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  July 8, 2016

TRNN in Greece: The Last Dance of Ramadan at a Refugee Camp

Dimitri Lascaris speaks to people in Lesvos, Greece about their treacherous journey crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey
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DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for the Real News from the Greek island of Lesbos in the Northern Aegean Sea.

During the past several years, Lesbos which lies about 6 km off of the eastern coast of Turkey, has been on the front line of an unprecedented refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. Devastating wars, grinding poverty, and punishing droughts that have been exacerbated by climate change have caused a massive migration of peoples from countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa to the south of Europe. One of the main roots by which people lean these wars on poverty have sought to enter Europe is through Lesbos.

Today as a result of the highly controversial agreement between the EU and Turkey, the flow of refugees into Lesbos has been greatly diminished. But some 4,000 of these persons remain on the island. These refugees are concentrated in a handful of refugee camps, certain of which are closed and which operate effectively as high security prisons. But one of these camps which is operated by the municipality of Mytilene the capital of Lesbos, is an open camp. Meaning that residents are free to come and go, pretty much as they please. This is the camp of Kara Tepe.

Kara Tepe houses about 700 refugees. These refugees come principally from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Almost all of them reach Lesbos by crossing the Strait that separates the island from Turkey. They came on leaky and overcrowded boats often with no or defective life jackets. And therefore although the strait is narrow, many of these vessels sank before they reached the shores of Lesbos. Hundreds of migrants, including many children, have drowned in these crossings.

On July 6, 2016, the last day of Ramadan, I visited Kara Tepe with Sharmini Peries of the Real News. We found a joyous and festive mood in the camp which is not at all expected to see from people who have lost so much in order to [eek] out a new and precarious life, far from their homelands.

After speaking to some of the refugees at Kara Tepe however, we learned of the dangers to which they were exposed and the suffering they have endured in order to win a chance at a dignified life.

This is Dimitri Lascaris for the Real News. I’m at the Kara Tepe refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece and here with me this evening is a young lady by the name of [Tatwa] of Syrian origin, who has come to Greece from Pakistan. Thank you very much for talking to us this evening.

TATWA: [inaud.]

LASCARIS: Why don’t you just explain to us how you ended up coming from Pakistan to Greece.

TATWA: From Pakistan I went to Turkey. I stayed in Turkey one year. Even I was trying in this one year to come to Lesbos to Greece. The smugglers, twice they took our money and they just disappeared.

LASCARIS: These were smugglers in Turkey?

TATWA: Yes, in Turkey. But the third time, there was a smuggler who was Syrian. Like he was from almost the same village or like this. So he helped us and he just sent us here.

LASCARIS: And how much money did the smugglers—the first two times when they didn’t bring you across, how much money did they take from you?

TATWA: The first time was almost $5,000. The second time it was, we gave him things like our things, like gold, like things will buy us laptop, like this. Even again he just took it and run away.

LASCARIS: And the third time when you actually came across, how much did you have to pay for that crossing?

TATWA: The third time when I came here, he took almost $2000, like this.

LASCARIS: And you came across a small boat?

TATWA: Yes, it was a small boat. There was around 50-55 people in the boat and we came by sea.

LASCARIS: And the boat made it all the way across? It didn’t sink at any point?


LASCARIS: Did you travel with family members and if so, what family members were in the boat with you?

TATWA: Yes, my mother was with me and two sisters.

LASCARIS: And they all made it here safety? Are they here in the refugee camp with you?


LASCARIS: And so now you’ve been here for how long?

TATWA: Now here it’s 3 months and half.

LASCARIS: And how have you found the living conditions here at Kara Tepe?

TATWA: I appreciate whatever they are doing for us and really whatever they are doing, it’s too much. We could find a life. Everything was fine. No problems, hunger, no.

LASCARIS: Where do you ultimately hope to go?

TATWA: Wherever we can find the peaced life.

LASCARIS: And why did you leave Pakistan?

TATWA: For Syrian people it was problems. Like even they were asking about Syrian people like why are we living there for what purpose? So we left.

LASCARIS: Well I wish you the best of luck in your new life. Thank you for speaking.

TATWA: Thank you so much.

LASCARIS: I’m here this evening with a gentleman by the name of Hussam, who I understand has come from Iraq. Thank you very much for speaking to us.

HUSSAM: You’re welcome.

LASCARIS: So why don’t you just take a moment to explain to us how you ended up coming from Iraq to Lesbos.

HUSSAM: Why or how?


HUSSAM: How. Well from Iraq I traveled to north of Iraq, Erbil the name of the city. I took a visa to Turkey, Istanbul. And from Istanbul I stayed for two days in the hotel. And then the guy who got us here brought us to some point in [Abraham], in the forest, and we stayed until second day in the evening. At 3 am. So once dark, no police in the sea so we go and no one sees us. So we were in the forest for two days and then we launch to Greece at 3 am and we arrived at the beach of Greece at 6 and half am. And there was helicopter recording us and Greece emergency as well, they helped us. And we had two pregnant females in the boat and plus 35 people. And I was the only guy that didn’t have a safety suit and I don’t know how to swim as well.

LASCARIS: And did you have to pay? In order to come across in the boat, did you have to pay anybody?

HUSSAM: The guy who drives the boat doesn’t have to pay anything because he drives. But the rest have to pay. For me I paid $1000.

LASCARIS: And the boat made it safely across, there was no sinking?

HUSSAM: Well, it didn’t go straight to the point. It goes like this and the motor stopped twice. So in the middle of the sea and the darkness. So we kind of—for me I was scared because I didn’t have safety suit so I could almost drown. I didn’t know how to swim.

LASCARIS: So how long have you been in Lesbos now?

HUSSAM: I arrived at the beach at 13th or 29 of June. It’s been more than one week.

LASCARIS: And why did you leave Iraq?

HUSSAM: Because I want to--well for many reasons. Not only because we have like a miserable life. But Iraq has no future and you know what happened the last 2 days in Iraq, how many people died. Yea just life is not safe there.

LASCARIS; Are you yourself a Muslim?

HUSSAM: I am Muslim.

LASCARIS: And are you Sunni or are you Shia?

HUSSAM: I am Sunni but I don’t believe in this stuff, we are all human.

LASCARIS: So it wasn’t because any fear of persecution or the fact that you--.

HUSSAM: It was. Because it was. I am Sunni, I am threatened by Shia, and I am threatened by ISIS from this side also. So my life is in danger.

LASCARIS: So how do you feel about the experiences you’ve had here so far.

HUSSAM: Well I’m enjoying the life here. I’m working with this organization called HSA. I’m helping them all day long from 10 o’clock until 5am, volunteerly. So I am here new, so I am just making friends and I’m translator for them. I translate for the people here. I’m--yea I’m just enjoying this life.

LASCARIS: Just curious, how do you know English so well?

HUSSAM: Well I am self-taught. I didn’t finish school as well because as I told you, I didn’t even finish high school. First grade and I left it. But when I was 13 I used to like talk properly, English, yea.

LASCARIS: Well thank you very much for talking to us and we wish you the best in your future endeavors.

HUSSAM: Thank you sir.

LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris for the Real News.


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