Mutahar (6), Ali (3) and Muhtasham (2), you’d say that these ‘3 kings’ – as their dad likes to call them – are just the average playful boys you see around chasing balls and riding bikes on a Sunday morning. Unfortunately, their story proves to be more complex.
The three brothers and their parents, Sayed and Nahima, are among the 128,000 Afghans that submitted their asylum applications in Europe in 2016. They had fled Afghanistan in December, 2015, only to reach the Greek Island of Chios in February, 2016. The boys had walked the desert, climbed the mountains and crossed the seas, tightly holding their parents’ hands in hours of despair.
“Mutahar arrived to Greece with one blue and one pink shoe. His shoes were falling apart from all the walking; it was raining all day and night. My wife found a pink shoe lying in the bushes,” Sayed explains.
Mutahar with two different shoes.
“It felt like being chased by bulls.”
Sayed is from Kabul. He is educated, speaks four languages and has an assuring aura about himself. Scars cover his face: “Brass knuckles,” he explains. “I’ve got beaten up for being an actor in TV series talking about women rights and family violence. My face got associated with liberal ideas, something that wasn’t appreciated by conservative and Taliban groups. I’ve stayed in the hospital for one week.” Sayed never had time to fully recover and upon his return home, he and his family received a threatening letter from Taliban; a tantamount to death sentence. He knew it was time to leave.
Sayed first moved to United Arab Emirates, seeking refuge and livelihood. However, getting a work permit was close to impossible. Upon his return to Kabul he sold all of his belongings: his car, his house, his wife’s jewelry. In fear for his own and his family’s life he fled Afghanistan. “It felt like being chased by bulls.”
Sayed has been on DRC Greece team for the last four months working as a cultural mediator and interpreter. We are standing in front of the large faded advertisement for Olympic Airways, which is plastered on a building at Elliniko International – the former airport of Athens. A maze of graffiti, concrete and colored tents, the Elliniko camp is now home to over 1,500 refugees, mostly Afghans. They are teachers, cab drivers, lawyers, bakers, mothers, fathers, children – all running away from some type of devastation and toward the unknown. For most of them life in Elliniko has been a waiting game with no end date. “I’m trying hard to tell the people in camp not to despair, to go out, try to find jobs, learn the language. But it’s difficult to change their hearts,” Sayed says.
Establishing a sense of community
With the Balkan countries closing their borders, the EU-Turkey Deal stipulations, and this October’s ‘Joint Way Forward’ agreement between EU and Afghanistan - aimed at facilitating the return of “irregular” Afghan immigrants from the EU to Afghanistan - Afghan asylum seekers face a particularly precarious situation. Their country is now deemed "post-conflict". This means that they can be returned directly to Afghanistan, whether they wish so or not.
“Afghans in Greece are found between a rock and a hard place, there’ve been tensions for this reason,” Sayed claims, who has been working alongside the rest of DRC Greece team in order to establish a solid, conflict-free relationship with the beneficiaries and a sense of community on the site.
It’s now January, 2017. Mutahar, Ali and Muhtasham no longer live in a camp; their mommy and daddy have rented an apartment in central Athens. As Sayed was granted international protection, he and his family have access to education, health care, the labor market, and social security in Greece. “My wife is becoming more independent, she takes language lessons, she has her own social circles,” says Sayed. His face lights up when he talks about his sons attending Greek school and his future plans.
“The aim of our journey was to find safety. I didn’t want to watch my children die. I didn’t want them to watch me die. Everywhere the sky is blue and the earth is hard, we can manage to rebuild our lives anywhere as long as we are safe,” Sayed sums up.