Posts Tagged 'refugee'

Discipline and punish

sick

By Harry van Versendaal

A 16-year-old girl is locked up in a Croatian psychiatric hospital for being gay, teenage Iranian girls are incarcerated in a juvenile correctional facility for breaking the law, a Somali migrant is in detention in Finland until authorities decide upon his asylum claim.

Despite coming from very different directions, these three movies, to be screened at this year’s Thessaloniki Documentary Festival (March 11-20), all explore the territory between liberty and law, personal responsibility and social structure, punishment and rehabilitation.

Girl, interrupted

Directed by Hrvoje Mabic, “Sick” tells the story of Ana Dragicevic, who was sent by her parents to a mental institution at the age of 16 after she confessed to them that she was in love with a girl. Ana was admitted to the hospital in Lopaca, which was at the time run by Doctor Mirjana Vulin, after being purposefully misdiagnosed as a drug addict. Her purported treatment, which lasted about five years, included pills, injections, being forced to wear a straitjacket and solitary confinement.

Ana is now out of the ward, but her brain is still very much trapped. The treatment has left indelible scars on her psyche. She sees a therapist and receives medication to treat her PTSD symptoms. Despite her condition, she has found a loving partner, Matina, whom she plans to marry in Amsterdam soon. Matina is mostly quiet. She lights one cigarette after another. She looks worried and her patience appears to be wearing thin as Ana’s panic attacks and nightmare flashbacks keep returning. More frustrating for Matina, perhaps, her partner appears to be animated by hate, the will to take revenge on those responsible for her misery. She is suing her parents and the hospital director.

“They are the crazy ones, not the patients. I hope I’ll put that woman behind bars. My parents too. What goes around comes around,” Ana says as she watches a TV program about her case.

Disturbing pattern

Unlike Matina, the Iranian girls in Mehrdad Oskouei’s “Starless Dreams” seem more comfortable with the daily routine inside the correctional facility on the outskirts of Tehran than with life back home with their parents.

Oskouei, one of the country’s most prominent directors and screenwriters, is not as much interested in the magnitude of their crimes – which they reveal to the camera with disarming, often playful honesty – as he is in the social context that allowed them to happen. His interviews reveal a disturbing pattern of destroyed families, drug addiction, poverty and molestation.

Masoumeh has been sentenced to death. She explains how she, along with her sister and mother, killed her addict father because he was subjecting them to systematic beatings. Oskouei asks fellow inmate Khateneh if she still believes in God. “I’m not speaking to Him,” the girl tells him.

Conditions at the Tehran facility are in stark contrast to the inhumanity experienced by Ana in Croatia. The young girls spend their time chatting, playing volleyball, attending hair styling classes, singing, dancing and housekeeping. The walls protect them from the stresses of the free world.

“They will welcome me with chains and a beating,” one girl says of her family near the end of her sentence. A female warden warns another that once she’s left the premises, the authorities will no longer be responsible for what happens to her.

‘Small lines’

Others face detention away from home. Ahmed, the leading character in “I Am Dublin” made by David Aronowitsch, Ahmed Abdullahi, Anna Persson and Sharmarke Binyusuf, sees his own dream of a free life in wealthy Europe put on hold because of a legal technicality.

The Somali fled his war-torn country, crossing Sudan and Libya before boarding a boat to the Italian island of Lampedusa. There, he had his fingerprints collected which were then uploaded on Eurodac, Europe’s shared fingerprint database. After failing to fit in, Ahmed moved to Northern Europe, moving between Sweden and Finland as a clandestine migrant for six years. His requests for asylum in Sweden are turned down because he is what is known as a “Dublin case” – a person who has breached the European Union’s Dublin Regulation that obliges them to be deported to the first EU state they entered and seek asylum there.

“These small lines are destroying my life,” he says explaining how he tried to burn away his fingerprints. He re-enacts the painful trick, this time for the needs of a docudrama with him in the leading role, showing that he first scrubbed his fingers with sandpaper before dunking his hands into a sink filled with hydrochloric acid.

