Greece: Saalim's story

21 Jun 2013
Related Countries

In a country struggling to cope with poverty, unemployment and financial disparity, refugees and migrants have become “invisible” for the biggest part of the Greek society.

They are extremely vulnerable and have to face extreme poverty apart from being exposed to racist attacks by nationalist far right entities like the Golden Dawn party.

Thousands of refugees and migrants have been arrested and imprisoned in detention centres where living conditions are appalling and there are serious gaps in the provision of medical care.

Saalim, from Somalia, is 17-years-old. He shared his story with us in a detention centre in northern Greece during the spring of 2013.

Saalim's story

"In Somalia we had many problems. Since the time I was born I couldn’t find a safe place. We were living in Mogadishu, where we were confronted constantly with violence and killings. One day I was going to school with my friends when somebody started shooting at us. It was very frightening.

In 2006, I went to live with my grandmother. My mother sent me there as living in the capital is too dangerous. My family decided that it was better for me to leave Somalia. I went to Kenya in a refugee camp, where many Somalis are going. I stayed there for two and a half months and then left for Rwanda. I stayed there for a while and then continued my way to Iran.

I had very difficult times in Iran. There I encountered all the problems I had in Somalia. We were in a house, only Somalis, we were eating food once a day. They took our money, our mobiles. I was hiding my money in my shoe. We stayed there for two weeks. Every time we asked when would we leave that place they would beat us – punch us and kick us.  We decided to go on a food strike for a day and then the smuggler agreed to move us to the borders.

Crossing to Turkey

When we passed the borders to Turkey the situation was better. In Istanbul I met many people from Somalia. I stayed there for five days and my mother sent me money to continue my trip to Greece, to pass the river.

There were two boats, nine people in each boat, from Africa and Bangladesh. It was in February 2012 when we crossed the river and they showed us the way to Athens. We walked for three hours, it was winter and it was snowing. We asked where the police station was and we went there. The police kept me there for one night and then they let me go.

They gave me a paper that I was showing every time to police. I went to Athens. I stayed there for about four months. When I was there my mother kept sending me money, I wasn’t able to find a job.

In Athens some people threw bottles and stones at me. One day we were talking with my friends and somebody threw hot boiling water on us to leave. I was really careful in Athens because of the Golden Dawn. I was told not to go around on my own because it was dangerous for my life.

The police took me several times to the police station. The first time I wasn’t aware, what was going on, there wasn’t even an interpreter to help me understand.

In August 2012 the police took me again to the police station. I was detained there for four days and then I was transferred to a detention centre in northern Greece, without even being informed. The situation there was really bad. Four months later there was a riot in there. By that time the police used to beat everybody, myself also, on my shoulders and my neck. The policemen were really angry.

My mother cries and longs for my help

All this comes in contrast with the Greek people I have met. Greeks are very nice people and have offered me help.

I wasn’t expecting that I would be in detention for so long a time. I am young and I am trying to find other Somalis to be protected in here. It is not easy to be here. My mother told me that I am minor. She also sent documents that prove my age.

I am waiting for the day that I will leave here. To help my family. Every time that I speak with my mother she cries and she longs for my help. I want to get her to a safe place.

Find out more about MSF's work in Greece and our work with refugees