An Afghan asylum seeker who lost his almost four-month-old baby in April has claimed the death is due to a lack of healthcare during their mandatory stay on a Greek island.
Seyyed Mustafa Hosseini, born and raised in Iran, had to leave the country due to security issues and several deportations he experienced from Iran to Afghanistan.
The twenty-three-year-old man arrived in Lesvos on a boat with his wife on January 15, 2020, to seek refuge in Europe.
Like most asylum seekers who first arrive on the Greek islands, the Hosseini family was forced to remain on Lesvos. They were not permitted to continue their journey to mainland Greece and had to sleep in a tent in “the jungle,” a forested, un-serviced area filled with tents next to the overcrowded Moria camp.
Based on an agreement between the European Union and Turkey in 2016, Athens keeps asylum seekers on the islands in order to send “irregular migrants” back to Turkey. In exchange, the EU Member States would take one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every migrant returned from the islands.
Hosseini told IPA News that his wife gave birth to their daughter on January 25, and their baby Hannaneh needed treatment for her health problems.
“It was so frustrating; there were no services in the hospital, I often had to go back and forth from Moria, we didn’t understand the language, there were no interpreters, they made it difficult for us,” said the young father.
Life in Moria was tough, according to Mustafa. The young couple had to live in a small tent for about three months, outside of Moria Camp, where seventeen thousand asylum seekers are currently stuck. In contrast, the capacity of the camp is only 2,500.
“There were no facilities in Moria, no water or electricity; it was precarious, my daughter got ill there.”
According to the mourning father, the death of his baby was the result of living in a tent in harsh weather and a lack of health services.
After Hannaneh suffered from respiratory problems, she was admitted to a hospital with her mother, Fatima, in Mytilene, the nearest town. After more than two weeks, the local authorities transferred Fatima and her baby to another hospital in Athens, without informing the father. He was staying in their tent in the jungle.
Days after, he found a small note written by authorities outside his tent, informing him about his family’s transfer to the mainland due to the baby’s deteriorating health.
Hosseini learned through a phone call with his wife that they had lost their baby three months and twenty-five days after birth.
“I spoke to my wife, and she told me she was in Athens, and my daughter was dead. That moment was truly awful. I was angry, I couldn’t be with her there and then, and [because of] the realization of what happened to my daughter.”
According to a death certificate issued by Panagiotis & Aglaia Kyriakou Children’s Hospital and seen by IPA, Hannaneh lost her life due to ARDS, Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome.
After the loss, Hosseini says, his wife was admitted to a psychological hospital in Athens since the desperate mother had attempted to kill herself due to the agony of losing her child.
Subsequently, Mustafa managed to get his papers from the local authorities in Lesvos, to travel to the mainland. Since there were no accommodation facilities in Athens, he had to sleep in Victoria Square in central Athens until he found out which hospital his wife was staying in.
After Hosseini found his wife, they applied to Skaramangas Camp for accommodation, where they have now been staying for more than two months. The camp is located in an industrial area on the outskirts of Athens, far from any amenities.
Following the young mother’s discharge from the hospital, the couple learned that their baby’s funeral would take place in another town, a 20-minute drive from the camp. The funeral had been organized by the hospital without consulting the parents, and they had no idea how they could get there. There was no public transport going between the camp and the cemetery.
A group of volunteers working with migrants helped the family to understand the funeral procedure and join the ceremony, which took place on May 2.
“With the help of a very helpful and kind lady, we were taken by car from Skaramangas camp, and she dealt with organizing the entire funeral, I’m very grateful for her help,” remembers Hosseini regarding the day they buried their child at a graveyard in the outskirts of Athens.
Riham Ezzaldeen, a volunteer and film producer at “What Took You So Long?” drove the mother to the cemetery. She was one of the four people who had volunteered to drive the party to the funeral, due to the one passenger per car restriction under the COVID-19 measurements.
“Before getting in the car, I was told that Mustafa was worried [about Fatima] and wanted me to lock the doors while the car was moving, that is because she had attempted to end her life after the death of her newborn,” Ezzaldeen told IPA.
“Fatima was absent-minded; she was walking along and barely communicating. I was wondering if me not speaking her language was a reason, but realized that it wasn’t when the translator arrived and she still barely interacted.”
According to the volunteer, Hannaneh died as a result of failure to provide enough assistance to the parents in the country in which they seek refuge.
Several human rights organizations criticize Athens for reducing accommodation and other services for migrants through new regulations and laws.
There are currently a total of 120,000 asylum seekers living in Greece, according to the latest release of the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).
Thirty-nine thousand seven hundred of these asylum seekers are restricted to the islands while 80,300 are on the mainland.
Following the new asylum law implemented in March by the conservative Greek government New Democracy, thousands of recognized refugees in Greece are facing homelessness after their right to stay in temporary accommodation expired on June 1.
The new law reduced the time they could be sheltered in the camps or other facilities from six months to just one.
According to UNHCR, 8,500 refugees and asylum seekers will be affected by the dramatic change.
Athens sees the move as necessary to decrease the “pressure” in the neglected camps on the Greek islands.
According to the UNHCR spokesman who spoke to Euronews in June, “refugees will have to leave this form of assistance without effective access to Greek social services.”
“We don’t want to stay in the country.”
Hosseini, who is waiting to be granted asylum with his wife in Skaramangas Camp, says there are not enough facilities in the camp, and the containers where they live are insect-ridden. The lack of interpreters is another problem they face in the camp.
The young couple who buried their baby in Athens don’t want to remain in Greece. They wish to go to another country where they can have a fresh start and start studying to have the chance of a better future.
Hosseini says he realized that Europeans don’t see asylum seekers as individuals.
“I just want to say: Why is it that an asylum seeker loses his child in Europe. I used to think that Europeans aren’t like this; they understand our issues,” he regrets.
“We thought that if we came to Europe, our lives would change. All of our hope lay in our daughter. She could progress in life, study, and not remain uneducated like us, to have a brighter future. She would not be humiliated like me.”
*Reporting by Zubeyir Koculu, editing by Lucy Walton, Persian-English translation by S.P. Diddlie