I, the Afghan minor who was returned three times from Italy to Greece…
Posted by clandestina on 12 May 2009
ROME, April 19 2009.
Minoan Lines ferry dock, Venice. Eight o clock in the morning, some day in August 2008. Juma K. does not recall the exact date. It was the first time he reached the port after months of failed attempts. He had embarked in the truck trailer three days ago, at night. The truck was parked at the port of Patras. There is enough time to climb on it from the moment the port gates open until the police comes. When they counted themselves, they were 15; 10 out of them were minors. The stocks of water and biscuits lasted for 24 hours. The summer sun made everything more difficult. On the third day, at last, somebody turned on the engine and the truck embarked. Upon arrival in Italy, the trailer disembarked and no one took notice of their presence. It was only in the evening, around 19:00, at the port’s square, when some agents of the security forces opened the doors for inspection.
Juma K. tried to escape. But he was stopped by an agent who hit him in the back. Nobody asked him what was his name, what country he had come from, how old was he. No one asked him where were his parents and why he had left Afghanistan, crossed the mountains of Iran, risked his life in the Aegean Sea, and why now he had confined himself in
that truck. The police got everyone again on board, and locked them in a bathroom, with a little water and a plate of spaghetti al pomodoro. A few hours later, at midnight, the Minoan Ferry sailed back to Patras again. At the time Juma was 16 years old. Today he lives in Rome. We meet him at the Italian school that is attending, Asinitas. He lives in the Italian capital since the 26th of November, 2008. Thanks to the support of a Greek organization, he could legally join there his older brother, Adel, who lives in Rome for three years, with a residence permit as a political refugee and has an assistant cook job in a restaurant of the city center.
He is just one of the thousands Afghan and Iraqi refugees who are repulsed each year from Italian ports back to Greece, on the basis of a readmission agreement signed by both countries in 2001. But in his case there is an even more aggravating circumstance. He is a minor. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, with a note dated 15 April 2008, has asked that readmissions to Greece of all potential refugees are suspended, because Athens is not able to ensure adequate protection for them, especially in the case of minors unaccompanied by family members. By law, them should enjoy an exception status. And not only that. According to the Article 19 of the Legislative Decree 25/2008 on the procedures for recognition of refugee status – which was endorsed by the European Union – it is clear: “The unaccompanied minor who has expressed his/her willingness to seek international protection must be provided with the necessary assistance to aplly for that” . But all this is mere theory. The practice is that of repulsion, of everyone, including minors. Gian Antonio Stella complained about that on the 31st of March with a Corriere della Sera article. But the Interior Minister Roberto Maroni denied the situation, calling the journalist to present”the necessary evidence”. We did this for him. And we discovered that the repuslion of the Afghan children from Italian ports is a [standard] practice. Juma K. himself was rejected three times; the fourth time he almost suffocated to death.
The second time Juma K. embarked alone on a Superfast ferry to Bari. He succeeded to hide himself under the chassis of an English truck, while the other Afghan boys were scattered by the police. The ship reached Puglia at 18:00. The driver noticed him and pulled him out with force, then handed him to the Port Police agents asking him to calm down. Juma K. showed me a scar on hiselbow, inflicted by the clash with iron frame of the truck when the driver snatched him out of his hideout. The only thing that the police asked was if he had paid the driver and how much. They did not pay attention to anything he was saying. He kept repeating the only words in Italian that he had memorised: “My brother Roma.” He also tried his English, which is definitely good, but no agent spoke any. They gave him a small bottle of water. He was soaking in sweat. This time they locked him in a room near the engine. Upon his return to Patras, like the last time, he was locked up in a container placed next to the headquarters of the Greek police in the port and used as a detention facility for refugees found on the ferry to Italy. I had already seen a video on Youtube, filmed inside the container, from an Afghan boy with a his mobile phone cam. Juma, however, adds frightening details. During his detention, seven days, with four other people, he had his wrists handcuffed. He was released only to go to the bathroom, but still handcuffed to another person.
From the first of September 2008 to November 30, according to the Ministry of the Interior, 1816 people have been repulsed on the ports of Venice, Ancona, Bari and Brindisi. Most of them towards Greece, most of them Afghans. We do not know how many out of them were children, since many repulsions take place without any notification of the associations working at the ports in agreement with the Prefecture for the protection of the right of asylum. This is confirmed by the Italian Council for Refugees (Cir) itself. In 2008 about 850 people were found on ships in the port of Venice, Cir was informed only about 110. What about the other 740?
After his third refoulement – again from the port of Bari, along with five other children hidden in a truck – at the end of August Juma tried for the last time. Together with a same-age Tajik they hid inside a tight compartment below the chassis of the trailer of a truck. When the ship departed, at 18:00, the heat was still intense. A few hours later, the oxygen was running low. The door could not be opened from the inside. They began beating with their fists on the walls. When one of the men on board pulled them out, the two fainted and fell to the ground. One hour more in the truck would be fatal. They would be found dead, as 13 year old Zaher Rezai was last December, under the truck where he was hidden in order to reach Italy. Or the Iraqi boy crushed by the axles of a vehicle, on March 29th, again in the port of Venice, three days after another lifeless body was found on a ship in Ancona. It is not difficult to die trying to demand political asylum in Italy. Not even for a minor. Perhaps this is what the government should provide “the necessary evidence” for.
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