After days of hiding in the basement of her home, Sofia Malinovskaya is finally safe. Air strikes and fighting near home in eastern Ukraine city of Kharkiv Force her to leave Ukraine.
“I drove away with a friend,” Malinovskaya said. “It took us four days to get to the border. There were so many cars, the traffic jams were crazy. We moved 170 kilometers (106 miles) in seven hours.”
They pass through Slovakia, where the border traffic is not very heavy. Volunteers helped Sofia get to Krakow, Poland, then to Warsaw, and from there to the Greek city of Thessaloniki.
While she’s safe now, she said she doesn’t feel like she has a future. “I feel so lost. You realize you have nowhere to go back because my city is almost destroyed. Not a single building is not destroyed. You don’t know what to do next, you don’t know what to do after that Go on with your normal life,” she said.
Malinovskaya came to Thessaloniki because she knew she would have a place to live. “I have a good friend who lives here and I can live with her,” she said.
However, she added that she did not know Greece has been criticized for years for boycotts and lack of protection for migrants and asylum seekers.
Ukrainians have been fleeing to various neighboring countries
No red tape aid
As of Wednesday, more than 10,000 people had crossed the border, according to Vadym Sabluk, Ukraine’s consul general in Thessaloniki.
“The Greek government kindly agreed to let all Ukrainians fleeing the war come to Greek territory,” he said.
Ukrainians with biometric passports can enter the country immediately. For those who prove themselves with other documents, such as birth certificates, a centre has been set up at the Greek-Bulgarian border checkpoint Promachonas, where refugees need to have documents filled out by the police. They can then submit the documents to the nearest immigration authority for formal registration.
“According to the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum, from March 28, an online platform will be launched for receiving documents that are in the Greek government’s temporary protection status,” Sabluk said, adding that the status can remain in effect for up to three years year.
Sabluk, since Russia begins its invasion of Ukraine on February 24said he was overwhelmed by the willingness of Greek authorities and citizens to help his countryman.
“Many people came to the consulate and offered their own apartments, houses and rooms to welcome Ukrainians,” he said.
Subluk added that Russians living in Greece also showed solidarity. “The Russians came to beg for mercy, and they worked side by side with our volunteers,” he said.
good refugees, bad refugees
Inside the city hall of Thessaloniki, Ukrainians, Russians and Greeks have been working together to get food, clothes and medicines packed and shipped to Ukraine. But on the streets of Athens, more than 400 police officers have been busy in Operation Skupa (“Broomstick”), screening asylum seekers and detaining anyone who cannot prove their identity.
“I didn’t dare to go out at all,” said one young Afghan, adding that he had no idea where he was going when the camp where he lived closed in May.
Some asylum seekers are forced to go to the reception centre in the military district of Evros to submit their applications
his asylum application Was rejected twice, he said. In his native Kabul, where he worked as an interpreter for international media, he feared the Taliban would follow through on their threat to kill him if he returned to Afghanistan.
Attempts by Afghans to file new asylum claims have been unsuccessful. For several hours, he tried to sign up through the Skype Messenger service as required, but never succeeded. Now he has to travel to the Evros district at the other end of the country at his own expense to submit his application at the reception centre.
He said his time in Greece gave him a lack of trust in the Greek authorities. He mentioned witnessing police violence and illegal deportations while trying to cross the border from Turkey to Greece.
The Afghan said he was offended by comparing the treatment of Ukrainian refugees to his own. “They are new arrivals and should go through the same process as all other refugees,” he said.
The war in Ukraine was a major topic of discussion in the camp where he lives, he said, adding that the situation there was difficult enough without seeing how others were being treated favorably.
Human rights activists have long condemned the Greek government’s treatment of refugees. However, the government claims that Turkey is a safe third country, so people are not entitled to international protection in the EU.
Greece’s immigration and asylum minister, Notis Mitarakis, said in a recent speech to parliament that refugees from Ukraine were “real refugees.” Meanwhile, leading politicians have called asylum seekers from the Middle East or Africa “illegal immigrants,” according to Greek media reports.
Neda Noraie-Kia of Thessaloniki Heinrich Böll Foundation disapproves of Greece’s unequal treatment of refugees
Neda Noraie-Kia, an expert on European immigration policy at the Heinrich Böll Foundation, which is affiliated with the German Green Party, said she disapproved of the Greek government’s unequal treatment of refugees. She said a rather pessimistic picture has emerged when it comes to refugee protection in Greece: unlawful deportation, lack of basic provisions, lack of integration efforts – the list of charges is long.
“It is important that the EU responds to documented violations,” she told DW.
Still, she added, it was also important that refugees from Ukraine were protected in Greece without red tape.
“It proves after all that solidarity is possible,” Noraie-Kia said, adding that solidarity must also extend to others seeking protection.
Many, including asylum seekers from Afghanistan, have waited too long for asylum hearings, trapped in legal grey areas for years.
“Protecting from war and persecution is not an act of mercy,” Noraie-Kia said. “We in the EU are not alone in this world. We cannot close our eyes when authoritarian regimes oppress their citizens. We must take responsibility.”
This article was originally published in German