Honors for an Afghani Migrant

An Afghani asylum seeker excels in Greek national University entry exams

Vahit Fasil receiving an award of the city from Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris.

Vahit Fasil receiving an award of the city from Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris.

THESSALONIKI, Greece │ “Education has been my compass throughout life, and my travel from Afghanistan to Greece”, said Vahit Fasil, when Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris presented him with an award from the city, honoring refugees during World Refugee Day.

Vahid, an asylum seeker, excelled in the 2012 national university entrance exams at the Business Administration department of the University of Macedonia, attaining a first. He arrived as an unaccompanied minor in Thessaloniki, went to school while working, and graduated from a secondary school in the city center. Integrating migrants, refugees and asylum seekers is a priority in the work of Symβiosis, a civil society organisation that organized World Refugee Day on June 20, 2013, in collaboration with the Municipality of Thessaloniki, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Greece, refugee and asylum-seeker communities, and other organizations.

Vahid spoke about his school in the Afghan village, where the teacher struck him very hard one day when he failed to produce an exercise notebook, as his father was so poor that Vahid had to write on the sand. As a consequence, he lost his hearing on his left side and many years later in Thessaloniki, he had to undergo a major operation because of a broken bone piercing his skull. Yet, Vahid’s thirst for knowledge and skills allowed him to tolerate beatings from the craftsman in Iran to whom his smuggler sold him, so that he would teach him how to work with tiles. Vahid trained during the night, and after two years, having managed to pay off his bondage, formed his own small company. Yet, he was not allowed to attend school, so at 15 he dreamt of being educated in Europe. This dream brought him through the migrants’ routes over Anatolia and the Aegean, and to a Greek migrants’ detention center. Upon his release, and after all sorts of agricultural jobs (picking oranges and kiwi fruit), he ended up in the city, where he could finally attend school. Starting with primary education, in a language he did not know, relying on well-meaning neighbors, teachers and friends, he slowly mastered the language. It took many sleepless nights and long, exhausting working hours of studying, to graduate from secondary education and to excel in the national university entry exams a few years later.

All over Greece, about 50,000 asylum seekers are waiting for their claims to be examined, with these often pending for over ten years. There is a severe lack of adequate reception conditions for asylum seekers and refugees, while in the main urban centers, the shelters for refugees and asylum seekers are almost abandoned by the state, and are collapsing by the day. Living conditions are atrocious; buildings are dilapidated, while in practice there are scarce provisions for legal aid and social care.

The story of the asylum seeker who succeeded in academic excellence despite the obstacles brought to light other stories of asylum seekers who also entered university, breaking stereotypes and negative media portrayal. Asylum seekers have to provide for themselves, which means that even if they manage to attend school, they have to work at the same time to pay for lodging and food.

Yusuf, another asylum seeker who also arrived in Greece in 2006, is now at his third year in University. He works non-stop as a laborer in the construction sector. “Jobs are so rare in a country where youth unemployment reaches 65 percent, that education, even for us asylum seekers who survived so many hardships, has become impossible”.

During the financial crisis, public expectations in European countries are high and the perceived failure of states to meet such expectations is leading to rising frustrations. Recent developments and changes have given rise to a number of complex and arguably new forms of conflict and violence, from hate speech in Italy to anti-immigrant sentiments and xenophobic attacks in Hungary and Greece. The rise to power of parties with extremist ideology, rhetoric and practices, and the resurgence of nationalism, further exacerbate tensions. Working with youth and teachers, to amplify the voice of migrants, minorities and youth and to counter racism has become a priority. Another award during the event therefore went to school students who participated in the UNHCR and Ministry of Education national competition to write the best essay on racism and xenophobia.

Photos and videos from the event and the initiatives of integrating migrants and claiming for right such as education, supported by Open Society Foundations (OSF), can be seen on the Symβiosis website.


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