Freedom, or its promise, often come at a price.

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Hate attacks on the rise in Greece, activists warn

By Harry van Versendaal

Racially motivated attacks have risen in number as well as intensity in Greece as authorities’ efforts to tackle the problem remain halfhearted, a network of human rights organizations has warned.

Greece, a main transit point for Asian and African immigrants seeking to set foot in the European Union, has seen a growing wave of xenophobia prompted by a mix of economic malaise and political disillusionment. Golden Dawn, a neofascist party that wants to kick foreigners out of the country, currently controls 18 seats in the 300-member House while polling around 11 percent in recent surveys.

A total of 154 racist attacks were recorded in 2012 by the Racist Violence Recording Network, a collection of 30 nongovernmental organizations initiated two years ago by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) that presented its 2012 report yesterday in Athens. But the actual number is believed to be a lot higher as victims are either too scared to report incidents to the police or because they are turned away.

“What we are faced with is murderous, racist violence. Its objective is no longer just to intimidate, but to cause victims,” NCHR president Kostis Papaioannou told the press briefing.

“Some people thought they did not have a dog in this fight. However, the range of attacks is growing in terms of geography as well as targets,” he said, mentioning that gay people are now also on the list of potential targets.

The report was released a week after more than 30 Bangladeshi strawberry pickers in the Peloponnese district of Manolada suffered shotgun wounds during a dispute over six months of back pay with their supervisors. The three foremen have been charged with attempted murder and illegal weapons possession and will await trial in prison custody.

Most of the documented hate attacks occurred in the Athens districts of Omonia, Aghios Panteleimonas, Attiki Square and Amerikis Square – all areas with large immigrant populations. Forty-four of the victims were asylum seekers, four were recognized refugees, 15 possessed residence permits, and 79 were unregistered, according to the report. The majority were Muslims.

Most victims were attacked in public spaces such as squares or on public transport, usually by groups of men dressed in black, and at times with military trousers, wearing helmets or with their faces covered. Several carried Golden Dawn insignia or had been spotted at public events organized by the party. Perpetrators occasionally included Albanian immigrants.

In many cases victims reported the use of weapons, such as clubs, crowbars, folding batons, chains, brass knuckles, knives and broken bottles. Assailants sometimes used large dogs.

“The victims had suffered multiple injuries,” said Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, head of the UNHCR office in Greece, ranging from fractures and contusions to symptoms of posttraumatic stress.

Fear of attack has turned several neighborhoods in Athens into no-go areas for the capital’s immigrant population.

“People are too afraid to walk out of their home to buy bread,” said the president of the Association of Afghans United in Greece, Reza Golami.

Police involvement

Activists worryingly noted a growing involvement of police officials and public servants in racist attacks. Most such incidents, the report said, concerned duty officers who resorted to illegal acts and violent practices while carrying out routine checks.

“Many in the police force have come to view racist violence as something normal, a natural state of affairs,” Papaioannou said, adding that part of the problem is that xenophobic language has moved deep into mainstream territory.

Before the 2012 elections, Antonis Samaras, now leader of Greece’s conservative-led coalition, pledged to “reclaim” cities from the hordes of illegal immigrants.

Some of the attacks, the report said, came from public servants. Earlier this month a bus driver in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, forced two passengers to get off his bus because they were immigrants.

Experts said that many victims are reluctant to report the attacks because they lack legal documents and are therefore afraid that the police will arrest and deport them.

“Instead of investigating whether a crime has been committed, police officers rather check whether the victims have legal residence permits,” said Vassilis Papastergiou from the Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Migrants and Refugees.

Activists said authorities should instead provide for the suspension of arrest and deportation decisions against victims who file a complaint. The report recommended that victims be given a residence permit on humanitarian grounds, similar to the protection awarded to victims of trafficking – a status awarded to the Manolada victims.

“We hope that the interest in these people will not last only as long as the spotlight is on Manolada,” Papaioannou said.


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