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Nina and Douglas’s story: or how Europe is falling at keeping black asylum seekers safe


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Reading Time: 7 minutes

Written by Ophélie Lawson.

Nina and Douglas’ journey tells a clear story of how bad Europe is failing black asylum seekers and how its institutions are sitting back comfortably in the face of this pain. It is a story that shows the reality of how just being an asylum seeker is a health risk in itself and can put you and your whole family at risk. 

Douglas’s experience illustrates the violence, severe abuse and neglect, of which the Greek and wider European system is responsible. 

Nina’s pregnancy journey and the birth of her daughter Rehoboth tells us about the tragic narrative of a broken and discriminatory migration system that is breaking families apart, endangering pregnant women, their children and the trauma this creates.

Both their stories speak to and highlight the many levels and layers of violence inflicted upon the refugee population as a result of European policies on immigration,its political games and institutional racism prevalent throughout the system.

On July 6th 2020, Douglas was stabbed three times in Moria camp 

While sat down with his friends, his wife’s phone was stolen from right out of his hands as he was literally just minding his own business. 

As he attempted to retrieve his wife’s phone from the man who had robbed him, another man quickly approached, pulled out a knife and stabbed Douglas. When he tried to defend himself against the attack, he was outnumbered and three other men surrounded him, attempting to stab him again. Though severely wounded, he managed to escape and run through the forest where he was chased by the group of men. Hurt, he kept running until he was able to find some people to help.

At this point, Douglas was bleeding so severely that he was slipping in and out of consciousness. He had to be kept awake until an ambulance finally arrived, about 30 minutes after the attack and took him to the local hospital on the island. 

Following his attack, Douglas’s community went to seek justice and confront the assaulter and his friends in his tent before he was arrested. 

Later that evening, the assaulter’s friends went back to what they assumed was Douglas’s tent and stabbed three other black men whilst looking for him. One was stabbed in the leg, another one just above his eyes, and the last one, a 19 year old boy from the Ivory Coast, was stabbed in his chest. He later died that night at the hospital. He was eating outside of the tent. 

Their assaulters were released after 2 days with no charges. A daily reality for Black asylum seekers on the island of Lesvos, where, as a minority, the violence inflicted on them is always met with silence. 

At the time, Nina, Douglas’s wife, was 6 and a half months pregnant. She was already facing difficulties with the pregnancy.

As all mothers know and have experienced care and social support during pregnancy, especially the first pregnancy, are also key to ensuring healthy mothers and a smooth birth. Continuity of care is essential in addressing maternity care and to ensure a safe pregnancy. This care is typically provided at each stage of the pregnancy, during the birth and after the child is born. Maternity care includes care provided during pregnancy, during labour and after giving birth. As an asylum seeker Nina was not provided access to  any tangible care. Instead, she had to queue many times either at MSF or at the camp medical clinic whenever she would experience pain. 

Usually, factors occurring during pregnancy such as infection, undernutrition, stress, and violence, need to be identified and taken into consideration when planning care as they may have implications for pregnancy and its outcomes. For Nina, this was not the case. . She was left without adequate care and her needs were ignored, making her pregnancy incredibly difficult. Nina and Douglas were eventually provided with partial social support, but it only came after Douglas’s accident.

During her pregnancy, Nina experienced unusual bleeding, infections, and other complications.

Despite this, after Douglas’s incident, Nina stayed at the hospital every day. She took care of him and made sure he was never alone.

On the night of August the 3rd August, at seven and a half months pregnant, Nina was admitted to hospital. The baby had been kicking so much her placenta had broken open. The couple were able to stay together during the night but the following day Douglas had to return to the camp to renew his asylum card (ausweis) .Nina was meant to be transferred that day to Athens but Douglas couldn’t risk not renewing his ausweis. After packing up his wife’s things so she would be ready, Douglas called me asking for help to get to the camp. Once Douglas and I returned to the hospital, we were informed that Nina was already gone; they had transferred her without telling Douglas or waiting for him to get to her first so that he could give her some things.

