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Syrian refugees in Athens hunger strike for relocation

Syrian refugees in Athens hunger strike for relocation
From Al Jazeera - November 13, 2017

Athens, Greece - After fleeing war-ravaged Syria, waiting in Turkey, passing through a Greek island and traversing the mainland last year, Fahd al-Mekki and his family reached the Idomeni, a crossing into Macedonia, only to be turned back.

Macedonian border guards denied the family passage, telling the 53-year-old father that Jobar, his hometown near Damascus, was a safe area and denied them passage.

Jobar has been the site of many battles and more than five years on since the start of the Syrian war, itis unrecognisable in a state of ruin.

Mekki's wife and three children eventually made it to Germany with the help of smugglers more than a year ago, but he remains stranded in Athens, the Greek capital.

"My house was one of the first homes destroyed in Jobar," he remembered, his eyes welling up with tears as he recalled his flight from the civil war that has engulfed Syria for more than six years.

Mekki, who owned a shawarma restaurant in Syria, is now camped out and on hunger strike with 13 other Syrian refugees who are protesting the sluggish family reunification process.

They say they have each waited more than six months to be reunited with their families, and are calling for expedited relocation to Germany.

Of the hunger strikers, half are women who have been separated from their spouses.

The group first announced their open-ended fast on November 1, when they set up tents and signs on a busy pavement near Syntagma Square in central Athens, across the street from Greece's parliament.

'Sitting in the camp is like being in an open-air prison'

A group of children drew in chalk on the pavement, while a handful of young men sat in a circle and sang.

Sitting on a plastic lawn chair in front of his threadbare tent, Mekki said the group launched the hunger strike after months of protesting outside the Greek asylum services office and the German embassy.

"Nobody has come to speak to us yet," he told Al Jazeera, explaining that he could no longer wait idly in a congested refugee camp. "The food [in the camp] is not edible, and we are not allowed to work."

Life on the 90-euro monthly stipend provided to asylum seekers is not sustainable, he said, adding: "Sitting in the camp is like being in an open-air prison."

Behind him, a sign plastered on railing read: "Dreamin' to fly." Scrawled on a piece of cardboard hanging from a nearby tent is another message: "I want my family."

Another banner that stretches several metres declares in both English and Greek: "Hunger strike! Reunite our families."

'Humanitarian priority'

More than 4,000 refugees and migrants in Greece are in the same situation, separated from their loved ones and lacking clarity about when they will be reunited, according to aid organisations and watchdogs.

According to the EU's Dublin III Agreement, refugees are entitled to relocation and reunification with their families.

'We are doing this for everyone'

We are not doing this for ourselves only. We are doing this for everyone who is waiting to be with their families.

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