REFUGEES Running for one’s life: perseverance of a Kurdish refugee
My name is Ali and I am 29 years old. I come from Kurdistan, a region in Iraq. I left my country 8 months ago, I transited through Jordan and then to Turkey, where I stayed for almost a month and 20 days. We faced many problems, when the police came, sometimes they hit people, but usually they didn’t touch the families, children, women or disabled people. I was caught around 8 times by the police, 4 times at the Turkish border and 4 times at the Greek border. The jail was not a jail, it is like an animals’ room. One biscuit per day, one juice per day. Or if they give bread, the bread is very hard or expired. Also at the Greek borders, we faced the same thing. When they caught us, they threw everything, all the phones inside the water.
One thing I will never forget, happened in Greece. We were 122 people, we crossed the water and when the police came, everyone ran away. Only 20 people were caught, out of whom 4 women. The commander said: “Please don’t look at us, face the wall.” And I knew that they were touching the women, because afterwards, one woman told me. When her husband asked her what they did to her, she said they slapped her bottom and groped her breasts… That was very bad… Moreover, at the Greek borders, we waited with 80 people in one room… We could not sit, you had to stand… They closed the door and kept it shut for 24 hours… The women could not go to the bathroom, they had to use a scarf for that… They had to do this in front of the police and all the boys that were there… That’s why all the women had to either hold it or… you know… Also, there were very small children, a small girl was crying a lot, for milk…So I asked the commander to bring milk, but they didn’t respond… Since I speak good English, I was the English translator for everyone there… So I could witness and hear all the issues…
One woman had cancer and diabetes, she could not sit there in the crowded place, but when I asked the commander (she also showed him the medical documents), he said: “She is lying. I don’t care about the medical documents, maybe she got them from a relative who is a doctor, maybe the documents are fake, I don’t understand Kurdish language.” I said to him that I swear I am translating the Kurdish medical documents correctly into English. We really suffered a lot in prison, on both the Turkish and Greek side… I remember one family with 2 parents and 3 children from Halabja, Kurdistan. They had golden accessories (bracelets, necklace etc.). The Greek commander checked the staff and took the gold. They said they would give back the golden accessories once they are released. But they never did. That’s all they had, so the family didn’t have any money left and they asked to be deported to their homeland. We went to the jungle with the smuggler in Greece, we were 40 people. The smuggler came and took us to a basement in Thessaloniki… In order to get there, we were put in the trunk of a very small car, we were 5 people, 3 women and 2 men, squeezed in, unable to move our hands or breathe…The car drove very fast, that was very bad. After one week, I still felt pain.
We stayed there for 11 hours, we took a shower, cleaned our clothes, ate and then we were bought tickets. At 3 am, we went to the train station in Thessaloniki and went to Athens. I stayed there for 3 months to wait for a fake passport. I was caught by the police and taken to jail. There was no possibility to continue. I then went to an island. It was again impossible to continue onwards, even after several attempts. Once they caught us in a truck and beat us up really bad. My face was so bloody. I didn’t dare go out in the daytime, because my face was so bad and everyone knew that I was caught and beaten up by the police. So I only dared go to the store at night for some time.
After that, I went back to Athens and tried to go through Albania. We were 6 people with 2 smugglers. We were put in something like a house without windows or anything, we were locked there. We were told to wait until it’s dark to enter Albania. When night came, 3 men came to the room and asked for money. One boy didn’t have money and they said: “If you don’t have money, you will give us your kidney.” They thought the boy was lying. They were afraid that he had called the police. They took him somewhere, to another room. When the boy came back, he was terrified. He told us he was taken to a room and put on a table with a knife, scissors, a mask and there was blood everywhere. After that, the boy told us he heard the police sirens and everyone ran away. So luckily, they didn’t take anybody’s organs, the boy was intact. We started running, we didn’t know where we were going, we were just running and running. We came across a Greek commander and officers, they were very friendly honestly, they gave us food and water and we went back to Thessaloniki, Greece.
Another attempt followed, through Bulgaria. This time we were 4 guys and a family with an 18-year old daughter, so 7, 8 people in total. We were taken to the jungle by car. We didn’t know the places. Whenever I asked the smuggler: “Where are we?” They would always reply: “Please don’t speak, don’t speak, shhhh…” Afterwards, we were told to just walk. We were left in the jungle, it was very cold, it was about to rain. We were caught by the Bulgarian police. They asked us: “Why did you come to our country? This country is for us, not for you; you have your country.” We remained silent. They slapped and kicked us very badly. Then they asked for money, but we didn’t give them any, because we only had money for the journey. They took a wooden stick and threatened us. So we gave them all the money we had. Then they asked for money from the family. They said to the woman: “You have money in your pants. Take off your pants and your shorts.” They found some euros there. That’s when the commander got very angry. “I told you not to lie, I will hurt your family.” The husband yelled at them in Kurdish language not to act like that. They slapped him and kicked him. The girl (their daughter) was crying. They took off all the clothes from the daughter, but they didn’t find any money in her. “If you have something else, give it to us. Otherwise, I will rape your wife and daughter.” They took them some 40 meters away, not too far. The 2 women screamed and we could tell they were raping them. When they returned, they couldn’t stop crying. Then we were sent back to Athens and the family didn’t go out at all, they just asked to be deported. I will never forget this. For these women, the bad experience will haunt them. Because in my culture in Kurdistan, if a woman was raped, nobody will marry her.
So there I was, in Athens. I wanted to go back to my country, because I had seen enough and I had suffered enough. My brother called me and he said: “Please brother, continue, continue, they didn’t rape you, they didn’t touch you, they didn’t do anything to you. You are a man, nobody can do anything to you.”
I stayed in Athens for 1 month and then I went to Thessaloniki. We went to a hotel with 6 other people close to the border, we managed to cross the Greek-Macedonian border and walked through mountains and a jungle. We were put in a house where they asked us for money. Then we were taken to Preshevo and we were left there in the jungle. After 300 meters we saw the Serbian police and asked for help from them, they were nice but they asked us for official documents. We didn’t have any, so they returned us at the Serbian-Macedonian border. It is 7 nights that I am here in Tabanovce camp, thank God I am ok now, Macedonian people are the most lovable people I have met in my life, to be honest…
Throughout all my journey, the most positive thing was patience. To persevere patiently while being with no food or water in the jungle, in the cold places in the night… It is the “best” experience, because wherever I go, I can survive, I can walk, I can run, I can hide, I can escape…I can do anything.
Now I am a strong person. I don’t care about the weather. Because at the Macedonian-Serbian border, we stayed wet in the snow, it was minus 8 degree Celsius and I persevered…
I really miss my family, especially my mother. Before leaving, she told me: “My son, I don’t need your money, just please be safe and please come back before I die.” So I hope that one day, when I go back to my country, my mom is alive, not dead. She is 58 years old. My father was killed by Saddam’s regime, in 1991. Of course, I miss a lot of things, my brother, my friends, my town…
But I ran for my life, that’s why I left. I suffered all the way, not for earning money, but because I ran for my life. I just want to have a normal life, like other people.
The stories are collected by activists from Legis and are supported by GIZ on behalf of BMZ.
The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammmenarbeit (GIZ) GMBH.