Monday, March 7, 2016

the Pakistanis

About a week ago I guess, a lot of Pakistanis started showing up at Better Days for Moria, aka Afghan Hill and The Olive Grove, where I am now living and working. We had already had some show up, but the first incident I knew of when they started coming in large numbers involved one of my nights on the beach, watching and waiting for boats.

There was a young woman--a New Yorker--whose last night she chose to spend on the beach. Though I stayed behind to help at the main campfire site where we watch, many volunteers headed south to several confirmed boat sightings. Along the way, the teams stumbled on a boat that had somehow escaped our watch and landed on their own. A rubber dinghy of 69 Pakistanis had just arrived. Maybe because they were all young men, with the strength implied in both men and youth, they had gotten onto the shore by themselves without mishap. None of them were wearing shoes.

They were shoeless, because apparently the smugglers--the human traffickers operating out of Turkey who arrange the boats--are now selling package deals. They promise not just the boat trip but new shoes, clothes, and who knows what else on arrival for the exorbitant prices they charge ranging from 500 to 2,300 euros per person from personal reports I have heard.

Anyway, from the chaos of trying to reach multiple boats arriving at once, somehow the young New Yorker got left alone to help the Pakistani men. She had no supplies--blankets, water, dry socks (much less shoes!) and no way to call for the UNHCR bus that would take them to Moria. At first, they were happy at having made it safely, but soon--when they realized there were no new shoes, no water, no bus anytime soon--they got angry and began burning things. Fortunately, it didn't get too out of hand before help arrived and they were all transported to Moria. The young New Yorker was then driven (not far) to the airport and embarked for the US and home, her last moments on Lesvos being memorable indeed.

However, their problems were just starting. In their infinite wisdom the powers that be have declared that Pakistan isn't a war zone because there are safe places in the country those in danger (from US drone bombings among other perils) can internally immigrate to. Ha! Though it seems they should know better, apparently the powers that be have absolutely zero concept of the numerous drone out-of-target bombings or the complexities of tribe and clan that may make one "safe" area unsafe for people fleeing other unsafe regions. Moreover, anybody who lives there or has been there recently, or even read the news closely, knows there is not really any place in Pakistan that can properly be considered safe. But since Pakistan is not deemed a war zone, the EU won't accept them. To the EU they are simply economic migrants who therefore don't qualify for asylum.

For the past week, as more and more Pakistanis arrive the situation has gotten more and more tense. The least of it was the scabies. There have always been a few cases here and there at Moria, but inside the main camp it is easier to contain. At Better Days, coping with the cases was really difficult. All the Pakistanis had to go back to the main camp to be treated and quarantined until danger of spreading the parasites was over, and the amazing Better Days tent crew worked like mad to clean and disinfect all the tents, dispose of the clothes and blankets and shoes. Then, when the Pakistanis arrived back, we had to distribute new clothes and shoes and blankets all over again. Clothes we had, blankets were a bit of a problem because we don't get allotted the huge piles of UNHCR blankets, and washing blankets with Dirty Girls is expensive, but the shoes! We never have enough shoes in the most needed sizes, and here we were having to give them out to the same people again, one or two days later.

Because the Pakistanis don't want to stay inside the main Moria registration camp. I can't say as I blame them. There have been lots of stories of Pakistanis who have been told by the police to come register and never seen again. Day before yesterday a Pakistani was telling some Better Days people that 40 of his group had been taken the day before and nothing heard from them since. There have been many meetings regarding the situation and the best answer that has been decided is to deport all the Pakistanis back to Turkey. The EU is paying Turkey to take them in, though what will happen inside Turkey is anybody's guess. However, it's a slightly better answer than it was when first discussed. The original plan was to deport them all back to Pakistan. For those who have had their passports seized (yes, it happens, too much) they would be issued temporary  travel documents and deported to Pakistan, questioned by the FIA--the Pakistani equivalent of the FBI) and finally released. Those still in possession of their papers would simply be deported to Pakistan where they would be questioned by the FIA and finally released. Not much difference. More worrisome than missing papers, someone working on human rights in Pakistan expressed concern at just exactly what form the questioning might take.

So deportation to Turkey, although hardly ideal, is still probably a better option for the Pakistanis stuck in Lesvos. But it's heartbreaking. Unlike most refugees, most of the Pakistanis had to stop often along the way to work for slave wages in factories to earn enough for the next stage of their journey. Hope kept them going. Now they have little hope and much fear.

One young man cut his hand with a razor knife yesterday. Someone escorted him to the doctor, but when they asked for his name he bolted. I had seen him with blood all over his hand and when I saw him at the fire last night with an old white t-shirt wrapped around his hand, I asked what happened. He told me doctor, police. He equated giving his name with being arrested and summarily deported back to Pakistan. He opted to wrap his hand himself rather than risk yielding his name to those in power. That's so sad. With the help of a cigarette bribe and an Urdu speaking doctor, he finally had his wound cleaned and properly bandaged, and a much needed tetanus shot.

I'm happy to say he was not deported. Yet.

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