Ahmed arrived in Greece in September 2019, leaving his wife and 3 children behind him.
Now President of the Togolese community within Moria camp, he talks about his role and the responsibilities that come with it, as well as the every day realities people from Togo face, from the minute they arrive in Greece asking for asylum to the way they get treated every day.
Ahmed: “Most of us [Togolese people] when we arrive in Greece we are sent directly to prison. After 3 months, you get released. This is when I step in and become responsible for them. When they go out, I have to direct them through the application for asylum process. I first sent them toward Eurorelief or Info point so that they can register and have a tent. Us Togolese people we used to be all put next to each other.
After that, they immediately have to go towards the asylum services offices (EASO) to do the rest of the registration and get documents. They also have to go to UNHCR for the monthly financial support. Fingerprints are also taken when people first arrive. There are a number of steps to follow for new arrivals.
They also have to go to the hospital, however, it is hard to have access to it. There were small clinics inside the [old] camps but there were always too many people (for the size). Sometimes you could be queuing for 4 to 5 hours.
In the new camp, when we first moved in there were no containers, we were not together anymore. For instance, in my tent, it is only three of us, mixed with Sudanese people. Others are with Somalians or Congolese people, but we are not together anymore.
O: What made you want to become president of your community? Knowing you were already vulnerable when you arrive?
Ahmed: Our old president was moved to Mytilini, meaning he couldn’t really always access the camp straight away to help when there are new arrivals. And you really need someone who is really present for the whole process. If you don’t have the help of someone who knows everything you really can’t do anything, this is why I voluntarily said I will take over to help our brothers arriving and those in prison. I am vulnerable but you need the help of others.
O: What’s the biggest difficulty being the president of that community?
Ahmed: Being a leader is not easy and you can never please everyone. Some will be aggressive, others will treat you as if it was you who brought them to Greece. When some have problems with the police, it is your duty to go there to discuss with them, but the police always look for problems ‘go malaka, go go, go your countries”.
This is a real issue for us presidents of communities, we represent but have no protections. There was one time one of the leaders of one of our black communities was harassed by Afghan people, he lost one tooth. We are not protected.
I represent Togolese people in front of the authorities if they have a problem but also if they have a rejection of their asylum, I must help them with making an appeal. I have to help them find a lawyer, volunteers mostly because we don’t have money. But they are really busy because they have too many clients. So sometimes we have to wait like 2-3 months to get an appointment, but you have only 10 days to make an appeal. So you have to run everywhere, beg everyone to help us, help people of my community. Being the representative is not easy.
O: Is the Togolese community a minority in the camp?
Ahmed: Yes, we are in minority. This is why the Greek state tends to not grant us asylum.
O: Do you think that there is unequal access to aid available to refugees for the Togolese community? Do you have equal access to support?
Ahmed: No no no. And in our country, we were suffering a lot, there’s a dictatorship. People are being killed, kidnapped, imprisoned. This is why we escaped and decided to come here, to seek safety. But here, we don’t get the same treatment as others, like Afghans or Somalians, we don’t get treated the same way. here. Especially us Togolese Our asylum claims keep on being rejected.
O: Does the Togolese community suffer from discrimination inside the camp?
Ahmed: Yes, we suffer a lot, from Greek authorities and even Afghan people. When they see us, Black people, they see us like animals, we get treated like animals. Our skin colour can affect our access to services available for refugees. Like at EASO but mostly authorities
O: How does racism express itself in your daily life? By that I mean when you go to town for instance, even day to day in the camp?
I’ll start inside the camp. Us black people we don’t have enough. Everybody else has priority over us, we are not being considered. We are treated like animals. In town, when you get inside the bus, some people don’t want us to sit next to them, Afghans included. It’s not normal. When you are walking in town in the street, and you come across Greek people, they’ll change pavements, try to get as far from you as possible, while looking at you like we were not all created the same. We suffer a lot from racism. Some might even spit on you, some cover their noses like we smell horrible.
Racism is one of the main difficulties our community has to face here, then there’s the fact that it’s hard for us to be granted asylum.
O: What support do you receive? Especially since you are mostly all single men who had initial rejections to their asylum claim.
Ahmed: Yes, most of us are single men because we couldn’t take our families with us. It is not easy to come all the way to Greece with your entire family. We don’t get any support really, we have to manage on our own; single men are the last ones to receive support. Minors are prioritised, then there are families, then single mothers, then single women, then single men. When you have a rejection they also cut your financial support.
O: So single men, in terms of support, medical care, psychological support, disabled people, you don’t get help with that?
Ahmed: No not much. Vulnerable men don’t get much support. Sometimes you might have the chance to be seen by MSF, they can give us drugs or clothes. They have psychologists too. But there are long waiting lists so it’s not often we get seen.
O: What about accommodations for vulnerable people in town? Did any Togolese ever have this?
Ahmed: I have been living in the camp for more than 1 year and 5 months now, the last president got moved, and another one, but I only know 2 people who had the chance to be moved because they were very vulnerable.
O: Do you have protection and security inside the camp?
Ahmed: In the camp, we are not safe, everybody in that camp can testify. In the old Moria camp, we (black people) used to get stabbed by others like animals. Many people died. After 6 pm we couldn’t go out on our own, people will threaten us, you could get surrounded by 4 to 5 people, they would take your phone or money. If you had nothing they could just stab you. Since I am here, 5 to 10 African people died from getting stabbed. So no we are not safe, we don’t feel safe. All of us Africans are not safe here in Moria.
At some point we had a meeting with the authorities, as representatives, to complain. The police told us that the only way was for us to record them on our phones and then use that footage to testify against the assaulters. But how, while you are getting stabbed, are you supposed to first take your phone and record the person assaulting you. They are not going to let us film them before they stabbed us.
O: So without footage, the authorities didn’t want to help you at all?
Ahmed: Yes, they said because they wouldn’t really know who committed the assault.
But they have to keep us safe, to secure people. In the old camp, we didn’t have police officers circulating through the day, it wasn’t safe at all. For the food line, you have to wait for hours, when fights would start between communities and we called the police, they would take hours to come. But when someone wants to kill you it only takes one minute. We didn’t have help from the police.
O: And what about sanitary and food?
Ahmed: Well, showers in the old camp were disgusting. In the new camps, we didn’t have showers when we first moved in. We would go inside the sea to shower.
Plastic toilets in the old and new camp are just as disgusting. It’s just too dirty. For the food, you need to queue for 4 hours to receive something.
We don’t have electricity a lot.
When it rains, everything gets flooded.
Our community is very united. We have meetings twice per month to check on everyone.
Even when we were not in lockdown, there was no integration with the locals. For us in the camp there’s nothing. We have to wait months without doing anything, wait for our interviews.
O: Can you tell us a little bit about your own asylum process?
Ahmed; Yes, I already did my first interview but I had a rejection. I have made an appeal but I am still waiting for my decision.
I just hope that the Greek authorities will start giving us, my community and all Africans asylum. Going back to our countries would just be the death of us. We also need security. We want security.
When I first came to Europe, I was expecting safety. I escaped my country because I was not safe. People were trying to kill me. I was imprisoned 2 3 times, if I go back I will be killed in silence. This is why I ran away and had to come to Europe to seek safety. I was hoping for that. I was hoping that when I get here I will get safety. But when I arrived I saw another reality.
Though they are the majority, making up 69% of asylum seekers according to the UNHCR, single men are the ‘forgotten’. Forgotten in their access to services and to legal or medical support as they are not a priority for NGOs. As they are considered ‘non-vulnerable’ and capable of fending for themselves, their credibility is often questioned and they are denied their right to asylum, having to return to their country of origin.