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Migrants on Lesvos: Long way to an (in)secure destiny pt. 1

An article written by Inês, our Advocacy Officer at Fenix, for Revista Visão. Through the stories of 7 people, Layla, Armand, Sophie, Joseph, Jean, Marie and Thérès, Inês illustrates the difficulties that migrants face in their journey to Europe and the challenging situation they deal with once they arrive.

"Laya is a Syrian woman. She is alone and is 50 years old, although she seems 80 years old due to her facial expression marked by suffering. Armand is a young, scared teenager. He is alone and has fled from Afghanistan. Sophie is a young woman from Cameroon. She is 29 years old. She scarcely makes eye contact because her eyes are fixed on the ground. Joseph is a lone young adult. He has fled from Togo. Although his body is heavily scarred, since he has arrived in Lesbos he has been told that Togo is a safe country. Jean, Marie, and their daughter Thérès are a family from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their affection for their daughter masks the violence they have suffered.

By chance, they all meet on a dark night at the end of December 2019. It could be the beginning of a joke. But it isn't. The following stories are the lives of real people who have been, or still are, in Lesbos seeking protection and safety.

The meeting point was an abandoned house by the sea. The crossing between Turkey and Lesbos was planned to start at midnight. At around 9pm all those who would try to board began to arrive: around 30 people. For many, it was not the first time they had tried to enter Europe. At the agreed time, the group left the house, after checking that there were no police around. At around 1am, the boat set sail from the Turkish coast on a course for Lesvos. The sea had some swell, but was not overly dangerous. So they completed the first stage of the journey without major obstacles.

At the sunrise, the group had nearly reached the Greek coast when a Greek Coast Guard boat approached them. For once they were able to evade them by taking cover in an area with plenty of rocks. The low tide prevented the pursuing boat from advancing any further. As soon as they spotted the Coast Guard vessel, unmistakable because of its size, some began to record and others started to contact organisations working in rescue missions in the Mediterranean.

As soon as they reached land, they hid in a wooded area. It was still dark and the only light they had was from their mobile phone lights. Somes escaped, but others were arrested by the Greek police and illegally forced to return to Turkey, prevented from applying for asylum in the territory of Greece and the European Union. After staying hidden for a day, the remaining group finally reached the Moria camp on foot. On arrival, Layla, Armand, Sophie, Joseph, Jean, Marie and Thérèse were registered by an officer from Frontex, the European Union agency to which the Greek government has delegated this responsibility in Lesvos. All, with the exception of Thérèse, were registered as adults. They waited for the registration process in an open space while other refugees trickled in, arriving in other groups.

After registration, they were directed to where they were to stay until their asylum cases were completed. Layla and Sophie were referred to the single women's area - a slightly more protected zone. Armand was sent to a large tent where unaccompanied men were staying - no regard was given to his young age . Jean, Marie and Thérèse were directed to a place where they could pitch a family tent. They were already outside the official camp boundaries. Joseph, however, had come from a country classified as "safe", and so was arrested.

In early January 2020, the seven people in this group of asylum seekers saw their asylum interviews rescheduled to 2021 as a result of the entry into force in January 2020 of Law No. 4636 of 1 November 2019, which gave priority to processing the asylum applications of people who arrived in Greece from the beginning of 2020. Like many other refugees who entered EU territory before January 2020, they were stuck in limbo.

They all came with the expectation that once they arrived in Europe they would be in a safe place, in dignified spaces. They expected to be able to start rebuilding their lives quickly. However, this hope was dwindling . Everyone was forced to realise that the road, if it existed, would be long. Too long."

See the Portuguese version here:

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