Photo: Gerasimos Domenikos / FOS PHOTOS

Refugees Declare End of Hunger Strike but Continue their Struggle

They will continue until reunification with their families is scheduled.

By Annalisa Galgano / Photos: Gašper Andrinek, Gerasimos Domenikos / FOS PHOTOS

In a press conference Tuesday 14 November, the group of 14 refugees hunger striking in Syntagma square in front of the Greek Parliament for family reunification announced an end to their strike. Citing their concerns for their children with the onset of winter, the hunger strikers affirmed, “We will stop the hunger strike, but we will continue our struggle.”

The 7 women and 7 men from Syria began their hunger strike 14 days ago to protest the delays in the refugee family reunification program. On November 8, a protest was staged outside the German embassy in Greece in support of the hunger strikers. Officials from the embassy agreed to meet only the male hunger strikers to discuss the protest. One of the female hunger strikers who was barred from the meeting released a statement, saying, “I am a mother, not a terrorist.” Both the consul of the German embassy and the Greek Ministry of Migration addressed the hunger strikers this week, citing “technical difficulties” for the ongoing delays in family reunifications that violate EU asylum law.

The 13th day on Syntagma square. Gerasimos Domenikos / FOS PHOTOS

Although refugees who have been approved for family reunification are legally required to be transferred within six months, many of the hunger strikers have been waiting in Greece for nearly two years. This summer, free flights for refugees who were scheduled for family reunification were halted. Refugees who had been scheduled to travel this summer were given the choice of forfeiting their scheduled travel date or buying their own flights. However, all flights for family reunification must be booked through exclusively one travel agency located in downtown Athens, which charges three times the typical ticket price to Germany. The German government has also refused requests to charter two flights specifically for refugee families.

Last week, two hunger strikers were notified that they have been scheduled for family reunification, but they decided to continue their hunger strike rather than receive their tickets. In response, one hunger striker said, “I will not receive [my ticket] because I do not have the money to pay for myself and my four children. […] I will stay here, I will continue the hunger strike with all the others until our requests are accepted.”

The Press Conference. Photo: Gašper Andrinek

Over 4000 people in Greece have been approved for family reunification, but have been waiting up to two years to find out when they will be transferred. Around 2/3 of this group are children who are indefinitely living in camps, squats, or temporary accommodation. In today’s press conference, one of the hunger strikers emphasized, “We are not numbers; we are people. […] The 14 people here are struggling for everyone who needs family reunification.”

Some of the hunger strikers. Photo: Gašper Andrinek

During the second week of the hunger strike, refugees began experiencing fevers, vomiting, constipation, slow heart rate, and symptoms of hypothermia and hypoglycemia. By the 14th day, many of the hunger strikers were on the verge of being transferred to the hospital for critical health conditions. Their decision to end the strike today was borne out of concern for their children here in Greece and their families awaiting their arrival in Germany. Despite ending the hunger strike, the strikers declare that “[T]he struggle will be continued with the same determination, persistence, and militancy.”

The hunger strikers thanked Greek and international activists who supported them in solidarity by organizing activities for their children, keeping watch at night, and collecting essential materials. After the press conference, the strikers were welcomed by the community at Refugee Accommodation and Solidarity Space City Plaza for their first meal in 14 days.

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