I came to Greece to escape imprisonment in Iran – but now I realise that Europe is worse

In the winter in Moria people have died from cold and hunger at night, freezing in thin tents for months on end. I saw a mother and daughter burn in front of my eyes in a camp fire

Arash Hampay
Tuesday 11 July 2017 13:59 BST
Many who reach Europe run the risk of mistreatment, brutality and even death
Many who reach Europe run the risk of mistreatment, brutality and even death (Getty)

I am used to having my human rights trampled on. I have been tortured by police in jails from Tehran to Istanbul. But the treatment like we are experiencing here at the hands of the European Union has left me shocked. In fact, as hunger strikers, we could access medical care in Iran that has been denied to us by the Greek authorities.

How dare they speak in the beautiful language of human rights? How dare they talk about humanity and law and democracy? How dare they condemn human rights abuses in other countries when they are committing human rights abuses here, themselves?

My father was shot and killed by the Iranian paramilitary police nearly two decades ago, after being fired from his workplace for agitating for better conditions. Ever since I grew old enough, I have been working with my human rights organisation – the Hamyaran-E-Mehrandish Association – to provide medicine, clothing and food to impoverished labourers like my father.

But just because I had engaged in humanitarian activities, and interviewed some impoverished Iranians on camera, the regime accused me of forming an illegal political group. I was sent to prison for the vague crimes of “insulting the Supreme Leader of Iran” and “propaganda against the regime of Iran”.

In prison I was placed in solitary confinement for six months and brutally beaten, losing my teeth and rupturing my tendons. I experienced five fake executions myself, and my brother was murdered by the regime. Even after release I was beaten in the street by plain-clothes police, who seized and destroyed my camera with my life’s work on it, and when I was threatened with a fifteen-year prison sentence I was forced to flee my family and my homeland.

My brother Amir and I are from Iran, and our fellow hunger strikers are from Iraq and Syria, but we all came to Europe for protection: some fleeing bombs and terrorists, and others the murderous violence of totalitarian governments. But the Greek authorities are treating us like criminals. Barbed wire and prison cells are not the right place for refugees.

From the day we fled the hell we were enduring in our home countries and became refugees in Europe, we have suffered the worst kinds of psychological torture. We have been humiliated and beaten by the police. We have been denied the right to work and if we do work, we are exploited.

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We have had our human dignity stripped from us. In the winter in Moria people have died from cold and hunger at night, freezing in thin tents for months on end. I saw a mother and daughter burn in front of my eyes in a camp fire. The authorities saw our families dying beside us and they did nothing – apart from attempting to illegally deport my brother.

We are brothers, we arrived on the same day, and we are both political activists. We have had all the same experiences. Yet his asylum claim was rejected, while mine was accepted. The authorities attempted to deport him while he was still appealing his claim, and together with lawyers and the UNHCR we were able to pull him off the boat at the last moment.

But since that day he’s been in jail for two months, though he is innocent of all crimes. So we started our hunger strike 14 days ago, demanding the release of my brother and many other refugees like him.

With every day that passes our condition is worsening. For my brother, and the three others who are on hunger strike inside the prison in Moria, their suffering is particularly acute.

When I did hunger strikes in the Evin prison in Iran, our friends and family were allowed to bring us salt and water to keep us from starving to death. These basic rights are denied to those doing their hunger strike in Moria jail.

They do not have access to salt or sugar to add to their water and prevent rapid deterioration of their health. The police have prohibited visitors from coming to bring them these needed items, and they have not yet been visited by a doctor.

On my lonely vigil in a square in the centre of town, I have been lucky enough to have visits from the police: they constantly harass me and take me to the station, drive us from the centre of town seize my friends’ phones. Even the Vice Mayor came to mock me, tear down my pictures of my imprisoned brother and friends, tell I wasn’t wanted here and should leave.

So I have actually found some common ground with the mayor, the police and the courts. We all agree that the refugees should be able to leave this country.

My request to the EU is not an extreme or an illogical one: that all 31 articles of the European Declaration of Human Rights be adhered to. Respect your own words and your own laws.

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