Migration and Struggle in Greece

907 kilometres from Orestiada to Athena

Posted by clandestina on 26 June 2012

A reportage by Mauro Prandelli

907 kilometres is the distance to reach the Omonia quarter, in the centre of Athena, leaving from the Greek-Turkish border. This is a political border represented by the Evros river, the 160 km natural borderline between two countries, Greece and Turkey, but also between two worlds, two cultures. This river is the gateway for many migrants who try to enter into Europe from the East, it is the oriental gate of Europe.
In 2010 The Hellenic State asked economical aids to the European Community to build a wall to stop the flow of immigrants, which was becoming larger and more constant, but the aids were denied by the Community.
On 5th August 2011 it became know from the press agencies that the first 15 kilometres of the ditch, which had to replace the wall, would be delivered, but then the works stopped.
After the Arab springs and the increase of the controls in the Mediterranean Sea the number of identified migrants (according to data provided by Frontex) amounts to 55,000, some of whom were found dead of exposure during the cold winter.
After crossing the Evros river the migrants start another journey made of identifications and legal suspensions. The identified migrants are granted a temporary permit of 30 days. Most of them try to reach Athena and after they have arrived there they get in touch with a complex reality made of segregation and isolation.
In Athena, in Sofokleous Street, at about 907 km from Orestiada, which is a village on the Greek-Turkish border, you can meet many migrants queueing to get the free meal provided by the diocese twice a day. Some of them have expulsion papers and orders or applications for asylum. They talk about their situation and it is clear that they feel insecure and worried. Not far from there the association Doctors from the World provides health assistance and a shelter for the night. Inside the structure there are a male dormitory, a family dormitory, rooms for formative courses and an ambulatory for free visits. This association offers the legal assistance to help the migrants to solve their legal problems linked to the permission permit or the applications for asylum. Many migrants remain thus blocked in Greece. According to the Convention of Dublin II if the migrant is identified in Europe and recognized to be illegal, he must be sent back to the European country which has first identified him : Greece often has this role. The Hellenic State has the lowest rate of acknowledgment of the “status” of refugee, about 2% of the applicants against the 20% on average in the rest of Europe.

Just beyond the turkish border

Orestiada – 55.000 migrants identified in 2011 tried to cross the Evros river. It is estimated that in Greece the 8% of the population is immigrant. After the Arab springs, the war in Lebanon and the following increase of the controls in the Mediterranean Sea the European way represented by the Evros river has become one of the main ways used by the dealers of human beings to make the immigrants travel.

Now in Europe

Orestiada – European border. Some hundreds of meters apart flows the Evros River, the liquid and natural borderline between two countries. All the border is a military area controlled by Frontex and patrolled by the police.

Step by step

Orestiada – On average 200 migrants per day (according to data provided by Eulex) cross the river. Some of them travel for weeks before crossing the river.

Forgot things

Orestiada – After they have arrived on the Greek riverside many migrants change themselves, leave their wet dresses along the street and walk towards Athena.

Ice in Greece

Orestiada – The crossing of the Evros river is dangerous, especially during the winter, when the river level is higher. In cold seasons the temperatures in this region can reach also –20°.

Was a mass grave

Sidirò – Few kilometres South off Orestiada, on the mountains, there is a Muslim community. Here, on top of a mountain surrounded by a net, are buried the bodies of the migrants dead by cold or of exposure while crossing the river.

Muslin cemetery

Sidirò – The victims of the Evros river, after they have been brought to the hospital for the autopsy or for eventual identification, are buried in the Muslim cemetery. Until 2010 the migrants who had not been identified were buried in common graves.

Golden dawn fingerprint

Orestiada – In the latest years, in Greece, the groups of extreme right have become stronger also due to the fact that they pointed to the immigrants as one of the main reasons of the Greek crisis. The movement Alba d’Oro has made the fight against the immigrants to become his flag and has also proposed systems which are opposite to the Rules for the human rights to oppose the immigration.


Athena – From 3:00p.m. to 4:p.m. and from 7:00p.m. to 8:00p.m. in Sofokleous Street the diocese offers free meals. Homeless, drug-addicted, immigrants and in the last period also many Greeks wait for their turn. First the women, children and the elders (usually Greek) and then all the others. There is a queue and everybody waits for his turn almost in silence.

Poor lunch

Athena – The meal served in Sofokleous Street is poor of nourishment, it is a small basin with vegetables and a slice of bread. A migrant boy complaints about the poor meal.

Illegal for paper

Athena – Ahmaed Said Nafis, a 25 boy coming from Mali, shows his papers regarding his situation in Greece. Said sleeps in the park near to Sofokleous Street; on the following day his temporary permission of 30 days will expire and he will thus become illegal.

MdM in Athena

Athena – Central seat of the Association Doctors from the World. Every day dozens of families go the association to ask for help. The association has an ambulatory where a team of voluntary doctors make the routine visits. The people in charge of this seat refer that more and more often Greek families go there to ask for help as they have difficulties caused by the economical crisis.

Family in shelter

Athena – The seat of the association Doctors from the World receives families with children. Many migrants try to enter into Europe with all their families; according to the European rules regarding the application for asylum, the bureaucratic course for children under 12 is quicker, but more difficult to get.

Young Spiderman

Athena – The children received in the seat of the association Doctors from the World have a games room where they can play together; some volunteers offer their education services here.

MdM Shelter

Athena – In the seat of the association Doctors from the World there is a male dormitory and a family dormitory. In the male area there are immigrant guests of different nationalities. The structure offers a legal assistance to those who demand asylum.

Unlucky story

Athena – Many immigrants, according to the Convention of Dublin II, are not sent back to their countries of origin, but to the country where they were first identified. Raja, a 60 Pakistani, shows articles form the newspapers and refers that he was expelled form Germany in spite of the fact that he had been working near to Berlin for over 10 years. He mentions that he tried to go back to Germany with the legal help of the association Doctors from the World.

Politics refugee

Athena – There are many cases of political refugees in Greece. Mohammed, Kurdish-Iranian, left Iran as he had been accused of political crimes and risked the death penalty by hanging. After the long journey through Turkey he crossed the Evros river to present himself to the police and ask for political asylum. Mohammed is 22 years old.

MdM shelter

In the seat of the association Doctors from the World there are migrants of different nationalities. Pakistanis, Iranians, Kurdish, North Africans, Congolesis, Nigerians, they are all waiting for their situation to be regularized. Greece has the lowest rate of acknowledgment of the “status” of refugee, about 2% of the applicants against the 20% on average in the rest of Europe.

Story in the shelter

Athena – Each story in the “shelter” needs attention. A boy of 20, who emigrated from Congo to Greece, tells about his risky journey to find help and salvation in Europe. After about one month he has found the help in the association Doctors form the World. He is now waiting that the bureaucratic / legal course goes on.

Trapped in Greece

Athena – From the bars of the shelter filtrates the light of the summer sun. There are still thousands of people who every day remain suspended, clung to real and ideological bars, trapped in Greece. Today, even more than in the past, due to the situation of economical crisis, these bars are more and more hard to be broken to finally enjoy the sun in freedom and with the dignity deserved by every human being.

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