“We really didn’t feel like refugees!”

Athens, 25th of October 2009 | Reflections on Lesvos two months after Noborder:

Hello, my name is Milad. I am 17 years old. I was for 23 days imprisoned in Pagani in Mitilini and first I want to define how was the situation inside this prison and how was the behaviour of police and doctors with us.

Some guys were sick for weeks, they were calling for a doctor, but nobody was ready to listen to our voices. There was no treatment for sick persons and the drinking water had a bad smell. If we asked for a doctor, for clean water or anything, mostly nobody was even listening.

They also did not have a good behaviour to the families with the small kids. One day I saw the kids had their ten minutes time to go out. They were playing football and one policeman was beating a small kid, he was about 8 years old, his mother was crying.

Nothing was good in Pagani! The police was saying: “You are not in jail you are in camp.” How is this a camp? In 23 days they didn’t let us go out even for 5 minutes to breathe in open air. When they were bringing us, they took us one by one out of the bus and put us into that store. They just open the door very short and push you inside. At first they gave us some soap, but there was nothing to really wash you or take a bath. They were giving tea to us, but there is nothing to make hot water. Some guys they make some steel wires, by these wires they make the tea and it is really dangerous. In the beginning we had light for all the day, then they switched of the lights. It was not only in our room. There were 8 rooms and about 5-600 people when I was there. There were sick people that were in a dangerous condition,

I think it was possible that somebody would loose his life

. A doctor was there, but she was not working. The police was all the time abusing us. When we were asking for anything, for a doctor, for water or to turn on the light they were just abusing us.

In our room there was one guy, who was kept inside for 50 days. And in the next room there was one guy, who stayed for 85 or 90 days. He was totally crazy. At night he was beating himself. When we asked his friends what was happening with him, they just said: “He got totally crazy!” He was beating on the walls and beating himself and he was shouting at night.

One very sad thing was, that we were kept inside during Eid. We are Muslim and one time in the year we have Ramadan and at the end we celebrate Eid for three days. Like Christians they celebrate Christmas every religion has their own special days. At the three days of Eid we should meet each other, we should be happy and relaxed. At that time a guy was with us, he was 11 or 12 years old. He was travelling alone and it was the first time he was without his family. All the night he was crying. He was a Pashtoon guy and when we asked him please to stop crying and why he was doing this, he said it was the first time in his life, separated on Eid from his family: “I was always happy on Eid and now I am in Pagani. I am missing my brothers and sisters.” We didn’t have any possibility to reach them. We had mobiles but we could not use this, police didn’t allow us. On Eid nobody was in contact with their families.

That was the situation. Nobody had a good behaviour with us. When we asked about light, when we asked about clean water – they just abused us. The situation in Pagani was not so good! But in Samos camp it is also like this, one of my friends was in Samos and we talked about it, only the drinking water was more okay in Samos.

We started a hunger strike for two days and the situation was very difficult. For two days we did not eat and even did not drink any water. The police was asking us: “Why are you doing this?” We answered to them: “We want our freedom. We don’t want to be here, we want to go forward.”We wrote some banners of hunger strike. But nobody was taking care of us.

So at last when we had been inside more than 20 days, we had to do something to fight for our freedom and to get our rights.

Some guys were in a very bad condition. They were ready to fight against the police. And some of them were even ready to loose their lives. Day by day they were going to be more crazy. At last they take a demonstration against the police. At first they took some wood and they started a fire inside the room, then they put some blankets inside the fire. We were shouting: “Freedom, Freedom, Freedom!” The police was smiling, they just did not open the door, they were relaxed as if nothing was going on here. There was too much pollution and we were feeling some unrelaxed, we couldn’t breathe even. The windows were closed and we saw that outside of Pagani there was ambulance. And police was ready to fight against the refugees. They were ready to beat us. Ambulance and fire brigade was there.

Police was releasing some teargas and fire-extinguisher was there. And at last we had to do anything because we couldn’t breathe! Nobody could see each other inside by the distance of one metre. It was totally black night.

So some guys took the beds and broke the windows, they have broken the frame of this windows also, and then we came out, because we were afraid we will loose our lives. If we didn’t struggle, in five minutes maybe we could die in that smog. And so we got outside, we needed free air. After we came out the police called the fire brigade to go inside Pagani. All the room was soon full of water. Matraces and blankets and everything was wet. We were shouting: “We want to leave! Release us! We don’t want to be here!” We were standing in front of the window in the first floor like balcony, not real balcony, it was a small place it was possible for 10 persons, but in that space we were standing with 80 persons. Some Arab guys were there, they became crazy. They were ready to jump down. We stopped one. Before he had smashed the lights and he wanted to put his fingers inside – totally they became crazy in that prison, they didn’t want to live any more!

In this situation some supporters and journalists came. They took pictures. The police was just standing, but before one of them had showed us a knife and they showed us their guns, they were shouting: “Stop this demonstration! Go inside!” Nothing was there to help us to go inside to breathe. After some time we saw that some people were still inside the room, like sleeping, but they were not sleeping, they were injured! At these moments everything had happened here and there – and by accident they fall down and they were injured by the broken windows. Some had the glass from the windows inside their foot and legs and some of them had like accident with the wall. When we saw them, we called for the ambulance. After a long time at last one doctor came that promised help. They took some of them out to the hospital. The door stayed closed.

