I came to Chios on 20 March 2016, the first day of the EU-Turkey deal, and stayed there for about nine months. The Greek Asylum Service told us that the asylum procedure is very slow because of limited staff. We suffered not just because of the terrible living conditions in the camps – no hot water, no proper shelter, inedible food – but also because we couldn’t work to earn our own income and our children couldn’t go to school. Children lost their childhood in Syria. They then lost their future on the coasts of the Aegean sea. We hadn’t come here to eat and drink, to live in tents like animals. We had come here to have a safe life.
I have now lived in Germany with my family for more than two years, but not too long ago I returned to visit Lesbos and Chios with a group of young people from the University of South California. I talked to many Syrians, Palestinians, and Afghans about my experience on Chios. I spoke of my former life there, and of how much we suffered. I hope they will escape this exile, this jail, to have a life and a future. There were refugees there with interviews scheduled for 2020, 2021, and even in 2022. Can you imagine how these people must lead their lives, just waiting for an answer?
War has no mercy when it happens.
It turns everything upside down.
I believe European governments are doing this to send a message to other refugees in Turkey: look at the bad conditions, don’t think about coming here. Three years of the deal, and just as before there is no humanity for those whom the world calls ‘refugees’. They are blamed for coming ‘illegally’ to the EU, and the reasons that made them refugees are conveniently forgotten. War has no mercy when it happens. It turns everything upside down.
On the ferry to Chios, I remembered every second of my trip from Turkey on a ‘death boat’. I was scared and in the darkness of the night. I just had one thought: what if something happened to one of my kids, or to my wife, and I had to help them to stay alive? How different it was this time. I sailed the same sea and I had no nightmares about what could happen. When I reached the port, my friends welcomed me warmly; no police were waiting to take my fingerprints.
In Chios I went directly to the site of Souda refugee camp, which was closed more than a year ago, to relive my memories of life there in 2016. I could hear every stone trying to tell me how many heart-breaking stories they had heard from refugees over the past years. The sea waves mourned their betrayal of the refugees who had died within them, not able to reach the safety of the island’s shores. I hugged an enormous eucalyptus tree. It looked sad and exhausted from its time keeping the secrets of the refugees chatting beneath it, longing for freedom from that prison one day.
Three years of the EU-Turkey deal, and the EU has neither found a way to resettle refugees to other member states nor helped them to establish lives in Greece. EU politicians are fully aware of the unsafe, unhygienic, and inhumane conditions in the camps. Refugees who arrived after the deal should have the same rights as those who came before them. They should be given the opportunity to relocate and to become part of European society.
Three years of the EU-Turkey deal, and more and more people are stuck in hotspots on the Greek islands. Why? All because of a political tug of war between the EU and Turkey, both of whom have forgotten that these are humans not chess stones.