Kurdish refugee Anwar Nillufary is on his third hunger strike since 2017 in front of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Athens, Greece, demanding his resettlement in another country.
Nillufary had gone on hunger strike on two occasions in 2017 and 2020. The first one lasted 64 days while the other was 73-day-long.
On 14 September 2021, the Kurdish refugee went on his third strike. His health condition is deteriorating.
Nillufary, born in 1986 in Mahabad, West Azerbaijan province in Iran, left the country in 2005 due to facing “political and religious persecution”, he said in an interview with the Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN).
After leaving Iran, he went to Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, where he studied Civil Engineering at the Salahaddin University-Erbil.
He was affiliated with the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI) when he was in Iran. He then became a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
However, in 2014, due to “pressures of security forces” – the reason for which was not made known to him – Nillufary was forced to leave the Kurdistan Region, where he worked as a Civil Engineer.
Seeking Asylum in Europe
He first went to Turkey and then headed to Greece on a boat provided by human smugglers, facing a near-death experience on the path.
After becoming a refugee in Greece, Nillufary went to Sweden and sought political asylum there.
However, in September 2015, Swedish authorities sent him back to Greece based on the Dublin Regulation, which says the first country where the asylum seeker first entered Europe would be responsible for examining their asylum application.
“I was aware of the Dublin Regulation”, said the Kurdish refugee, adding that before applying for asylum in Greece, he communicated with the UNHCR, NGOs, and asylum authorities in Greece to “find a legal path for me to leave this country and settle in other European countries”.
“They said the Dublin [Regulation] was on hold for Greece in 2014. If I applied for asylum in Greece and then left to another country in Europe, they would not send me back to Greece, and I could apply for asylum and stay there permanently.”
Nillufary said what Sweden did was “illegal” since the Dublin Regulation “was on hold at that time for Greece”.
The Kurdish refugee claims that the UN Refugee Agency “misled” him at the time.
According to the Dublin Regulation, he cannot seek asylum in another EU country, he added.
Greek Police Detained Nillufary ‘more than 300 times’
Nillufary is now on his third hunger strike, demanding his resettlement in a third country such as the US, Canada, or Australia.
He has also tried to apply for asylum through the embassies of these three countries. However, they have asked for a resettlement referral from the UNHCR.
But the UNHCR is “refusing to give me a resettlement referral”, says the refugee, adding that they “do not even listen to my requests”.
“Every time I approach the UNHCR to convey my message through the security, they call the police. The police comes and takes me into custody. The story repeats time and time again, now for over seven years.”
While under detention, the Greek police five times “destroyed and removed my shelter,” which Nillufary set up in front of the UNHCR to carry out his protest.
He says he has been put in temporary detention “more than 300 times until now”.
He adds that he has been made to appear before a court at least on 22 occasions, “five of which resulted in my imprisonment merely for being outside the UNHCR office and protesting there”.
Nillufary also told the KHRN that his “temporary refugee status” in Greece expired in March 2018, and the authorities put him in a deportation camp for 36 days.
After they released him from the camp, they gave him another document valid only for ten days, and he has been undocumented ever since.
“At the time, they told me to renew my residence permit in the asylum office. But the asylum office did not renew it.
They called the police instead, and the police beat and kicked me out of the office”, he continued.
Speaking about his situation in Greece, Nillufary says there is “no protection in Greece for refugees”, adding that currently, he does not have access neither to the job market nor the education system.
“I asked the UNHCR to assist me regarding accommodation; they said they could not help. I asked for the monthly allowance given to refugees; they said they could not help. I asked them to refer my case to another UNHCR office, whether inside or outside Europe, where I could address my request for a resettlement program; they said they could not help.”
Before starting his third hunger strike in September, Nillufary ran out of his savings and the donations made to support him since the end of his second hunger strike in the summer of 2020, he told the KHRN.
Since 2017, the Kurdish refugee has been protesting before the UNHCR office and does not have access to proper accommodation.
Resettlement Request and Call on the UNHCR
The UNHCR has told the Kurdish refugee several times through written letters that they could not fulfil his request due to the lack of a resettlement program in Greece, Nillufary told the KHRN.
However, the agency’s employees have “verbally informed me that the UNHCR can resettle individuals at risk under certain circumstances”.
Nillufary pointed out that his request from UNHCR was the organisation’s “mandate”, but they “refuse to comply with it”.
“In 2017, I broke my first hunger strike because some people from the UNHCR came and talked to me. They said they were going to submit my case for resettlement in another country. But they said they would need two years to do it.”
Continuing his third hunger strike in uncertainty, Nillufary calls on the UN Refugee Agency to respond to his demands.
He says, “Stop hurting me. Do your job. Find me asylum. Put an end to my prolonged imprisonment in Greece.”
Nillufary is currently running a signature campaign to have his voice heard.