The hard road to freedom

Necat Ayaz

At the beginning of December, at midnight, they reached the proximity of the Turkish-Greek border with by a car. As soon as the car stopped, they got off very fast and, large backpacks and they headed towards the river. From the beginning of this journey which they believed it would be easy, the two guides began to force them to walk fast. They first passed the muddy fields which made the walking very hard and then they breathlessly passed a small valley on the edge of a Turkish village. When they reached the Maritsa River the guides blew the inflatable raft very quickly and for three of them the dangerous journey began on the dark water of the river. After a short while, they embarked on an islet and crossed the river for the second time. After arriving at the second island they crossed the river for a third time. This time they hardly escaped drowning in the dark waters as their inflatable raft began to lose air due to hitting the thin branches of the trees inside the water.

Zozan (the 42 years-old woman) says that they were completely exhausted when they reached the Greek side of the Maritsa River. She was a worker of a Kurdish municipality in Turkey and was dismissed by a state decree approximately two years ago together with her husband, who was a teacher working for the public sector. Both were accused of having ties with terrorist organizations, but neither of them were tried nor given a chance to defend themselves against this ruthless decision. After spending nearly two years in Turkey, they passed their time constantly searching for a job and tried to protect themselves from the state repression which took the the form of surveillance and threats. Finally, they found no other way but to flee from their beloved country.

Berivan (the 36-years-old woman) fled from the persecution in Turkey had hoped to be well-received by the Greek authorities because of the fact that she was a political refugee. All her hope died immediately when she was taken to the Feres Police and Border Guide Station. She told that the toilette of the center was such a dirty place and smelled awfully that she and other asylum seekers could not dare even to go near. They had to wait there for hours unable to use the toilette and hoped to be taken from there as soon as possible. She was not such a person to turn a blind eye to these degrading conditions and when they were brought to Thessaloniki she found an opportunity to officially complain about this reality to UNHCR representatives there. She says that the representative she talked to was quite aware of the physical conditions of detention centers and remained silent about whether they could do something to make this detention centers a better place.

Although there are similar stories related to the inadequate conditions of first detention centers, the asylum seekers are tending to pay no attention to them due to the fact that they spend there a short time from a few hours up to 1 or 2 days. The second reason why they mostly ignore these conditions and the treatment they face in these centers is probably because they feel deeply the happiness of successfully terminating the dangerous journey. Ozan, a 49 years old man, agrees with this opinion but adds another aspect to it. “When you cross the border you feel at ease but you still need to go further to eliminate the risk of being detained and pushed back into Turkey at the border.” He believes that many asylum seekers are happy to be detained by the police who take them to the police center to identify the identity of them. As At this point the asylum seekers presence in Greece is officially documented and the risk of being deported illegally is no longer the case, making this  step a crucial point for asylum seekers.

After a short period of intense joy of escaping from persecution and after  the fast procedure of police identification ends, the hard face of reality will soon appear fully. Following the detailed fingerprinting and having their photos taken as they take the pictures of criminals, asylum seekers are taken to the detention centre of Fylakio, officially named as Fylakio Pre-Removal Detention Centre. They still have hope to be welcomed better and to arrive to a place with better conditions when they get off from the closed and completely dark section of the old van. Unfortunately, their expectation ends in a very short time when they are closed again in a large room full of asylum-seekers, an iron door is closed behind them and the long chain is fastened.

First Reception and Detention Centre

Zozan is very critical for the treatment she and her husband were faced in this detention centre have been criticised constantly for its inhuman conditions by some humanitarian organizations. She says that during the three days of her detention she tried hard to adapt herself to these degrading conditions but completely was defeated at the end of the second day. The hardest thing which she could not bear was the unimaginable bad odour of the room that never died days and nights. She had a heart operation in Turkey and had problems with her lungs, plus she had serious cold she caught during crossing the river and the large swamp around it. In the morning of the third day, by grabbing the iron bars of the door where she tried to breathe some fresh air from the corridor, she could not stand any more to these conditions and burst into tears. One of the most striking things for her was that the asylum seekers had not had chance to reach the police officers any time unless there was an emergency situation. She witnessed that the police officers came late and sometimes did not appear at all despite the detainees called them with a loud voice heard by everyone staying in the rooms around the corridors.

It has been argued that the police on duty at this infamous camp has not been trained well on how to treat the asylum-seekers and even they treat them like criminals. Suleyman (33 years old man) goes further and claims that asylum-seekers are exposed to psychological pressure by the police. He argues that the police neither know nor have desire to know the psychology of refugees and he considers this attitude is a part of the general policy of not welcoming refugees.  He also thinks that putting so many people at a single room without taking into consideration what they suffer during the dangerous journey across the Greek-Turkish border and deprive them from the basic medical and psychological assistance are the important indicators of this policy. Suleyman was a tradesman in Turkey and he had been tried in Turkey with the accusation of assisting Kurdish movement. Like many others being tried, he decided to leave the country before the judgement being declared which in most cases the results are prison sentences for years.

A detention center in Greece

Every asylum-seeker whose name is called by the police in the morning or in the afternoon finds himself/herself very lucky and the remaining others hope their names will be included at the next list of persons who will be relocated at the reception center. With announcing of the names of the new list, the hope for the remaining of many others dies away and they begin to spend another night at this place which resembles more to a middle age prison than to a refugee detention center in an European Union country. They get news of a camp they refer to as an UN camp, mainly from the friends who had the opportunity to stay there for a short time and then were brought back to the detention center, unexpectedly. This camp is officially called Orestiada First Reception and Identification Center and cannot be compared with the detention center in many aspects.  The main privilege of this camp is that you stay in a container consisting of a large room with a few double deckers, a bathroom and a toilette. Despite the fact that you are still not allowed to go outside anyway, you have the right to walk freely inside the open area surrounded by the containers.

Many asylum seekers facing the worst in the detention centre are tending to praise these few opportunities they find here. Nevertheless, when you look at the camp carefully you easily find many inadequate conditions that still need to be addressed. Showers do not work properly, food delivery system is not functional and there is not any dining room or dining tables inside the containers. On the other hand, although almost every family here has children there is not any entertainment room and equipment for children.

The day of the freedom always comes unexpectedly as nobody knows exactly when she/he will be released from this border camp. When the names are announced by a police officer loudly, the persons that have their names on the list begin to get ready excitedly for the long journey towards the deep of the country. They come to the end of one of the hardest times of their lives and they hope they will encounter better times from now on. They feel proud of themselves to resist successfully against all the hardships on the way to freedom. Though all of them have different visions of freedom and have different projects in mind about how-to live-in Europe, they are sure that the persecution is no longer the case in their future life.


Derbarê Necat Ayaz

Necat Ayaz is an exiled Kurdish writer and journalist originally from Turkey. He is editor and founder of Infowelat online magazine since 2013. He has been living in Belgium since 2020. He is the author of Katalonya: Dirok Ziman Otonomi (Catalonia: History Language and Autonomy) and Ispanya”da Ozyonetimin Tarihi (The History of Self-Government in Spain).

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