Immigrant women, ex-prisoners, testify the experience of their imprisonment in the detention center of Elliniko.
Everybody knows it was very bad inside the prison.The food was terrible.
We had to wash the toilets and to take out the garbage.The blankets and the mattresses- if there were any- were very dirty.Because of the conditions and the bad hygiene we had all kinds of diseases, especially skin diseases.We had showers with freezing water in cold weather.The cells were very cold in winter and boiling hot in summer. In summer, especially, we suffered because of the mosquitoes. They were so many that we were scratching all the time.Also, we all needed clothes for the season, which were mainly provided by the solidarity group.
Getting medication, and most of all special medication, for health problems like diabetes, asthma, or heart diseases was next to impossible. By the time they took the woman to the hospital, the situation had deteriorated. For example, a woman with kidney stones, who suffered a lot and was in big pain, was never treated., never taken to the hospital. She used to scream every time she went to the bathroom…. Or, other women with very serious heart problems were either taken to the hospital only when their situation had become much worse, or never seen to….
We were always under the stress of deportation. The police used to tell us that we had to apply for an asylum, otherwise we would be deported. We had this kind of pressure at least once a week. On the other hand, there were so many opinions expressed, that it wasn`t easy to make decisions about what to do, for example the asylum: should we apply or not? This situation increased the fear of deportation all the time.
The women used to pay big amounts of money to the lawyers, out of despair, hoping to be free. But the lawyers, most of the times, took the money and after giving false hope and promises just disappeared. They said you are going to be free, today, tomorrow, in a week, in a month…. but that never happened. Only in very few cases…..
Some lawyers, especially from NGOs, used to come to the prison only one time: to write down some names, take the signatures and then disappeared….They didn`t help at all and couldn`t give us any helpful information, which made the women decide to to pay other lawyers that- they thought- could help them.
There are women in the prison who have no family, nor friends to support them financially and psychologically. Also, for the women prisoners who don`t have any other ways to communicate besides their own native language- Farsi,or Arabic for example- things are even more difficult. In cases, for example, when there were health problems and medication was needed, they couldn`t make themselves understood to the police staff.
Because of this, the contact with the solidarity group was the only way for us to communicate and make our voices heard. That is, the only way to communicate with our family members and with the outside world was (or is) through the solidarity group.( It was important for us to let the people outside know about our situation and not to be forgotten to face our fate…)
The police: behaviour and tactics
We felt like criminals because of the way we were treated. There were often threats by the police.They reminded us that they had the right to keep us in prison for 18 months, according to the law. That was almost every time we asked what was going to happen with our cases.
The police didn`t care about anybody and believed that anyone who doesn`t have legal papers belongs to the prison, without keeping in mind each one`s special condition, like the women who suffered from mental disorders. They were brought to the detention center and kept in for a long time, although these women needed to be supported psychologically and psychiatrically. Something that made the situation inside the prison very hard for all of us….
Another point was that, although it`s not legal to keep children inside a prison, the police used to keep mothers with their children inside for long, sometimes. Some other times mothers were separated from their children, and they had no idea what had happened to them, where they were, if they were well or not. The mothers were kept inside foe a long period of time and the children were out, alone, without the presence of their mother.
Even underaged girls that are not supposed to be detained, but sent to the underaged camps instead, sometimes stayed inside for a long time. The same applied for old women with serious health problems.There were even cases of women- and of a teenage girl, too- attempting suicides, as a protest against their detention, since they were kept for so many months there, without knowing when they were going to be free.
When the women arrived at the prison, they usually had the hope that they would be free soon, perhaps in a couple of days, because the police used to tell every one of us that these problems with the papers were going to be solved in maximum 3 days. But after waiting inside for a week, we came to realize that it was just a lie to make us not resist. And after spending many months in prison, and having paid the last of our money to the fake lawyers, we had no money and no hope.
Life after prison
So, although freedom is the best thing that can happen to a person who is in jail, when we were set free, we found ourselves in an unknown future. Without money, and a lot of agony. At that point, the help of the people in solidarity was crucial for the women who had no one to help them and no “ organizations” to give them some information or help.
It`s better for the state to try to solve the situation/ problem with the papers, instead of sending the immigrants to prison, in very bad conditions, for long periods of time and instead of making life harder than it already was for them….
Why prison for no papers?
Why not free?
Why so much time inside?
The detention centers must be closed down, because the women, who are detained, are not criminals, but people who came here seeking a refuge and they expect help and not to be imprisoned.
We sympathize with the women who are inside the detention center now, because we`ve been through the same and the conditions are even worse than our period . The communication through the solidarity group is lost, as the police don`t allow it to happen. So, we can not really know what kind of nightmare the women are going through. The only way to help the detained women is through knowing what actually is going on inside. In this period of time, the police are trying to make detention invisible, by excluding people who used to come in contact with the women. In this way, the changes in the system can`t become known to us and the detentions that are kept in dark make it really hard for us to help.
Immigrant women, ex-prisoners in the detention center of Elliniko. (December 2016)
Γυναίκες-πρώην κρατούμενες στο Κέντρο Κράτησης Ελληνικού (Δεκέμβρης 2016)