Iranian asylum seekers sew mouths shut to protest Greek mistreatment
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As Greece faces growing international pressure to improve its “catastrophic” immigration system, a group of Iranian asylum seekers have sewed their mouths shut during a hunger strike in central Athens to pressure the Greek government to accept their applications for refugee status.
Hunger striker Mandana Daneshnia. Photo posted by Amir Mohsen on Facebook.
As Greece faces growing international pressure to improve its “catastrophic” immigration system, a group of Iranian asylum seekers have sewed their mouths shut during a hunger strike in central Athens to press the Greek government to accept their applications for refugee status.
The 45 protesters, eight of which sewed their lips together with medical threads, have been on hunger strike for 12 days in a makeshift tent in front of Athens University. All say they were forced to flee Iran after facing harassment or persecution from authorities. They claim their treatment at the hands of Greek border police has been little better.
Last Wednesday, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, warned that the Greek asylum system is “dysfunctional” and has created “catastrophic” conditions for refugees. During a 10-day fact finding mission in which he visited dozens of prisons, police stations, hospitals and administrative detention centres, he found detainees who had been locked up for up to six months in overcrowded, filthy cells, with very bad ventilation and lighting. Access to medical care, lawyers and interpreters was also very limited. The Special Rapporteur said he received “numerous consistent allegations” of beatings by police officers, but that there was “little forensic evidence” to corroborate them.
Greek law enforcement officials are overwhelmed by the near-constant flow of hundreds of irregular migrants entering the country via Turkey or by sea on a daily basis. In 2010, 90% of the arrests of irregular migrants in the European Union took place in Greece, and there is currently a backlog of 52,000 asylum cases to be examined. Late Sunday, following Nowak’s call for “joint European action” European Internal Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said the EU will help Greece face the growing problem.
First day of hunger strike in front of Athens University. Video posted on Youtube on October 14 by United Democracy Iran.
"In the border detention centre, we were fed one meal per day and slept on the floor"
Massoud Faramarzi Khosravi, 51, is an Iranian asylum seeker who has lived in Greece for the past 4 ½ years. He is currently participating in the hunger strikes in Athens.
We decided to do this hunger strike - even going as far as sewing our lips together for some of us - because our situation here in Greece is absolutely unbearable and so far all of our letters to various government ministries have been ignored. Even now, the only response we have had from the government has been through the media. They say we are bluffing, doing this for show. But there were 25 of us at first, and 20 more people have joined us since the start of the strike, including families with children. Would they come if we were bluffing?
Greece is like a prison, we are trapped here. We are forced to remain on the territory while our asylum requests are examined, and the procedure can take years. One man in our protest has been in Greece for over 12 years and still his asylum request has not been dealt with! If they catch us trying to leave the country to go to another European country we are immediately arrested, locked up, and face deportation to our country of origin. We can’t go back to Iran, because our lives are in danger there. We have appealed to the embassies of other EU countries to let us file asylum requests outside Greece.
"We are trapped here"
When I arrived four years ago over the Turkish border, I was arrested and locked in a detention centre in the border town of Feres. I stayed there for over three months, in a cramped common cell with between 20 and 40 other people, depending on the days. There were men, women, sometimes even children. It was dark and filthy. We slept directly on the floor, not everybody had a blanket. They gave us only one meal per day, we were always hungry and thirsty. Several times, I witnessed guards badly beating up a prisoner because he had said or done something they didn’t like. [France 24 has contacted the Feres border detention centre, which was one of the centres visited by Nowak, for their response to these allegations. We will update the post with their statement once we receive it.] But we are not criminals!”
Pictures of the Iranian hunger strikers
Protesters gather in a tent in front of Athens University.
Poster at the protest site: Greece crushing the Iranian immigrant.
Another poster encourages citizens to fax the Greece interior ministry and the UN Commission for Refugees in support of the hunger strikers. All photos posted on the protester's Facebook Group.
Post written with France 24 journalist Lorena Galliot.