Migration and Struggle in Greece

The brutal torturing of Egyptian worker Walid Talb

Posted by clandestina on 18 March 2015


I am sitting next to Walid Talb. He is a very gentle and shy man. He smiles a lot and is willing to answer any question I throw at him; about his life in Egypt and then about what happened three years ago. I am not a journalist, you see, so I cannot keep up with the flow of a proper interview. Every time he refers to a detail of what they did to him in Salamina, I get a sudden, almost instinctive urge to change the subject, to get out of the café and get a breath of fresh air. I admire him for his courage. Walid Talb is seating next to me; his hat, his smile, his very existence act as a series of reminders.

The hearing of his case is scheduled for Tuesday 10 March at the criminal court of Piraeus. It is worth noting that the hearing has already been postponed four times…

The story is well known. No – it’s the photo that is well known, I should say. Published back in November 2012 the photo showed a brutally abused man, bound and chained on a tree. Walid Talb was working at a bakery on the island of Salamina, just off the Athenian coast, for just over a year. Before Walid joined, there were four people working at the bakery; three of them on production, preparing and baking, and one serving customers. When Walid joined however, his boss fired the other three “masters”, as he calls them. So the bakery owner saved two whole salaries while he paid Walid only a fraction of a proper wage. Walid used to share a house with other migrants. They were all undocumented migrants, living in Greece without permits etc, so they used to give the money they were making to Walid to keep until they managed to send it to their families back in Egypt or elsewhere. Walid kept the money in separate named envelopes in a bag which he used to carry along with him at the bakery; at some point he carried almost 12,000 euros. As the amount was quite large, he told his boss about the bag and its content, just to feel a bit safer. He told his boss how much money was in the bag and that he kept it with him at the bakery. Around that time Walid asked his boss for two months’ worth of overdue salaries.

Walid says that one day just as the shop was about to close for the day, his boss walked in from the bakery’s back door, where the preparation/production area was and where Walid worked. He mentioned something about the overdue salaries Walid had asked for. Then his boss started beating him up. Then the boss’s son and two others joined him. Walid described how his boss took his bag containing the money, how the others kept on beating him, how they chained his hands and feet. They then parked a small van right next to the shop’s entrance; they made sure no one was watching and put Walid in the van. They took him to a barn. They held him bound. They tortured him. Walid was crying, begging them to undo the chain a bit, telling them that he couldn’t breathe. As he was walking out, the boss’s son told him he was going to fetch a gun, they were going to shoot him and dump him into the sea. Then they left. Walid managed to break the chain using a rock. Almost blind, still bound in chains, he ran away and kept running through the fields until he collapsed in a front of tree. This is the picture we all saw; Walid in front of a tree, still carrying his chains.

A man found him and he accompanied him to the police station. Walid told them the whole story. The policemen heard him out and kept him there. Covered in blood, swollen, with a bad gash on his head, a broken leg and his left eye seriously injured, he was kept at the police station’s cell for the next three days. He was carrying no papers with him, you see. He was then transferred to the immigration police. He was finally taken to the hospital – five days later.

No, this is not Mississippi in 1930s. This is Salamina, this is Greece 2012. Walid’s boss is facing a series of charges: looting and robbery, inflicting bodily injuries, sexual harassment and employing a migrant without residence permit. As mentioned before, the hearing has already been postponed four times; last time round because there was no interpreter present.

The case may be extreme (or not? let’s not forget about Manolada) but it is not an isolated one. Specific facts that led to the torture of the Egyptian worker Walid Talb are worth noting. Walid says that his boss used to ask him to bake cheese pies on weekends which he used to deliver to a Golden Dawn group meeting nearby. He didn’t know what the t-shirts they wore, meant back then, he says.

So Walid is the migrant, providing illegal, cheap labour force. He is also the worker who doesn’t get paid and, when he does ask for his wages, he gets beaten up instead. He is the anonymous migrant who pays a huge price for Greek fascism that has fiercely returned in the past few years. He is the migrant worker who works for three (workers) and is only paid a fraction of a salary. He is the migrant who manages to go the police only to get locked up in a cell rather taken to the doctor. He is on his own, subject to threats, bullying and harassment while the community around him says nothing. The blogging movement (me included) writes about it.

Since November 2012 Walid Talb hasn’t managed to go back to work. He tried to work in construction, painting walls, but couldn’t; he gets quite dizzy when looking up. In the meantime threats and bullying continue. Just the other day, he says, he bumped into his former boss at a gas station. His boss started shouting at him, threatening he would kill him. “I am not generally afraid because I’ve got people by my side. But when he was shouting at me and people just stood there doing nothing… yes, I was scared.” People just stood there, they did not speak up. They managed to say a couple of words in support but not until after the bakery owner had left. “We are here for you, they said, don’t be afraid.” Walid says that after all this, he can tell (and others confirm it) that the business at the bakery is down. This may mean something. If the local community does not speak up, does not intervene, then this could indicate a minimum response on a level that our society understands: money… […]

Walid has been through hell; a kind of hell my mind cannot even grasp. As expected we talk about cuisine and exotic dishes. About falafels which he bakes for his brothers in the morning, and ful medames. He talks about the bread he used to bake and how good it was; and he used to make cheese pies and cream pastries too. He talks about Alexandria where he comes from. It is very nice. He speaks Greek very well but his use of adjectives is a little limited: “ful very nice; Alexandria very nice”. But the way he talks is above and beyond the very content of the adjective. His whole face, the way he smiles, his hand gestures – everything shows he is genuinely happy when he talks about these things; and maybe he gets to forget for just a moment. But then again I am not sure… I just hope he does… […]

His story is the story of our times, it is Greece’s story. It is our whole range of inertia, indifference, apathy, cynicism all the way to our downfall to fascism.

‘Vytio’ is a Greek blogger. He collaborates in the the electronic magazine ‘Τhe Cricket’ on a regular basis

  • Translated by: Mary Zambetaki
  • The original text was first published on: Τhe cricket, 4.3.2015

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