Within the sprawling city of Athens, Greece, Victoria Park resembles a war front camp. Close to a thousand Afghanistani asylum seekers, many are children, now call this park home. Hoping to put the struggles of a war torn homeland behind them, they left Afghanistan to find security. Sadly, the hunger, homelessness, cruelty and desperation has followed them on their path.
Zulmay, an Afghanistani refugee has been attacked several times by men he suspects are from a Greek nationalist group.
‘This park is the only sanctuary for us. If we go outside of this park, we are assaulted.” His eye is swollen, oozing and bruised. An injury confirming his claim of mistreatment by Greek assailants.
“If we go outside of the park, the Greek police will not protect us. The Greek police are reluctant to interfere when we are attacked. I went to the police when my head was bleeding after an assault. The police told me I should defend myself if I am attacked. Clearly, the Greek police will not register our complaints of harassment or assault.”
Zulmay says it is not good to fight back. It will only worsen the situation for a refugee and it could land them in jail or prison. He is not going to take the chance of being separated from his wife and children just to fight back.
“My family needs me. I must find us shelter and food. I want to find a job to take care of my family.”
Along the roads of Athens, young Afghanistani refugee children work selling handmade items. For six months now, brothers Fareed, 8, and Hamyoon, 11, walk the streets selling to survive. Everyone in the family must do their part to earn money. Their parents ask them to earn at least 15 Euros before returning home to the park. It is a rough life compared to the children eating cereal and milk for breakfast in front of a television. A school bus will not arrive to taxi these refugee children to school for education. For now, the streets of Athens are their classroom. The lesson for “survival of the fittest” is now in session.
These Afghanistani refugees are waiting to be processed by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), a UN agency mandated to protect and support refugees. The commission assists in the voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement. It is an immense and complicated process.
Consumed with their own economic troubles, it appears there are Greeks without care for the plight of refugees. You would think that a people so steeped with a history of war would understand such things. The days of Spartacus are long gone. Why must a refugee fight for his life and the life of his children within this arena? Would it have been better they starve or die on the battlefields of Afghanistan?
The cruelty and confinement in Athens has many refugees feeling an urgency to smuggle their families out of Greece and into neighboring European countries.
“We are not a danger to Greece. We only want to find safe shelter and a little food to feed our children. We desire a secure place to live and find work. Our people are capable and willing to work. We want our children to have a chance for education. Shouldn‘t everyone be allowed a safe place to raise a family? In my homeland, every day I felt fearful a bomb or bullets would destroy my family. Many of us have already suffered loss from the death of a loved one. A war that I did not start took away jobs and food for my family. No one should have to endure such things.” These words from an Afghanistani refugee mother sound like those of any parent concerned for their child.