Everyone here is very confused; we do not know what to expect

"We cannot decide anything here, others are deciding for us"

Safiullah, his wife and their two children were sleeping in a tent on the train lines in the village of Idomeni, near the borders with FYROM, when they were forcibly taken back to Athens by the police. “The police pushed us in the buses as if we were animals,” says Safiullah. “They didn’t allow us go anywhere. They escorted us even to the toilet. They brought us to Elliniko camp and told us we could return when the borders would open again”. Almost seven months later, Safiullah, 26 years old, still lives in a tent in Elliniko. He used to be a fruit seller in Afghanistan. But when he decided to take his wife and his two small children (a 2-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy) to Europe he couldn’t imagine how hard it would be. “We have been travelling for 9 months. When our boat started getting water in it, I told the people who knew how to swim to just save our children. But the worst moment of our journey was when we were not able to cross the borders and had to go back”.

During these seven months, Safiullah and his wife Farahnaz have been living in a tent in the unofficial site of Elliniko (a baseball stadium in the area of the old airport) together with other 800 people from Afghanistan. “The hardest thing is that we are sitting all day doing nothing and without knowing what will happen to us,” Safiullah says. “There are no activities here, so we just talk to each other and the problems of the other people are affecting us, too. We have too much stress.” Farahnaz often sees the MSF psychologist in the camp as she feels it helps her overcome her problems and feel calmer. “Without a psychologist I don’t know what will happen to us. We need to find something to do otherwise we will start fighting. But we cannot decide anything here, others are deciding for us,” she says. Safiullah and Farahnaz, like every other family in the camp, face a lot of problems in meeting their children’s everyday needs; however, what they care about most is education. “We want our children to study, to become useful to the society. They need education. They will be the next generation to bring democracy back to Afghanistan”.

"Everyone here is very confused; we do not know what to expect"

Mohammed Asif, a 37-year-old painter and graphic designer from Herat, Afghanistan, teaches art classes to about 50 children and 25 youngsters in Elliniko camp. Every day that passes, he sees his dream of organising a European exhibition tour fade away, but he doesn’t give up.

Seven months ago when he and his family (his wife and three children) were about to reach Idomeni, they were made to return to Athens where they still live until today. Mohammed Asif is proudly showing his students’ work on perspective. A month, ago his work and his students’ work were on exhibition in the camp. “I was hoping that things would change after the exhibition but nothing has changed. I need support to continue my work”, he says.

Mohammed Asif used to be known in Afghanistan for his calligraphy. He had his own studio and a website. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a way to keep his website online. “I hope one day I will manage to organize an exhibition and make a tour around Europe, but we do not know what will happen,” he says. “No one knows. Everyone here is very confused. We do not know what to expect.”

“I would not have expected Europe would be like this”

Abdul-Rahim and his family were among the first ‘inhabitants’ of Elliniko camp. He used to be a commander in the Afghan army and served for almost 30 years. Now he serves in the camp, assisting the community. “I’ve been chosen as a representative for the people here,” Abdul-Rahim says. “My role is to solve problems as a mediator when conflicts arise between families or within a family. I cheer the others up when they get down. I deal with the camp manager, submitting peoples’ requests when they have problems.”

After seven months in the camp, Abdul-Rahim knows everyone – and everyone knows him as ‘dagarwal’ (commander). His family is also trying to help the community. His daughter teaches English and his son volunteers with NGOs as a translator accompanying people to hospital when needed. “We are open-minded people. That is why we were threatened by the Taliban and decided to leave our country. But, to be honest, we have never experienced something like this before. Greeks have been good to us no matter the burden we created. But the European Union is keeping us here under these conditions. I would not have expected Europe would be like this.”

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Voices from the Field 25 May 2016