10.12.2020 | Human Rights Day
“Days of lockdown, days of the pandemic”
By Thodoris Zeis, Lawyer
Legal Service Athens Solidarity Center
Days of lockdown, days of the pandemic. Equal for everybody? Of course not.
A young man from Guinea has been forced to travel by train from Thessaloniki, the city of the hundreds of Covid-19 cases, to Athens to have his interview according to the schedule of the Regional Asylum Office of Attica.
Indeed, text messages are compulsory even for the supermarket next door, but for the interview required so that the asylum procedures are carried on smoothly, those young people are obliged to travel across the quarantined country at the risk of getting ill or spreading the virus. The same applies to their lawyers, although, if they cannot be present, the interview may take place in their absence according to the Law…
Still, the lawyer was present. Even though he had just been tested, because a positive case had been detected in his work team – luckily, the result was negative. The Athens Solidarity Center is at the forefront.
– Maître*, I have no money to take the train.
– I will suggest that we pay for your ticket.
Everything happened rapidly. We came up with the solution, even though it was late in the afternoon. The next day we were worried…would he arrive safely?
– Are you Ok?
– Ok Maître.
– I have not asked you, where did you spend the night?
– Somehow, I managed, Maître…
The morning of the interview he was strong and calm. He had been up and about all night trying to put in order what we had discussed about this day. All his anxieties. Everything. What he left behind a few years ago, his youth, an entire life that was about to be judged in a few hours.
We entered the interview room. Four people with masks on and a wall of plexiglass separating them. A suffocating, narrow space like the kitchen of my student apartment in the past. Being highly sensitive to the conditions, I complained to the operator. I talked about the rights of the “vulnerable” who are considered expendable. About the loss of dignity. The operator and the interpreter listened to me understandingly. For a moment, one tiny moment, I thought I heard us heavily breathing through the mask.
The first question asked, the interviewee’s answers poured on endlessly, breathlessly, it was impossible to interrupt him. All his feelings bottled up for so long, came out in a torrent of words. He forgot nothing in the flow of the narrative. Half an hour later, he concluded saying, “and now that I live in Thessaloniki, I enrolled and attend high school”. In the end, when it was my turn to ask questions, I could not help but asking: “Please tell me, how did it occur to you to enroll in high school? Did any organization help you?”, “No, Maître. The idea was mine. I wanted to do something for me.”
We parted at the traffic lights of Katehaki avenue. I suggested taking him to Larissa Station by taxi. But he still had some spare time and wanted to walk a little. Suddenly he turned and looked at me. His eyes were red. From fatigue, tension, emotion. He gave me his hand.
– Maître… I thank you and your organization for helping me. It meant a lot to me.
– Have a safe journey kiddo!
Days of “social distancing”? Not quite…
(This was a current incident from the work of the Legal Service’s team at the Athens Solidarity Center)
* Maître: Lawyer for French speakers
Since May 2019 the Athens Solidarity Center is financed by EEA and Norway Grants, with HumanRights360 and CROWE Greece as the fund operator. The Center is also supported by the Municipality of Athens.