Nina was still without a phone, there had been no money to replace it after the theft and attack, so we were unable to contact her,  find out where she was transferred to, how she was and if she had given birth. 

At the hospital, we were met by racist doctors, who refused to give us any information about where his wife was sent, if, as another doctor had said, she was being transferred to Athens. The more we tried to find out, the more aggressive they got with us. 

We spent all afternoon trying to find out exactly where Nina had been sent. While waiting, Douglas had a small panic attack, and seeing him like this, I lost patience a number of times.

Eventually, after two hours we were able to see Nina’s doctor who did not speak to us but gave us a piece of paper – written in Greek, despite us not being able to speak Greek- which I asked a friend to later translate it for us. The paper revealed Nina hadn’t been transferred to Athens,like they had told Douglas she would be, but instead to the middle of Greece. 4 hours away from Athens, in a town called Larissa. With no phone, no spare clothes, and nobody with her.

The story sadly doesn’t end here. 

After we found the hospital she had been transferred to, reaching her directly became incredibly difficult. No one around her in the hospital could speak English or French. 

When we finally got hold of her, she was so deeply traumatized that I didn’t even recognize her voice on the phone. She was tired, she’d had enough. And she was in pain. 

She could only speak French and was isolated from everyone. . I had to translate through the phone from Lesvos the whole time she stayed in the hospital, from the moment she got there to the day she left after giving birth. 

Rehoboth Ophelie Mulamba was born on August the 14th. 

Just a minute after giving birth, her baby girl was taken away from her. OnlyThree days later, thanks to Nina’s gynecologist who I was able to speak with over the phone, she was allowed to briefly see her daughter again. 

Born prematurely, Rehoboth needed to stay in the hospital for proper medical care. The hospital, however, wanted Nina to be transferred back to the island, thus meaning she would be separated from her child for up to three months

To make sure this would not happen, Douglas and I had to speak to a number of social workers to find a place where Nina would be able to stay closer to her child. 

While this was happening to his family, Douglas was still recovering from his wounds in Lesvos, and we were urgently trying to get him recognized as vulnerable in need of treatment in Athens. This would allow him to get an open card, meaning he could leave the island and join his wife.

Their baby, Rehoboth, was in a critical condition. She spent her first two weeks in a coma, on a ventilator for over a month, and suffered with a blood infection. I had to call the hospital every day to chase for updated on how she was doing and how her recovery was going.

On August 17th, five days after the pregnancy, Nina was transferred to a women’s house about 20 minutes from the hospital. Again, nobody around could speak French, and during this extremely traumatic time, she has had no one to communicate with. I travelled all the way up from Lesvos onto the mainland to Larissa about two weeks after she was transferred. I went to see how she was and give her a phone so she could stay in touch with her husband and finally give her some clothes. 

Having to process this experience alone, away from her husband, her child or anyone who can speak her language, is extremely devastating. The system has failed her on every level and made her even more vulnerable and traumatised. The first thing I did when seeing her was to hold her in my arms. She stayed there for a long time. 

On October 19th, which is Nina’s birthday, she would have seen her daughter only three times in three months. On October 20th, Rehoboth finally left the hospital to be reunited with her mom. 

Douglas is still in Athens, he left Lesvos on 2nd September. He has still not recovered fully from his injuries. The process of transferring their cases from Lesvos to the mainland is complicated. He has to remain in Athens until all the paperwork is complete  and therefore has still not been reunited with his wife. The authorities are asking that he returns to Lesvos to renew their ausweis, under the threat that if he doesn’t, his asylum case would be stopped. However,  they already did  their interview back in July and the results should be out very soon. Nina and Douglas have not seen each other since the 4th August, and Douglas still has to meet his daughter.  

Sadly, this story, as unfair as it is, is not the only of its sort. The stories of how Europe is neglecting Black asylum seekers are many. They are the result of a broken immigration system of which the victims are left unheard.  

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