Ali came to Greece in 2001. He is a political refugee from Turkey, having being exiled by the fascist Turkish state. In Kurdistan he was a journalist. After applying for political asylum in Greece, Ali travelled to Belgium, where he went on a hunger strike, and took him 12 years for his asylum petition to become accepted by the Greek state.
A simple process which could otherwise take 6 months to 2 years at the worst, seems to be quite slow and cumbersome for the Kurdish community.
The situation only worsened in the last 3-4 years, when only 3-4 people have managed to gain their asylum status, from among the Kurdish community which is residing in Lavrio.
The first Kurdish political refugees came to Lavrio 25 years ago. Not a single one of them is an economic immigrant. They are mainly journalists, politicians, active citizens and even mayors, who were censored, hunted and exiled by the terrorist state of Turkey, and the rest of the arabic and persian regimes who are now occupying the territories of Kurdistan. Many of them have been on the forefront of the White Cells uprising in Turkey, and some bear the evident markings of torture. "There is no democracy in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, and that's why we came to Greece", explain the refugees in the camp.
"We basically have two options. To either stay in our country of origin and suffer, with some of us living in the middle 0f a war zone, or to leave and come to Europe".
Unfortunately for them, their suffering won't stop, since they now have to face the greek authorities, who on the one hand, constantly delay the process of granting asylum to those who are legally eligible for it, and on the other hand, they are quite efficient in sending decisions for deportation from the refugee camp.
Today, in the Center f0r Refugee Reception and Housing in Lavrio, the population has peaked numbering 400+ people, with many children among them, while an additional 130 people reside in the "Neraki" camp of the same municipality.
The refugees, through their own work and means, they fight to improve their everyday lives. They organise and improve the camp's facilities by themselves, utilising the skills of their people (woodworkers, builders, electricians, plumbers, etc.) and the help of ordinary Greek citizens who want to help and support them.
Specifically, the refugees build shelters in front of the rooms, to gain protection from the rain and the summer sun. They are building a school for the children, along with a flower garden and a vegetable garden. They also created a sheltered space to house all the washing machines, which are for communal use, and another sheltered space, to house a wooden oven for cooking.
The indifference of the state and the local authorities
All these works of improving the living conditions of the people residing in the camp, are a byproduct of the work of the refugees themselves, who refuse to give up, and manage to achieve a decent standard of living, in spite of the efforts of the Greek state and the local authorities.
The central state seems to have completely abandoned the Kurdish refugees, which is something that created immense hardships and adversity. There is a small financial assistance, but even this amount of money is being granted with delays and no consistency. But worse than anything is the behaviour of the Lavrio Municipality, who is openly opposing the efforts of these people who are fighting for their lives and dignity in the camp. Unfortunately, the Municipality is not only neglecting the refugees' legal demands and needs, but they are also putting pressure on them and issuing outright threats against them.
The Municipality's threats are accompanied by the refugees' malnutrition and by reduced supply in warm water, heat and electricity. At the same time the Municipality ignores the structural and hazardous problems of the building that house the refugees and their children. Specifically, one of the buildings has serious stability issues, while the other two have foundation problems, according to the report issued by the civil engineers of the Markopoulo urban planning division.
"We deal with complete neglect from the local authorities", Ali explains and adds: "The Municipality hasn't helped us at all. We asked for medical assistance at the outbreak of Corona virus. and they simply continued ignoring us. They don't care about our living conditions, what's our situation and what problems are we dealing with. At the end, and while the health crisis was ensuing, they didn't provide us with any help whatsoever, not even to help us clean and disinfect the area in the camp. They didn't send a single cleaning crew. They simply want to shut down the refugee center".
The refugees were forced to undertake by themselves the effort of cleaning and sterilising the camp. The role of resident doctor was again took up by one among the refugees - a Kurdish doctor, who is also trapped living in the camp.
The Lavrio Municipality wants to oust the Kurds from the area. This is either because of political reasons, or outright xenophobia.
At the refugee center, there are people who petitioned for political asylum 15 and 20 years ago. The situation for many of them has become unbearable, while they only ask for what's right and legal. For the state to issue political asylums to those who are legally eligible for it. There shouldn't be any "indefinite" asylum petitioners.
At the same time, the state is also refusing to help those who have been already granted political asylum. In essence, there is no follow-up program to the asylum status. The Greek state, recognises the Kurds as political refugees and then forgets everything about them - it abandons them. They provide them with the asylum documents, and then they are just telling them "go, you are free, do what you wish". Without support or guidance.
Instead of this negligence the refugees are seeking for an integration path from the Greek state. For instance, they are asking for a chance to take greek language courses, without having to quit their jobs in order to participate. The would like to become fully integrated in Greece. They are also of the opinion, that a people living in a foreign country as refugees, need to be integrated and to adapt to the ethics and customs of the culture that is hosting them.
They are also reminding the state, that it shouldn't treat them as immigrants, since they are political refugees and the authorities seem to usually forget this fact. "We didn't come here for the money", Ali explains.
For the necessary integration program, the refugees add the need and the importance to be granted social security numbers, in order for them to gain the basic human right of health treatment, and the importance to also get tax identification numbers, in order for them to be able to get a decent job and build their lives.
The dead-ends created by the greek bureaucracy are also numerous. The state, on the one hand makes the process of granting asylum extremely difficult, and on the other, it makes the life at the refugee camp equally unbearable. Finally, the state makes sure that the process of leaving the camp to move to Europe, is an impossible task for the refugees.
"We want to go to Europe. Moving through Greece, some of us are forced to spend their lives in a former military camp, while others end up living in the street. We cannot build our lives and start over. Especially for those with a family, this is impossible".
Although they are dealing with their daily challenges, the refugees do not forget the international cause and the national fight of the Kurds.
"We have been branded as terrorists by Europe, and we wish to be rid of these false accusations".
Their main demand is the vindication of the Kurdish people and their fight for freedom and self-determination. They are asking for Greece's support, and material assistance in the war that is being waged against them, in the four countries where Kurdistan lies today. The refugees are frustrated by the global indifference, and are asking from Greece and Europe to secure the human rights of the suffering Kurdish people.
The Kurdish political refugees send out a message of peace to the Greeks and are grateful for the ordinary citizens who express their support and solidarity on a regular basis.
The refugees are determined to do anything in their hand for the well-being of their children. The education and healthcare of the children is definitely a big challenge at the camp, but the refugees are willing to do their outmost, sending as many children as they can, to the Greek schools in the region.
Recently, they gathered their money and rented a bus, for the kids and their parents to visit the zoo in Spata. The little children were excited and beaming with joy. Equally cheerful were the festivities of the 18th of July, when the Kurdish refugees in Lavrio celebrated the 8 years since the foundation or Rozava.
The history and the noble fights of the Kurdish people, along with the brotherly feelings by the Greeks, is what helps them and empowers them to keep going.