A police-officer came and we discussed with him and they promised that we will be released after two days. Thereby the strength was coming more and more back to the room. After one day they really released us, about 60 persons. They promised also to give us a ticket for Athens, but we didn’t get the ticket, we had to buy them. By bus we came to the port, we just were kicked out of the bus. We were too late for the ferry and we didn’t have a place to stay for the night. Even we did not have 10 Cents to buy anything to eat or to drink. When the police had taken our money and our mobiles we lost 3 mobiles and 300 Euro totally – we were 30 guys and the money was not complete when they returned it. We told to anybody: “We did not get all of our money!” But nobody was listening to us.

Do you think without the revolt, they would have kept you longer imprisoned?

Yes! When we got released, we saw our pictures in the newspaper. And the people of Mitilini they had complained to the police: “Release them!” I think the revolt was really helpful for us. And really the journalists and media helped us. But police didn’t allow them to get inside of Pagani. They were asking us there questions from outside of Pagani. Police was ready to fight with them and also with us. I don’t think police inside this Pagani were human.

Can you also describe the situation in Athens, where you went afterwards?

The first time when we were let free, we just stayed in the Mitilini port. Really the situation was bad. We didn’t have so much money. We lost our mobiles and contact numbers. Police even snatched from us our contact numbers!

In the first days our situation in Athens was not too good. Nowadays we manage a place to sleep and some money lent from here and there. And we all want to go forward! We are all under 18 years old, but nobody ever offered us a place to sleep. We try to care for everything for ourselves.

One of the first nights we spent in a park in Athens and some fascists came and they started beating people. The police came one hour after it happened. Police came – and they were also beating the guys! The Greek guys from that fascist group they complained against the refugees. So the police started also beating those guys and they were snatching their papers, this white paper we got from Pagani. I was there, I was standing outside of the fight and I could see it. The guy who was beaten, he was only ready for his defence. He was for sure not fighting, he was only guarding himself. Due to this, we do not even have the right to defend ourselves! Because he had his hands in front of his face to defend himself, police was accusing him to fight against the Greek guys!

The situation in Athens is not too good! And it is different from the situation in Mitilini. Really the people there have been so nice! Not government, not police, not any other organisations – only the residents of Mitilini. Some of them were good with refugees. In Athens nobody is ready to help you. Even one woman, I saw her at park in the night at 12 o’clock. We asked her, what she was doing. She told she couldn’t find a place to sleep. She came from Mitilini some days ago, she was arrested there and she had lost her husband. She did not know what to do and she was sleeping alone in the park.

Finally about the days we spent together in Mitilini: what do you think about it?

When we reached in Mitilini, we were thinking: “What shall we do? Where do we go now?” We didn’t know anything about the rules of Greece. We didn’t have papers, we were totally illegal. Then we saw in a park some Afghan guys sitting and also refugees from Eritrea and Somalia. And they told us about the place with the tents. That you can stay here, that there is food. About one week we were with you. And really we were thinking it will be really difficult for us to manage.

When we passed seven days and we were inside the Noborder camp in the end and we were ready to leave and to go to Athens, the guys told me to translate some things for them because they couldn’t speak English. They asked me to tell you, that really Noborder was a nice camp. They were saying that

nobody felt that we are refugees here. Nobody feels that we don’t have place here.

It was like our home. Some activist from all the countries, they were really like friends with us. We were feeling like we are at a picknick-point. We really didn’t feel like refugees! Everything was fixed: dinner, lunch. And the place was so relaxed. Even the police could not say anything to us.

It was a crazy week!

Really: within 7 days nobody asked us about papers! Only due to this Noborder camp! We were very relaxed. And until now we are missing Noborder. We are missing these days!

How did you experience the final party?

(Laughing) The last night it was a very important night in my life! It was a good place on the beach. There were all the activists and the refugees from all the different countries all together. It was our last night that we were at Noborder Camp. And really we enjoyed that night! We were dancing and singing and beating the drums. When the drummers got tired there were loudspeakers. We were free from everything! Nobody was disturbing us. It was an open area. Really we enjoyed that night! The songs were about our country, about Afghanistan. One is from one famous singer… I cannot sing, so I cannot show it now. Our singer was Hamid, he is a really funny guy. Even in Pagani he was singing. He was singing, and inside the Dari song he was adding “No border! No nation!” It became a funny song and this night became a really special night. Until now all the guys are talking about that night. “At that night I did like this… I danced like this… you looked like this…” We will not get this night again in our lives! It was first and last night. Even if we pay 10.000 Euro we cannot get this night. It was the one special night in our life!

And so you enjoyed it till the last minute.

