By Costas Onishenko
“We’ll hang on to the good things. We will look back to the Greeks who helped us and who did not treat us as enemies, but we are leaving because it’s not possible to make a living here anymore.”
People come to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) offices in Alimos, southern Athens, to file their applications for voluntary repatriation. Speaking to Kathimerini, they look back at the years spent in Greece. Most of them say they arrived here years ago with hope as well as fear. The prospect of going back now fills them with fear.
Nurule Astutik, a 23-year-old woman from Indonesia, is leaving Greece for Iraq. She came here about three years ago to work as a housekeeper. Recently, Astutik found out she did not have the requisite number of social security credits to get a residence permit.
Her spouse, 33-year-old Yahia Azadin from Iraq, has similar problems. He came to Greece in 2004 to work in the then booming construction sector. Things ran smoothly for a few years until job opportunities started to dwindle. Azadin’s asylum application was rejected.
Azadin and Astutik, who are both Muslim, were married a few months ago in a ceremony held at one of the makeshift mosques in the center of Athens. However, their bond is not officially recognized by the state.
“We cannot stay here because there is no work for us. We cannot even issue the necessary documents for a proper wedding,” Azadin says.
“I do not want to leave Greece, but I am left with no choice. We will go to Iraq and see what happens.”
Since the end of 2010, the IOM has received 14,000 applications from immigrants here who wish to return to their home countries.
In 2012 a total of 6,324 people – most of them from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iraq – left Greece with the IOM program. Another 800 were repatriated in a scheme funded by Norway.
The main reasons they cite are high unemployment, the failure to issue residency permits, and the rising number of racially motivated attacks.
“The Greeks are nice and hospitable. But the economic situation in the country is not good, and in this kind of situation people become harder,” says David Abas, a 26-year-old Pakistani, in fluent English. Abas says he had to pay smugglers 4,000 euros to get here. He says he has a degree in business administration and experience in computer maintenance.
In Greece Abas mostly worked for farmers. “I traveled from Skala in the Peloponnese to file my papers and go back. There is no work, I don’t know what else to do,” says Abas as a fellow Pakistani asks him for help to communicate with IOM staff.
“He is not a friend of mine. I just met him here,” Abas says. “He too is trying to make his way back home, but he speaks neither Greek nor English,” the 26-year-old says.
“I will never forget Greece, in spite of the difficulties and the injustices I’ve experienced,” he says, recalling that he was attacked near Victoria Square in central Athens few months ago.
“My father is begging me to go home all the time. He is quite old. He could die, and I’m afraid that I won’t make it in time to see him,” he says.
Sar Ibrahim, 24, is from Senegal, a country that most Greeks would not be able to locate on a map. He tells us that in the five years that he spent here, he had no opportunity to make friends. “The only Greeks I met were farmers who gave me work. And I didn’t have much to do even with them,” he says.
“I worked in the olive groves. Today I have no more money, because I spent everything that I saved when I found myself out of work. I am concerned about myself, my future, and my family. But I am leaving Greece.”