Refugees in limbo

Refugees in limbo

“I can’t” was never part of Esma Ali’s vocabulary. The law school graduate and mother of three worked at the regional authority of Izmir and survived two months in jail there as part of the regime’s purge of the public administration in the wake of the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, before fleeing to Greece across the Evros River border with her children.

In Athens, she spent her days visiting embassies and public services in an effort to gain legal status for herself and her children but never expressed despair or exasperation. For accommodation, she hauled her family’s suitcases and other belongings from one Airbnb apartment to the next without complaint.

The only thing that seemed to really upset her was the realization that the reunion with her husband, Mahmet, in Germany, from whom she had already been separated for more than 18 months, would take longer than expected – “by the end of 2018 at best.”

Kathimerini had met with the young Turkish woman on several occasions since her arrival in Athens and did so again a couple of weeks ago at an apartment in the downtown neighborhood of Kypseli. She was there with a group of friends, all exiles from the regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and all separated from their husbands. Talkative and full of life, Esma described her adventures in vivid detail as she fed the youngest of her three children.

But last Sunday morning, just a few hours after the 35-year-old had moved her family into yet another flat, she complained for the first time, saying she wasn’t feeling well. She died of heart failure a few hours later in a hospital.

A close friend who was looking after the children spoke to Kathimerini after the incident: “They know that their mom’s in hospital and they’re angry we won’t take them to see her. She was perfectly healthy, though she was admittedly tired from all her tribulations and disappointments.”

Esma’s sudden death is a violent reminder of the problems faced by tens of thousands of people currently living in Greece in a protracted state of uncertainty.

Who does the hospital notify when there’s no adult next of kin? Where did the deceased want to be buried? In Turkey, which was her home but where she was subject to persecution? In Athens, where she had spent the last few months of her life but which has no Muslim cemetery? Or in Germany, where her husband lives?

As far as the children are concerned, German authorities helped Mahmet travel to Athens, where, with the help of a psychologist, he told the children that their brave mother had died. He is now making arrangements to take them back to Germany with him.

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