NEWS

Isolated at Kokkinopilo

Kathimerini visited Kokkinopilo, in the foothills of Tyrnavos, where an abandoned army camp has been converted into a reception center for asylum seekers. The walls are damp and bare, and old metal army cots accommodate some 35 people. Some residents do not leave the camp for months, while others work a little in neighboring fields. The residents have food from the Red Cross but no future. Police at the nearby station who control the fate of those in the reception center see their task as an irritating chore to be dealt with as quickly as possible. Legal officers from humanitarian organizations do not always make it to the isolated camp, which is 80 kilometers, or 1.5 hours by car from Larissa. We talked to a Chinese refugee who carries photographs and documents in support of his claim that he was a government official, a member of the Communist Party of China, who was expelled with 300 of his colleagues in early 2004. Now he has a deportation order, though his application for political asylum has never been examined. Returning to China is risky. The elderly man from Morocco, with his perfect French and elegant hands, says that in his country he «used to build roads» and that he is being persecuted for «political and social reasons.» He spent two years in Jordan, where his application for asylum was not accepted. Two years later, Turkey decided to deport him to Morocco. Terrified, he presented himself to the authorities in Thessaloniki and try an application once again. Now he says he no longer believes «in anything.» The man from Chile who refuses any contact is said to be well-known in his own country, where he was persecuted. Others – women who have been victims of people traffickers, illegal immigrants being deported and asylum seekers – make up the mix of people at the center. Residents of the nearby village of Pythio remember Christmas Eve 2001, when children and their parents and elderly people arrived at the village in the snow, wrapped in Red Cross blankets. They couldn’t bear living at the center and asked for refuge in the village church. In 2004, families and children as young 10 and 14 were sent to the center with its damp rooms. Conditions at other reception centers are said to be even worse. It’s time for action: Greece has already been taken to the ECJ for its delay in incorporating the court’s directive on conditions at reception centers.