Feature: Refugees stuck in Greece with no place to go further in Europe

October 30, 2015 11:03 am 

ATHENS, Oct. 29 — Over 300 migrants are lying in Victoria Square in central Athens. Most of them are Afghan men, in their early or late 20s. They arrived Tuesday morning at Athens' main port Piraeus and began their journey in Athens, one of their first stops in continental Europe. However, with many European Union (EU) leaders talking about closing their borders, the refugees may get in stuck in Greece longer than they originally thought.

They are waiting for the buses that will transfer them to the refugee camps around Athens. Their hope is to stay there for two or three days and then continue their long journey towards northern and western Europe.

They are not so sure anymore about their destination but most of them reply in broken English: Germany or Sweden. They are aware that EU countries leaders talk about closing the borders but refugees hope they can still make it.

A 16-year-old Afghan explains on condition of anonymity that he has already paid 3,500 U.S. dollars in order to reach Europe and since he arrived in Greece, he has no longer worried about paying any smuggler. So far, the most difficult part of his journey was in the Iranian border where he was beaten up.

He described his life in Afghanistan as "difficult, unbearable." "They kill us!" So he chose to leave.

Mohammadhassib Soltani, 25, has been travelling for more than 40 days. He left Afghanistan and entered Iran where he was beaten by soldiers and had his bags and money stolen. In Turkey, again, border soldiers attacked him and sent him back to Iran.

Now, he is not sure where to go. "When I started my journey in Afghanistan, I decided to go to Germany, but now that German authorities said they will not accept more refugees, I do not know where to go."

Soltani speaks fluent English and has an easiness for speech. "I studied political science. I have a bachelor's degree. My filed is diplomacy," he said. "One day, I must be a diplomat."

In the wake of differences among EU member states on how to tackle the continent's greatest refugee crisis since World War II, Soltani said he believes that German Chancellor Angela Merkel will continue to provide shelter to the refugees that will arrive in Germany. "Maybe it is a temporary decision, she wants to prepare the home, the shelter for the refugees that have already in Germany. I hope, in my view, she will turn back to her previous decision."

At the forefront of the refugees influx, Greece has received more than 500,000 undocumented refugees and migrants who illegally entered the country since the start of 2015, according to the latest official figures from the UN refugee agency and Greek authorities.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has slammed EU member countries for their slow response in providing funds and experts to manage the refugee crisis. Juncker said EU member states "have been moving slowly at a time when they should be running."

The refugees' tragic stories mean little to the local residents of Victoria Square who have got used to seeing refugees camping in the square. Locals are sure this situation will not end soon.

Dimitra Mayer, having been living in Victoria square since she was born, insists that the situation is dramatic. "As Greeks, we have a lot of financial problems, how refugees will survive if they stay in Greece?"

"There are no toilets so they use the clothes that volunteers bring in order to defecate inside the tents," said Mayer.

"The situation is even worse than it was in the summer," Mayer has as a reference to the rising of Greece's radical left SYRIZA to power.

"Since this government came to power, migrants have kept coming to Greece," said Mayer.

She also makes distinction between Syrians and other refugees. "People you see here are not Syrians. They are Afghans. Syrians have a different living standard and different education. Syrians have papers and they stay in hotels."

Volunteers are also present in Victoria Square. Nawdar Kunst comes from the Netherlands and works for the Boat Refugee Foundation. He arrived in Athens in order to help the refugees.

"The situation is getting worse. In the first weeks, my colleagues told me there were not so many refugees, and two days ago there were like one thousand people. We have only six people and we can not do everything," Kunst said. "We are just ordinary people and not doctors. We give them what they want — shoes, clothes, medication."

According to EU's 17-point program, EU governments must let each other know about the numbers of migrants who are likely to be approaching the border of an EU country. Refugees may have to be prepared for a long winter in Europe. (PNA/Xinhua)

CTB/RSM

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