In violation of the terms of the Geneva Convention, European authorities appear to be judging asylum claims based on nationality, not individual cases. Pakistanis are generally being categorized as “economic migrants” and not refugees. Simultaneously, Turkey has worked out a readmission agreement with Pakistan in order to deport Pakistanis back to their homeland.
At an asylum office in Athens, Qadeer Sagar Baloch, 27, and his friends tried to explain their situation to an asylum officer. They carried with them a letter written by one Faiz Mohammed Baloch who runs the International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (IVBMP) from an office in London.
It read: “We are convinced if these individuals are forced to return to Balochistan…they will be arrested, tortured and killed by Pakistani army and security agencies. Therefore, we request the government and immigration authorities of Greece not deport these individuals to Pakistan.”
“It is a really sensitive case,” says Danish activist Henriette Holm who is trying to help them. Their lives are in danger in Balochistan, she says.
The security situation in Balochistan has deteriorated in the past years, says Faiz. His group investigates claims about disappeared persons who he says number more than 20,000 (the government in Pakistan insists the number is not more than a few hundred). “We want to provide some comfort to their families, even if they are killed, so that their relatives do not have to live in limbo.”
Faiz has prepared a list of ten Baloch activists who arrived in Greece around the same time as Sagar did earlier this year. He knows of another ten who tried to go to Italy. Countless others have been trying to reach Western Europe but he cannot determine their numbers unless they reach out to his organization.
A group of Baloch men, including Shahrukh, 23, was staying in the camp at Idomeni in December, 2015. He says he was treated as an alien in his own country and claims to have lost 36 family members in the violence that plagues Balochistan.
Sagar and his three Baloch companions share a room with six Punjabi men in a dirty and drug-infested neighborhood of Athens. Each pays 50 Euros monthly in rent. The room is dark and there are mattresses on the floor. A single light illuminates the corroded walls. Days are spent in desperation, as they consume their diminishing savings and see the door to Western Europe closed. Still, they hope that the EU authorities will come to understand their plight, their reason for leaving home and their legitimate fears of being targeted for imprisonment, torture and death at home. For Sagar and his friends, the chances of reaching Germany or the United Kingdom are increasingly remote.
Sagar has been active in the Baloch National Movement (BNM), an organization which aims to create an independent state for the Baloch, divided in areas that are part of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. For years, the Baloch have received asylum protection in European countries but nowadays Sagar and his companions, along with many others, are stuck in Greece, a country suffering from widespread unemployment and in deep economic crisis.
With the largest annual influx of immigrants to Europe in recent history recorded in 2015, the EU countries have closed their borders in March, and made agreements with other countries to be able to deport asylum seekers. The Baloch are worried about being categorized as citizens of Pakistan which the EU considers a safe country.
“Here in Greece,” Sagar says, “we are in deep trouble.”
He insists he did not leave his homeland for economic reasons but because of real threats he experienced due to his political work. “I was threatened by phone,” he recalls. The voice on the other end said, “I will kill you.” A month later, two men entered the metal shop he owned in Mand town in Turbat, carrying Kalashnikovs. Sagar hid and then ran out through the back of the shop. He changed his mobile phone number and stopped going to the shop, which he later sold for about 10,000 Euros in order to finance his trip to Europe.
When Sagar left home in January 2016, he was informed that the European borders were open and it would be possible to travel to Germany or even the United Kingdom. Leaving behind his wife and 11-month-old son, he traveled from Pakistan to Iran, and then into Turkey. “We walked nine hours through the mountains in order to get to Turkey. It was cold and icy and Turkish police were firing at us. One of our friends was caught near the border and sent back to Iran.” He made it across Iran in his third attempt.
From Turkey, they took a rubber dinghy across the sea to the Greek islands. The journey was grueling and dangerous. The small boat was packed with immigrants. The driver, an Afghan and an immigrant himself, had never before captained a boat. Halfway across, the petrol ran out. They were stuck in the water, battling waves and wind. After dialing an emergency number, they were rescued by the Greek Coast Guard. They were taken to the island of Lesbos where they boarded a ferry to Athens and then they could move no farther.
Weeks before Sagar’s arrival in Greece, the European borders were closed to many asylum seekers. About 54,000 migrants of various ethnicities are stuck in Greece.
To read the full story from Pulitzer Center Crises Report