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The Prison Run

Art Piece called 'Convicted' : Abdulazez Dukhan

The Prison Run is a branch of Refugee Biriyani & Bananas (RBB) special project The Brothers Campaign. 

Since December 2017, RBB has been involved in providing aid and support for displaced people, often males, who have been detained in prison or detention centers. They are usually there for rejections on their asylum claims and at risk of deportation, or they are  those who have faced an unfair trial when committing no or minor crimes and unjustly face long periods of imprisonment in dire conditions.

 

This has become known within the team as 'The Prison Run' and involves providing – under somewhat more challenging conditions – clothes, hygiene products, telephone calling cards (their only form of communication with family and lawyers), medical support, and trying to ensure legal provisions are available.

Ruhi (RBB Founder and CEO) recollects the very first time she visited Chios Prison after a call out for support in December 2017:

“In one cell there was writing all over the wall as if some had lost their mind and in fact one of the men detained there, told me after being there for 6 months, he had infact, lost his mind.

A young man from Afghanistan stands next to graffiti drawn on the walls of the unofficial camp at the Belgrade Barracks : A stark reminder why people are forced to leave their homes, seeking safety and refuge.

A poignant prompt that asylum seekers are undeserving of the constant harsh treatment and imprisonment they face, when they have no choice but to flee their home countries.

There were twenty two men in one cell and two women in another. People from countries such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. I went to assess the needs and then came back with sleeping bags, hygiene kits, scabies treatment, female sanitary packs, ready made food supplies and telephone calling cards. However, the needs were so much more.

People were clambering to the window, hands outstretched, reaching out desperate for someone to hear; anyone to listen. Some of the men in distress cried ‘lesh, lesh,  lesh?’ Meaning ‘why, why, why?’ in Arabic. The image will stay with me forever because it was like a horror movie.

'Please help me, if I am deported the Taliban will kill me,' one 20 year old man from Afghanistan told me.

Only a few of the prisoners were there for minor crimes in camp but the majority were there because they had received second rejections on asylum cases. The two ladies told me they were arrested when they broke their geographical restrictions and  were first detained in an Athens prison and then transferred to Chios. They were trying to travel to Germany and France where their husbands were. They cracked a joke with dark humor as they said 'we have been in Greece for five months now and we have only been out of prison, during that period, for five days.' One of the ladies later told me she was a university graduate and asked ‘what am I doing here?’

 

 

Twelve of the men had no lawyers or legal representation. Some had been there for many months without any communication to the outside world. They seemed to have been forgotten about whilst incarcerated. They may have been missing and no one would have known where they were or their families would have wondered if they were still alive, as they were unable to contact the outside world. They asked for Telecarta which is a telephone phone card to make calls from the payphone, when it is operational. 

 

One man told me ‘I just want to call my mum in Syria.’ Then he told me he couldn’t bear being locked up in a cell anymore and wanted to go back even though he will face death.

Infinity was written on the side of the window the officer opened for us so I could see and speak to the people. I was struck speechless and a part of me will always be traumatised by seeing this level of desperation. People stuck inside one dark, dingy cell for what will seem like ‘infinity.’ Reaching out. The reaching out and tortured voices is what acutely affected me and will stay with me forever.

Most of these people have been traumatised due to war, terrorism, having to leave homes and family behind, death- and now this?? Lesh, lesh, lesh? Why? Because we as a world entity have said they have no freedom of movement and no rights to seek a better life or safety.”

A heartbreaking image at Chios Ferry Port. Three boys from Afghanistan raced as fast as they could from Vial Refugee Camp, when they heard their friend/brother in Chios prison was being moved to another Greek Island prison.

 

Having received a  rejection on an asylum claim they didn't know if they would see their friend/brother again as he faces long term incarceration and deportation. They missed him, only by a few minutes and didn't get to see him one last time, as the officers had already escorted him away.