“Thanks, but no thanks” –refugees prefer life NOT in Greece

By: Jennifer Gerlando

(Athens, Greece)— 

A family of 5 has been stuck living in Kara Tepe Refugee Camp for eight months along with 795 other refugees. The Habash family consists of father Mahar; mother Mitzen, and siblings Dlara, Dhash & Ghan. The Habash family is Kurdish and they are from Aleppo, Syria.  Their story is common to the refugees across Greece who choose to move on from their temporary refugee rather than settling here.

       After the bombings in Aleppo, the Habash family quickly made their way up through Turkey and then fled in a flimsy raft with dozens inside to the Greek island of Lesvos. At first, the Habash family applied and went through the interview process for a 30-day residency in Greece.

They were denied temporary residency. The Asylum Service advised that they go to Turkey. “They said Turkey is a good country for us to live in,” explained the family’s 8-year old son Ghan who was translating for his parents. A look of disbelief fell on their faces as he repeated their words. The family was shocked because

Kurdish people are perceived to be “the enemy” by the Turkish Government. Due to the large population of Kurdish people in Turkey, they want to turn the southeast region of Turkey into Kurdistan, and become a separate state. “If two more rejections then we sent to Turkey, ” Ghan translated.

“We would never go to Turkey, we would go back to Syria if we have to” he said.

The Habash family speaks of a return to the war-torn town they fled. They never discuss the option of a more permanent future living in Greece.

Seeking asylum in Greece was never a permanent option for the Habash family. They simply do not see a financial future or job opportunities for themselves in their temporary host country. Mr. Habash, who makes clothes for a living said he doesn’t see this work as a viable option for him in Greece. “They don’t have my work here but if I find job in Athens, I work, we’ll stay, it’s no problem.” But he quickly adds that he doubts that will happen. He notes his two brothers who now live in Athens and who have a different set of job skills are struggling to make ends meet. He fears that he would not be able to support his family if he stayed in Greece. He is not alone.

“Finding refugees who want to stay in Greece is like finding a needle in a haystack,” said Elena Becatoros, Bureau Chief for the Associated Press in Athens. Becatoros, who has been covering the news in this country for over ten years, says it is no wonder refugees would choose not to stay in Greece. She says the country has its own financial problems that it cannot sustain and a twenty-three percent unemployment rate. The migrants know the numbers, she suggests, and that is why she believes less than one percent of refugees who make it to the shores of this country for safety want to stay and live here.

Most refugees view Greece as a second choice for asylum, whereas other Western European countries, such as Germany, are number one. Before the European Union Agreement, which allowed all northern borders to close in March 2016, Greece was just a passing place. According to a spokesperson from Doctors of the World, 1 million refugees moved through Greece to Europe in 2015 alone.

The Habash family ultimately wants to seek relocation in Germany as well.  They believe that Germany has a great education system, an endless amount of job opportunities with economic assistance, and better health benefits. Mrs. Habash also has a brother and sister living in Germany.

According to Asylum Service data, those like the Habash family should have a better chance of being approved for such a move. “Refugees from Syria are one of the top five ethnic groups that are given priority when applying for asylum,” explained Eleni Petraki, official spokesperson for The Asylum Service Regional Office outside of Athens.“ Priority is given to those who come from a place deemed by the international community as unsafe for individuals who are being targeted wrongfully so.”

The Habash family plans to apply again for a 30-day residency in Greece. If the outcome is negative, and they are not granted asylum in Greece then they will go back to their war-torn home in Aleppo because compared to Turkey; Syria is the lesser of two evils when facing imprisonment or death. If they are approved for Greek asylum, but not allowed to pass through for relocation to Germany – well that’s when they will need to reconsider their options. But, as with the majority of some 60,000 refugees now finding a temporary home here, Greece is definitely their second choice. The Habash family, like many others, do not want to stay in Greece forever. Many refugees will continue to seek relocation elsewhere.

Jens photo for final

Studies done by The Asylum Service show that from June 2013 through the end of May 2017, there were a total of 102,184 claims made by refugees who wanted to seek asylum in Greece. On the other hand, close to more than one million claims were made by refugees who wanted to relocate to Germany.

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