From impending shipwreck in 2021 to unjust detention, separation, and today reunification with his children: The story of N.S.
Today, on World Refugee Day, just a few days after the catastrophic shipwreck in Pylos, we choose to publicise the story of a survivor of a different impending shipwreck, two years ago, who was also rescued in Kalamata with his two minor children. N.S., a single father, after being rescued, was unjustly accused and detained for a year, separated from his children, eventually acquitted of all charges, and now, one year after this acquittal, he was finally reunited with his children. He is another typical victim of the implementation of EU deterrence policies, of the criminalization of refugees, but also a paradigm of survival and resilience.
N.S. is a refugee from Syria, who arrived with his two children on May 3, 2021, in Kalamata, after rescued on board in a ship which was at risk of being wrecked. On May 6, 2021, N.S. was arrested for reasons he never understood, accused of complicity in the transfer of persons to Greece and was detained as a result of problematic and summary pre-trial proceedings, in the context of which even his parentage was questioned. He was detained until his release, following the issuance of an acquittal.
The process, however, that followed the acquittal and release of N.S. until his reunification with his two minor children who are in Greece, highlighted the pathologies and inadequacies of the reception, integration, welfare and child protection systems in Greece, depriving them, for almost a year after his release, of family life.
Separation of the family due to procedural defects
N.S. was accused of serious charges immediately after his rescue, namely, of being an accomplice in transferring into Greece third-country nationals from abroad who do not have the right to enter the Greek territory. One year later, on May 19, 2022, the Single-Member Criminal Court of Kalamata acquitted him of these charges, as well as of the charge of illegal entry into Greece. The acquittal of N.S. and another Syrian refugee, demonstrated the dramatic consequences of the criminalization of refugees entering EU territory, while the hearing highlighted the significant wrongdoings, serious gaps, omissions and errors of the pre-trial and interrogation process. These precisely resulted, despite the faulty determination, in the criminal prosecution and the unfair detention of the two defendants for one year, as well as the conviction of three defendants who were absent from the hearing.
Meanwhile, his two minor children (8 and 9 years old) were placed under the temporary guardianship of the competent Public Prosecutor of Kalamata, due to his arrest and detention in combination with the absence of another relative in Greece to take care of them. The children were hosted with a “foster” family after placed by the Prosecutor under the protection of the organization “METADRASI – Action for Migration and Development”.
This was the first time the children were separated from their father after the tragic death of their mother in 2015. All three of them had faced many difficult situations over the years as Syrian citizens in Turkey but had never experienced separation from each other. N.S. struggled and finally managed to maintain communication with his children for a year, by phone.
Faced with the inadequacies of the reception system
N.S.’s children, following his original asylum application, were recognised as refugees in Greece whilst he was a prisoner, while he himself, for procedural reasons, was still back then an asylum seeker in Greece.
After his release, N.S. was faced with the gaps and inadequacies of the reception system: he was not immediately granted, despite the relevant check by the competent authority, an international protection applicant card, nor was he given instructions nor was he competently referred to receive the said card, nor was there any care or information. He was never granted reception conditions and in particular, accommodation, as a beneficiary asylum seeker, who had just been released from prison, had no money, and no knowledge of whether and where he could request assistance. Therefore, the only legal document N.S. had in his possession was the release document, until the receipt of the asylum seeker card, upon application by his lawyers. This is a particularly problematic fact, even for finding temporary housing but also for access to necessities – work, medical care, etc.
The labyrinth of family reunification after release
N.S. faced a labyrinthine framework in order to ensure the obvious, namely, his reunification with his minor children and the granting of his rights as an applicant but also as a beneficiary of international protection:
- Although N.S. requested, with the assistance of RSA lawyers, the granting of appropriate reception conditions and, in particular, suitable accommodation for him as a vulnerable case, as a single parent with two minor children, whom he was unfairly deprived of and in order to be reunited with them, his request for provision of reception conditions was never answered by the Greek authorities.
- While he was not granted reception conditions, while being an applicant for international protection, he was informed that even as a beneficiary, he could no longer join the HELIOS program, since “Mr. N.S. did not previously live in a Reception and Identification Center (RIC)” which the program in question sets as a precondition. This is the only housing subsidy program for beneficiaries of international protection. In addition, in order to apply for Social Solidarity Income-Rent-Children allowance, although he is a recognised refugee and has a residence permit, a bank account is also required. This means that the issuance of a travel document is indirectly mandatory, which also includes a 90-euro fee, since banks do not issue a bank account without it.
- Thus, although he was separated from his children through no fault of his own and despite his acquittal, family reunification was neither self-evident nor immediate. For a whole year he was faced with prerequisites which were the responsibility and obligation of the Greek authorities (suitable housing conditions, income criteria, etc.) but also with the problematic behavior, arbitrary accusations, and even the questioning of his paternal-parental role by those appointed as the “foster family”, due to his origin, legal and economic situation, gender and religion as well as, and above all, the absence of effective institutional protection mechanisms for him and his children against these problematic and dangerous situations.
- N.S., immediately after his release, was exposed to stressful and traumatic experiences due to demanding, time-consuming and unsafe procedures. Being himself in precarious circumstances, he had to seek financial resources and housing for himself and at the same time create the conditions and suitable housing, in order for him to be able to take back his children.
A new, dignified and equal life for N.S. and his children
N.S., with the holistic support of the organization “Refugee Support Aegean” (RSA), managed to overcome the obstacles:
- By constantly disturbing and highlighting the problematic behavior of the foster family, it was finally deemed unsuitable. Thus, his children were removed from this environment and were temporarily placed safely, in a protection structure for minors. Further, while he was experiencing anxiety and concern for the physical and mental well-being of his children and the anticipation of living with them, N.S. cooperated fully with the specialized professionals of the protection structure, for the gradual restoration of their mental peace and their reunification, finally, in the paternal home in April 2023.
- Today, finally, N.S. has managed to create a beautiful environment in his home through his own personal work, money and care, and with the humanitarian and social assistance of RSA. He has been working systematically after his release, while in October 2022 he finally received the decision of the Asylum Service, according to which he was recognised as a refugee. He makes a constant effort to create and maintain the appropriate conditions and take care of his children, also struggling for their integration into Greek society – without any support or provision from the Greek authorities.
- He responds in the best possible way to his obligations as a father, in the context of his cohabitation with his two minor children who live with him, go to school near their home and are fully integrated into Greek society, while,
- He arranges for the arrival of his other family members, his second wife and his two youngest children as part of an extremely demanding and time-consuming family reunification process from Turkey.
In addition to the fact that N.S. was a typical victim of the implementation of the EU’s deterrence policies, he is also one of the many cases that demonstrate the inadequacies and pathologies of Greek social policy and welfare in general, as well as those of the refugee reception and integration policies in Greece, which constitute the other aspect aiming to prevent them from staying and being integrated into Greek society.
In contrast, N.S. constitutes, at the same time, a response and a paradigm of overcoming the hostile framework, of resilience and resistance to adversity, of hope and vision for an equal world in our society. Solidarity and support worked well for N.S., constituting without a doubt the means we owe to every person who faces exclusion, discrimination and experiences injustice.
* Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) provided since the beginning, and continues to provide, legal assistance to N.S. and represented him during the criminal procedure, the asylum procedure and the procedure for his reunification with his minor children. At the same time, especially after his release from prison, RSA systematically provides him with social assistance also by taking over the financial coverage of his basic needs in order to support the single father on a practical and psychosocial level, in the absence of any provision of reception and integration conditions for him. The humanitarian assistance was provided in the context of the support of the Hans Maiers family, through PRO ASYL Foundation.