NEWS

Migrants pay the ferryman for a new life here

Said, Islam, Nuriah and little Ahmed are all Afghan refugees who were recently arrested in the sea off Kos as they were attempting to cross over from the Turkish coast on a small rubber dinghy. They were lucky enough to meet with calm waters and were able to row quite near to the Greek coast before they were spotted by the crew of a patrol boat. Other fellow-countrymen were not so lucky. Although they set out together from a deserted beach, first paying $1,000 for the boat and receiving instructions from the Turkish members of the smuggling gang on how to cross over invisibly into Greece, only Said’s family made it. The others were pushed by strong currents back to the Turkish coast where all traces of them were lost. Waiting and waiting Said’s family is now waiting for a decision from the Greek authorities on their fate, along with thousands of others of their fellow-countrymen who managed, with the paid help of the traffickers, to reach a deserted beach in this country. From the beginning of the year to October 5, 1,283 Afghan illegal immigrants have been arrested and it is estimated that this number has already surpassed 2,000. At the same time, the overall number of illegal immigrants who have reached Greece from Turkey since the beginning of the year to October 13, is well over 4,500. This worries the port authorities, as there is information that in the areas of Izmir, Cesme, Bodrum and further south, there are some 10,000 Afghan refugees who plan to cross over to Greece or use it as a springboard into other countries of the European Union. Afghans form the largest number of the illegal immigrants arrested (1,283) followed by Iraqi Kurds (1,239), Turkish Kurds (479), Iraqis (428), Pakistanis (157), Bangladeshis (87), Indians (81), Iranians (66) and others. Over 90 traffickers have been arrested, of whom 35 are Turkish nationals, 28 Greeks, five Albanians, with other nationalities making up the rest. All methods Traffickers in illegal immigrants are constantly changing their methods and the means of transport used so that they can smuggle people into Greece without being caught. Now, people- smugglers use pleasure craft, chiefly yachts, which are regarded as a less risky means of transporting immigrants than fishing boats and other older small vessels. One recent case was that of 86 illegal immigrants who were spotted off Methana in the Peloponnese on board a yacht flying the US flag. On October 11, the coast guard spotted another yacht off Lavrion, flying the Turkish flag, carrying 40 illegal immigrants and crewed by a Frenchman and two Turks. In summer, especially, it is very difficult to investigate the thousands of yachts sailing around the Aegean, a coast guard officer told Kathimerini. Indeed, the smuggling rings, in order to damage Greece’s image and tourism, occasionally leak false information about boats with illegal immigrants. Their aim is for us to make a mistake, carry out checks or a raid without results and then they make a fuss that it’s not safe in Greece and that the authorities are unable to protect tourists. At the same time, they attempt to convey the illegals with other boats and to other places. Learning to swim Another method is for the traffickers to pack the illegal immigrants into old fishing boats or other small vessels, usually wooden, and guide them to the beaches of the various islands of Greece. Usually, they accompany the immigrants for most of the way and when the shore is visible, decamp on a speedboat. Since most immigrants have never seen the sea before or are unable to swim, many, chiefly women and children, drown before they reach land. Another means for illegal immigrants to make the crossing from Turkey is on children’s rubber dinghies which are sold by traffickers for $1,000. It was on such a boat that the family of Said attempted to cross over to Kos, despite the dangers, since none of them knew how to swim, and only Said had even seen the sea. Recently, the traffickers have been coaching the illegal immigrants on how to act, said a coast guard officer. They tell them that if they are spotted by a Greek boat far from the shore or in international waters adjacent to Greek waters, they should jump into the sea to oblige the Greek authorities to pick them up and not force them to turn back. How to tackle illegal immigration The large increase in the number of illegal immigrants in the last few weeks has shown that the phenomenon cannot be dealt with only through policing. The problem is above all political, and must be solved in two ways: – The EU should contribute the means, funds and equipment that would enable the coast guard to do its job more effectively, given that it patrols the southeastern border of the 15 European member states. Moreover, the EU needs to put some pressure on Turkey, which is indifferent to the operation