Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Trapped at the Gates of the European Union

/ table tennis / human /
Behzad Yaghmaian, relates the odyssey of African immigrants in Turkey - including a story of human ping-pong between Turkey and Greece:

The number of Africans on the streets of Istanbul increased, and once again, in July 2001 the Turkish authorities acted in desperation. This time, they wished the Africans to disappear from Turkey. Violating Turkey 's international agreements, the police rounded up the Africans on the streets and secretly deported them to Greece.

"During the first two weeks of July there was a sizeable roundup of foreigners in Istanbul, and possibly in Ankara. The group is said to include more than two hundred fifty Africans, of various nationalities. [They] were separated from other nationalities such as Afghans, Iranians and Iraqis," the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported on July 27, 2001.

The Africans were picked up in their homes or on the streets, and transferred by buses to the border with Greece. Groups of forty men, women, and children were boarded in small ten-person boats, and sent off to the Greek side of the Meric River [Greek Evros], a natural border between Turkey and Greece. The Greek authorities arrested the Africans, detained them and kept them in jail overnight. Next evening, they secretly took them to the border, placed them on small boats, and returned them to the Turkish side. Once in Turkey, the Turkish authorities arrested the Africans again. Some spent nearly a week in prison near the border before deported to Greece. The Greek authorities sent the unwanted Africans back to Turkey again. The Turks returned them to Greece. The Greeks dropped them off in Turkey.

"Some people died. We were left with nothing, no food, nothing. We spent many nights in a police bus. We were not prepared for the journey," Ron, an African who was among those deported, told me in October 2002. Ron was picked up from his home in an Istanbul Ghetto. "This was like a movie," Donald, a Nigerian survivor in his early twenties told me in July 2005.

Now what isn't mention is that the border between Greece and Turkey is heavily mined (certainly on the Greek side - quite possibly on the Turkish side as well) which means that these poor souls were set on an even more dangerous path than what they couldforeseee (there were 9 reported deaths and 5 serious injuries from these mines in 2001 alone - 60 in all between 1990-2003 and 17 deaths in 2003-2004 - This has to do with Greece's very slow compliance with the Ottawa treaty). Actually the situation described in 2001 was even more grotesque: Amnesty International painted an even grimmer picture of events...

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