“We are prisoners, although we just wanted to seek asylum in Europe.”

Interview by Gerda Heck

On March 18th of 2016 the so called EU-Turkey deal entered into force. At its core, the agreement aimed at discouraging migrants from travelling by boat from Turkey to the Greek islands by allowing Greece to return migrants arriving after March 20th to Turkey.

On April 4th the first migrants were returned to Dikili from the Greek islands Lesvos and Chios. Among the 66 migrants who were deported from Chios was a group of five Congolese and one Ivorian. After arriving in Turkey, they were directly brought to the Kırklareli removal center at the Bulgarian border, which is in use since 2014. On May 19th, one of them got deported before he was able to apply for international protection. With René[1], one of the spokesmen of the group, Gerda Heck conducted this phone interview recently about their treatment on Chios and their involuntary deportation back to Turkey.

René, can you tell me again, when you arrived at Chios and what happened there?

We all arrived on March 27th at Chios, the Greek island. From the port of the island, the Greek police brought us in a bus out of the city, to a camp in the forest. There in the Camp, we were registered. They took our names and photos of everyone.

Did you try to seek for asylum?

Yes, the next day we went to the office of METAction in the center. This is an organization working in the camp with a French speaking staff. We told him, we want to apply for asylum and he responded: “Yes, if you want, you can apply for Asylum here in Greece, but you should have in mind that there is not much work for you here in Greece.” The day after, on Tuesday 29th, we went to the Frontex-Office in the camp to apply for asylum. They told us to come back on Wednesday 30th.

And why you did not apply?

In the evening of the 29th, there was a huge fight in the camp between the Afghan, Pakistani and Syrians. So, we took flight to the Northern part of the camp, to a Container. There, two Congolese from Brazzaville had been staying before. We tried to hide in the container until the situation eased. But then, in the evening, the Greek police closed the door of this camp area and we were locked up in a small zone in the camp. We could not get out anymore, although we asked. 

And what happened then?

On Saturday 2th, staff member of the UNHCR approached us with a kind of registration form in English and Greek. On this paper, there was also the question if we want to apply for asylum, which we all marked with yes. Afterwards, they told us, we would have the possibility to apply for asylum at the Frontex-office on Monday morning.

On Sunday 3rd around 3 pm Greek police and Frontex-staff came and locked us up in a container. Afterwards, they brought us together with other refugees from Afghanistan and Syria to the office area of the camp. We asked the police, what is going to happen? They showed us our registration forms from the first day and took all our papers, among them the registration forms from the UNHCR.

Then, two Greek police busses arrived and we started to understand what is going to happen. We asked them to get back our papers, because it was our proof that we had applied for asylum. The police gave the papers back and subsequently they forced us to enter a bus. We refused, so they started to beat us.

After some quarrels with them, they allowed us at least to take our personal belongings from the container. Then they brought us to a center, close to the harbor, like a prison.

It was around 7 pm when we arrived there. Again, we told the staff that we had applied for asylum and showed our papers. A Frontex officer came and asked to hand him over our papers. He took them and disappeared. He never showed up again.

On Monday 4th, 4 am in the morning, the police arrived, put us into a bus and brought us to the port. There in the harbor, we saw the ferry of Ertürk. We wanted to resist, but it was not possible anymore. Everyone of us was taken by two Frontex officers to the ferry. At 11 am, we arrived in Dikili and from there, they brought us to the removal center.

What happened in the removal camp? 

In the first weeks, we tried again and again to apply for asylum, but we only got the answer: “You cannot ask here for international protection, since you were deported from Europe.” In the morning of May 19th, they deported a friend of ours. It was a shock for all of us. And we were very scared. After the intervention of a lawyer organization from Izmir, our deportation got suspended. During the following week, the UNHCR approached us, and finally we were able to make our Asylum claim. Last week, we had our second interview. There have also been other organizations approaching us, among them Amnesty international and also a group from the European Union interviewing us about our situation.

How is your situation now?

Well, we are now here for more than two months. We are prisoners, although we just wanted to seek asylum in Europe. The worst part is that we still do not know what is going to happen with us. We feel somehow like being caught in the ambiguities of the EU-Turkey deal. The most important thing for us is not to get deported to Kinshasa. This would be the worst. But also we hope to get released at some point soon.

[1] We changed his name in order to ensure his safety

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