More migrants suffering in Greece

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More migrants suffering in Greece

Naomi Westland writes about the problems of Syrian refugees in Europe

Amnesty International has said that it is more dangerous now for Syrians who are escaping from the civil war to try to enter Europe.

Refugees are taking more risks to reach Europe by sea now. Greece was an important entry point for migrants, but its land border with Turkey has become stricter in the last year.

The journey is very dangerous. Since August last year, 100 people – mostly Syrians and Afghans, including children and pregnant women – have drowned trying to reach the Greek islands of Lesvos, Samos and Chios.

And if they arrive in Greece safely, this does not mean they will be safe. If migrants get papers allowing them to continue to Athens, the police could still arrest them in police checks. These checks, called Xenios Zeus after the ancient Greek god, lock up the migrants in dark, dirty cells.

There is now more racism. And there are many attacks on migrants by supporters of far-right parties such as Golden Dawn.

Mustafa, a Somali refugee, has been attacked twice since his arrival a year ago. ‘The first time there were six young men, and they started shouting “mavro, mavro”, or “black, black”,’ he explains. ‘They came up behind me. I put my arm up to protect my head and felt a big stick come down on my wrist… my wrist was broken. I was on the ground and they started kicking me.’ In the second attack, he was stabbed before escaping, covered in blood.

Many people are afraid of arrest and racist violence, so they stay in their homes. ‘We came here to bring our children to safety but we were wrong,’ Amirah, a Syrian refugee, told Amnesty. ‘We are scared to go out because of the racists, and when we see police we know they could stop us put us in prison.’

Migrants have taken very big risks to get to Greece. There is a 10.5-kilometre fence along Turkey’s River Evros and more soldiers along the borders. So groups leave in small, overcrowded inflatable boats from the Turkish coast into the black, freezing night.

Migrants have told Amnesty that the Greek coastguard often stops the survivors, and makes the boats go back to Turkey. This is against Greece’s human rights obligations.

Many Greeks are shocked at the increase in racism. The ancient Greek idea of xenia, kindness to strangers, is still there for tourists. But there is little left for people escaping from war, poverty and hunger.

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