We didn’t sleep the whole night. When the time had come to move towards Athens, some guys were not ready to come. They were saying: “We will never get this night back!” They were not ready to go to Athens. They were ready to continue the party and to be with you. Within this one week we had a special relation, like family. We didn’t think: “We are Afghan, they are Eritrean.” Or that you are from Germany. We were like a family. When we left I saw some of you were crying and some of us were also – but not in front of you, they were hiding it when they turned to go. Like leaving family members. It was a strong party till the moment we had to go.

And then you went to the port and directly into prison… and continued the party?

(Laughing) Yes, because we were missing that night! So to make ourselves some strong, Hamid was making the group to dance and to beat the drum. Even in Pagani we were dancing and singing for three days. Then we got tired. Police was not too good with us – they were trying to stop us: “Don’t make noise! Don’t do this! Don’t sing!” Only two or three days. We were ready to fight after that, because they didn’t let us to go outside even for 10 minutes, so the guys were becoming tired. The situation was too bad.

Too bad to sing?

Not only to sing – even to breathe! Last day the situation was even too bad for breathing! Singing was good only for one or two days. (Laughing)

It was a heavy fight you were fighting inside. From singing till this final smoke!

When we left the Pagani prison, finally we went to the small park, to the place where the infopoint had been. Standing there and saying: “This was here… that was the place where…” And really we were missing these days! And we were saying this was our own place, our home. After we come out, we didn’t find anything like it was before. Only Jamal was left.

Jamal: They were asking to me: ”Where are all the others?” And I said: “I am very alone now!”

Yeah, you called me sometimes inside Pagani, but we could use the phone only like hidden from the police. We didn’t have permission to use it. Always when he called I was standing in the middle of the cell and I was shouting: “It’s Jamal who is calling! Regards to all of you!” And all of us after he called, we really missed that days so much! He was remembering us to those days. When we finally met outside, he told us: “Your picture is in the newspaper!” When we saw our pictures we were happy. These pictures gave a positive result. Due to these pictures Mitilini’s people were informed about the situation of refugees. And the people complained. After this we came out. First we didn’t believe we are really free. Everybody was taking a long breathe. We had the permission to speak as loud as we wanted! Everybody was talking about the Noborder camp. We were sitting at the place of the infopoint and everybody was talking about that days. At this night we were about 60-65 persons. We slept at the park. The weather was cold and we get outside the restaurant, we took the tables and the chairs. We made with some of the clothes like tents and slept under the chairs.

Jamal: But I offered you, if you want to go with me, I would take you!

But I know that it was not possible for him, because we were too many, about 65 persons. Our own group was 26 guys. And I couldn’t leave them.

Unfortunately you don’t have a big villa! And when you have lost your heart to 25 others you have been in prison with, it is too hard to leave them behind…

Really, he offered me, but I couldn’t. At three o’clock in the night I really remembered that he told me! Why didn’t I go? It was so cold! And I was feeling a pain in my heart. At this night nobody had money. Not even 10 cents and we were really hungry. Some other guys who had some money bring some food, but it was not enough. It was a difficult night for us.

And you and your friend, you were all the time together?

We met in the days of Noborder camp. Our group is 26 persons. It is also due to Noborder camp, because the camp was collecting refugees to make relation between each other. (Both are laughing).

You organised yourself!

Not only us! You were organised very well! At these days we had not even clothes and the people bringing clothes to us it was a real need. Even in Pagani we got some clothes from supporters. One funny thing is after some days in Pagani, Jamal and other activists they came. Somebody was shouting: “Look who is coming!” And everybody ran to the window. And we saw that they had a big suitcase, as big as this table. It was full of clothes and tea and sweets and cigarettes. All the things we needed inside. They told the police to give it to us, it was a gift of Noborder activists. But the police didn’t give us. They threw the clothes in the dustbin, they stole the sugar. And one of them brought the cigarettes to us and sold them. It was ironic! It was a gift and they sold it! But the most important thing was that it remembered us at Noborder.

Do you think we should do something similar next year?

Next year? You must do this! Not should, you must! Really we enjoyed this week so much. And it really helped us. If you do it next year, some other refugees will be relaxed for some days.

Jamal: Will you come back when you got your asylum somewhere?

I told you before! On those days we were not legal, we didn’t have papers. We couldn’t be in the first line of the demonstration. I promised in the night of the party, that one day when I will be legal, when I win my case and I have a passport and a permission to travel in Europe, I will be with you in the first line. It was not only me: all the guys from our group of 26 gave the promise that one day, when we will get our papers, we will gather again. We want to be inside Noborder and do meetings and planings and actions! We want to fight for our rights. And to help other poor people, who are facing difficulties. For this I am ready to fight! I told you before: all over the world the people should be equal and there should be no borders. I will be ready for the first line!

Jamal: If you are still here you should join the demonstration on 31st of October.

If I am still here, I will.

Unfortunately Milad could not attend the demonstration. When he tried to make his next step in direction to Norway, he was caught in the harbour of Italy and got deported to Greece. He called from inside the ship during his deportation to say that he is in problems in the moment and that he might probably stay in prison for another three months. He was laughing when he said goodbye and added that we would for sure find each other again, maybe in Germany or any other place in Europe. Some minutes later his phone was switched off.

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Voices from the Inside of Pagani (2009)

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