of migrant traffickers on its territory. Sometimes, the Turkish patrol vessel follows the boat carrying the immigrants and as soon as the latter reaches Greek waters, it charges at full speed and prevents the boat from crossing back if it’s frightened by a Greek craft. – Turkey needs to decide to cooperate seriously with the Greek authorities in dealing with migrant-trafficking gangs. Already, the Foreign and Merchant Marine ministries have communicated with the Turkish authorities, requesting cooperation in stamping out people-smuggling rings, but the Turkish authorities have not yet given a substantive response. Persecuted by the Taleban By Giorgios Lialios Kathimerini They emerge hesitantly, stand close to each other, exchange a few, no doubt trivial, words in low voices and straighten their hair and clothes. Behind them, some fellow-countrymen have gathered at the window and gaze inquiringly through the bars. Nineteen-year-old Saoualin speaks for the rest. He is the only one who speaks English. His cousin, Abdul Razok, knows only a few words and the other two, Abdul Holik and Muhammad can only communicate in their mother tongue. Saoualin smiles politely as he is introduced and his face lights up. He has already spent one week with another 20 Afghans at the main port authority building in Piraeus, into which shiploads of refugees and immigrants are regularly herded. Facilities are substandard to non-existent and quarrels often flare up with their 140 fellow-residents, chiefly Kurds. We never knew where we were. Mostly, we were together on a truck or bus, and we couldn’t see outside. The journey took about one and a half months. We never went through a border post. Often, they left us without food or water for two or three days at a time. At some point, we reached a small port in Turkey. We stayed there for one or two days and then they put us on a ship. There were a lot of people who embarked with us, most of them Kurds, but a few Afghans as well. We sailed for 30 hours before reaching a coast… (in this case, Poros and Methana.) The group of four, like most Afghans who have reached Greece in the past five years, are usually young men aged 15 to 25, Tajiks or Hazaras, who have been persecuted by the Taleban regime. Women are rare, since it is incredibly difficult for women to go about on the streets, let alone participate in such an escape. Saoualin’s three friends are eager to chime in. They want to talk about the situation in Afghanistan. We left because we couldn’t live there any more. The poverty was unbearable, many people were dying of hunger even as they walked down the street. Moreover, the Taleban persecuted us systematically and killed us because we were Hazaras, Saoualin explained. I was in jail for 13 months just because I was a Hazara, said Abdul Razok, 22. They beat me and tortured me for no reason. There’s nothing for us in Afghanistan. That’s why we risk our lives to come here. We didn’t have much to lose, added Abdul Holik, 23. ‘We want to stay here’ The war is unending in Afghanistan. From the moment there’s no peace, we cannot return. We want to stay here, we sold whatever we had, said Abdul Razok. The Taleban are exterminating us. We Hazaras cannot hide (because of their strongly Asiatic features). A Tajik can let his beard grow and get away with it, but they can tell us from our eyes. To enter Greece illegally, they paid the traffickers $2,500 each, approximately a million drachmas. It’s not easy to get hold of so much money, said Saoualin. It takes some people as long as two or three years. My family owned a small house and a general store. We sold everything so that I could leave. And how will they live? Saoualin turns pale and his voice drops. They don’t have the money to pay the rent. I don’t know how they’ll manage. That’s why I want to find work quickly here, so that I can help them. That’s the only thing I can think of. Since I left, I have not spoken with them. There is a pause in the conversation. We hope that the Greek government and the good people here will take us in, added Saoualin. Believe me, there’s no way back. They all want to stay and work. Sixteen-year-old Muhammad said: When I was small, I wanted to become an engineer, but I don’t think I’ll make it. I want to learn Greek, however. Our brief chat was at an end. Before we left, Saoualin stopped us. Excuse me, you know better than us… do you know what they will do to us? he asked, afraid, trying to conceal his apprehension. When these lines have been printed, Saoualin, the two Abduls, Muhammad and the others will be temporarily free to seek a better fate. Their most likely destination is the Pedion tou Areos park, Koumoundourou Square or some derelict building. A likely recourse for many aliens entering the country illegally is a telephone call to someone who came to Greece earlier, someone who has the contacts in order to help…