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January 27, 2014
January 27, 2014

Driven away by Norway and drowned by Greece

Author: Marios Aravantinos Translator: George Poulados
Source: Kouti Pandoras  Category: Borders
This article is also available in: eselit
Driven away by Norway and drowned by Greece

Eshanolla Safi. Photograph by Eurokinisi

The different story of an Afghan refugee, one of the survivors of the tragedy of Farmakonisi, the chronicle of the drama and the mystery of the testimonies. Soul searching from Eshanolla Safi (photo).

Sunday, 26 January 2014. The migrants who survived at Farmakonisi are gathered at the offices of the Afghan community, just a few metres from the hotel where they are staying in the centre of Athens. Along with tens of representatives of international organisations who are collecting data in an attempt to contribute to the clarification of the tragedy. Sitting at an oval table, silently, with a mug of coffee in hand they beckon at our entrance. Sitting at the back is a middle-aged Norwegian in origin who is chatting with 39-year old Eshanolla Safi and keeping notes on a piece of paper of what he tells him. Safi is one of the survivors of Farmakonisi, but his story is different. Not because it is more dramatic, but because he has become a victim of Europe and its policy for the second time.

Safi left Afghanistan six years ago as a refugee and went to Norway, where he filed an application for asylum. As he says, during his stay there, he received a work permit and provided to the Norwegian state by paying taxes. However, in late 2012, after nearly six years of residence in the Scandinavian country, he was informed that he should return to his homeland. Safi was expelled from paradise to hell. The return to Afghanistan would undoubtedly have meant his death sentence and that of his family. His wife, a teacher by profession, was already tainted by the Taliban, while he had been declared an outlaw, already known for his attempt to escape the violence in Afghanistan for a better future in the friendly West. During the year that Safi remained in his homeland, he planned his escape and return to Europe. This time with the whole of his family: his wife and four children. But their journey was to stop at the Greek-Turkish border.

“We would have been saved if we had not been found”

The Afghan refugee, his family, along with a group of their compatriots and a Syrian family set off from the coast of Turkey last Monday evening. “We set off at around 10 to 11 in the evening” Safi remembers. “After about two hours, we had almost arrived. We were about 100 metres from the shore when the engine of the boat stopped working, because it was hot. We decided to jump into the sea and make a chain using our hands to draw the children ashore. Then we were spotted by the coast guard. They shot in the air and shouted at us to sit down. Two men from the coast guard jumped onto our boat. Someone from their boat threw a rope and tied the bow in order to pull us. The coast guard vessel began to accelerate, even making manoeuvres. Suddenly the iron hook to which the rope was tied broke, and timbers from the bow of the boat were detached. Water began to enter the boat. The coast guards who were still on our boat shouted to the coast guards on the other boat to stop.”

Safi could not understand what they were saying, but he was sure that were shouting for the boat to stop. He remembers the coast guards shouting “asshole, asshole, asshole” at their colleagues on board. Finally, the coast guard speedboat stopped. “The two coast guards” Safi explains “went back to their own boat, threw a second rope and asked Chaimpar, the Syrian who was driving the boat and knew English, to tie the rope somewhere else, as he did. We thought that they would get us out, but instead they accelerated. The water in our boat reached our waists. We were desperately shouting please help us and they would answer fuck you!”

“This is how they drowned us”

The coast guards had to restrain themselves. Their boat was immobilised again, but instead of collecting the refugees, they cut the rope, Safi says. “They wanted to leave. They would have left us to drown, if the boat engine didn’t have a problem”. As the refugee explains, because of the manoeuvres, some of their items had fallen into the water some of which had apparently got tangled in the propellers of the coast guard vessel, forcing them to stop. “Smoke was coming out of the engine. We found the opportunity to hold on to the stem of the vessel. We tried to get on to the boat, but four coast guards were hitting our hands so as to make us fall into the sea. Meanwhile our boat had capsized. Those who were inside the cabin –women and children– were trapped. We asked them to throw lifejackets in order to save our people but they did not. I told them that my children were drowning. One of the coast guards pointed a gun at me. I showed him my chest for him to shoot me”. From the people on board only 16 survived, among them only a woman and a baby. They managed to get on to the coast guard boat says Safi.

“During our transportation, they threatened Chaimpar, the only person who spoke English, that if we said anything, they would create greater problems. We were taken to a place which reminded us of camp and told us that a helicopter was looking for our people. We did not see or hear a chopper, until daybreak, when in fact we did see it fly.”

The mystery of the testimonies

The next morning, the survivors were transferred elsewhere (Safi has a difficulty remembering places), apparently to the island of Leros where they were given dry clothes and asked to testify. “They brought an interpreter, who knew the language of only three of those who were there. He said that he didn’t know how to read and write, only to speak their language. Therefore, it is unknown whether what the refugees said was recorded properly”. As Safi explains, the coast guards could write whatever they wanted without anyone knowing.

“Before we left” concludes Safi, “they approached us and told us: ‘All right. You will leave as long as you sign these papers’”. We thought we were signing papers for the materials they gave us, the clothes and shoes. We do not know what we actually signed”. The Afghan refugee has a suspicion that the testimonies that they probably signed without knowing were forged and presented by the coast guard as an excuse for the behaviour of its officers towards them.

The rescued refugees received from the authorities in Leros, a document which allows them to remain in Athens for 30 days. During that time they can apply for asylum if they wish, which will be examined in due course. The Greek authorities did not do them a favour. This practice is followed by almost all the refugees or economic migrants who come to Greece and who do not want to stay in the country but to pursue a better life in Europe. The same Europe that decided that Eshanolla Safi and his family were not refugees, probably because Afghanistan is not considered a war zone.
Instead of an epilogue we present the rhetorical question posed by Echsan, an Afghan refugee, who has already resided twelve years in Greece: “What is a city in which, a Taliban belted with explosives can kill you while waiting for the bus?” The answer should be given by the Greek state, which has to demonstrate that it respects human rights and international law. Moreover, what the survivors of Farmakonisi are asking for right now is for the bodies of their children and spouses to be found and delivered to them.

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