Mohammed is a young, immature and impatient 20-year-old Syrian who was in his second year in business school when the war in his country reached his town. He is now running from war. Before escaping his own country, he was recruited by the government to fight a war that he does not approve, against “rebels” that he does not consider his enemies. He refused to join the government side in the war, so he was captured by the police and tortured for many days. After paying an amount of money he was liberated. Without thinking twice, he then decided to run from his devastated country. He read on the internet and social media that he could go to Greece and then use the “Balkan route” to reach Germany. He learned many things just by using internet, but he also noticed that some things are complicated- “what is that Dublin Regulation?” “And what about those news regarding a Turkey-EU agreement?”
After a long journey, he reaches Athens, where he is shocked by the news that the borders are now closed- what is he going to do now? He heard rumors that some Syrian refugees got apartments in Thessaloniki. He also read about a legal team that could help him there. He decides to go to this city. He takes a train to Thessaloniki and, after arriving, he spends his first night in a cheap hostel. The next morning, he goes to a cafe and using his laptop searches for the legal team. He finds that he has to go to a place called Mikropolis in the city center. Mikropolis is a cultural and social space where a team of lawyers called Ref Law Initiative gives legal advice to refugees.
After reaching Mikropolis, Mohammed meets the team. In the meeting Mohammed learns about his three options: relocation, family reunion, and asylum in Greece. Relocation is a special procedure where Mohammed would have to apply for asylum while staying in Greece (according to the Dublin Regulation, the first EU country where a refugee arrives is the country in charge of the application procedure). It is the most common procedure for refugees. The problem is that refugees cannot choose where they are going. Language skills or professions do not matter for this procedure. Mohammed does not like this fact. He wants to go to Germany because he has heard that he can find a job very quick there and also that in Germany the standard of life is very high. He asks for the second option. The lawyers tell him that if he has family in Europe he can follow the process of family reunion, which would send him to the country he wants. The problem is that he would have to wait between a year and a year and a half. Mohammed has no family in Europe, just friends, so he asks for another alternative. The Reflaw lawyers tell him, as a third option, that he can also apply for asylum in Greece. He does not like this idea. He knows that Greece was heavily hit by the economic crisis. He thinks that he will not find a job quickly enough if he stays in Greece. His mind is still focused on Germany. He is very disappointed with his options.
Mohammed thinks that he should follow the relocation process. He believes that he may get lucky and be sent to Germany. He is ready to begin the process. He asks the Reflaw team about the web-page where he can start the process. They tell him that the application process is not done by internet anymore and that he has to send a regular request and wait. Indeed, the asylum application was through Skype for a period of time, especially for vulnerable cases, but now registration is based on a “pre-registration program” which means that the authorities will collect all the requests (not applications) and then prioritize the vulnerable cases. Mohammed thinks that is not that bad to apply by the regular way, but he is not aware that Greece has around six thousand refugees requesting asylum in this moment, along with a collapsed application system. His chances of access to the system are not very good. It is interesting to notice that some months before he arrived to Greece, the borders were open. So, refugees arriving to Greece would go to another EU country and apply for asylum there. This was something unusual because, according to the Dublin Regulation, those refugees should had been transferred back to the responsible country (Greece), but the present circumstances have led European countries to “forget” international law for some months. Unfortunately for Mohammed, the borders are closed now, so he has to fill his asylum application in a country with a collapsed system.
Finally, Mohammed asks the Reflaw lawyers about the apartments for refugees that he heard of while waiting in the Greek island of Leros. The team has more bad news for him; the apartments do exist, but they are for the vulnerable cases, such us: medical and psychiatric incapacities, one parent family, several kids’ family, unaccompanied minors, etc. Mohammed is very disillusioned now, but he is not the only one. After talking for a couple of hours more with him, the lawyers fear for him. The system has collapsed and this triggered a new agreement between the EU and Turkey, and the agreement states that Turkey would receive back refugees in exchange for economic support and visa free entrance for Turks to Europe. The Reflaw team fears that Mohammed may be returned to Turkey. They saw some cases where some refugees were sent back without even examining their applications. This, of course, is in violation of the Dublin Regulation, which says that nobody should be send back to a country where they can be tortured, executed, or suffer human mistreatment, in other words to a country that is not safe. Turkey cannot be considered safe.
Mohammed is very troubled and has a lot of things to think about. He thanks the Reflaw team and promises to come back in a couple of days. He gets out of Mikropolis and while he walks by the streets of Thessaloniki he thinks about an alternative “process” that he didn’t tell about to the lawyers. His friend Mehmet told him that he should crossed the borders and reach Germany with the help of smugglers. Mehmet told him that he knew a Syrian girl that took that route and was later captured in Germany. She was detained there for a couple of weeks, but she was soon released and she was not returned to Greece. Mohammed likes this idea. What he does not know is that many refugees are deceived by the smugglers and end up robbed, raped or even killed. Mohammed is young, immature and impatient, he does not want to spend a year or more in Thessaloniki, he needs money and a job. Mohammed likes the “smugglers route.” After all, who wouldn’t want to be in Germany as soon as possible?
For the full transcript of the interview, please click here.
Written by: Kenneth Cortez