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'We're Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place': Refugees in Greece React to the Attacks in Brussels

"We came to Europe to escape jihadists only to find they are ruining people's lives here too."

All photos by the author

This article originally appeared on VICE Greece

On March 22, Europe woke up to the tragic news of yet another terrorist attack, which left 34 people dead, at least 198 injured, and a country in shock. At around 8 AM, two explosions ripped through Brussels International Airport and, shortly after, another bomb hit the Maalbeek Metro station—just a few hundred feet from the European Commission and EU Council buildings. A few hours later, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks through a statement issued in Arabic and French.


According to the latest numbers made public by the Greek government, more than 47,500 refugees and immigrants are currently trapped in Greece, while some 10,500 are still in Idomeni—the Greek-FYROM buffer zone. Once I heard about the attacks in Brussels, I began to wonder how that would affect European policy and opinion on refugees. So I spoke to a few refugees and immigrants in Athens after Europe's border closures to find out how they feel about the attacks at the heart of Europe.

Khaled Chouail, 28, teacher from Algeria

"People need to understand that men who are loyal to the Islamic State are terrorists and they have nothing to do with Islam. Allah never claimed that wars need to be fought. Europe is at war right now, and all this panic creates a suffocating environment against Muslim people. Sometimes I think these are deliberate attacks, aiming to drive immigrants away from Europe. Jihadists are not religious people; they are driven by political motives. That's precisely why most of the victims of terrorism in the world are Muslims.

Do you think leaving my wife and child back in Algeria and living a life on the streets here is fun for me? I've made three illegal attempts to cross the border, and every time I was captured by Macedonian police, beaten up, and sent back to Greece. I'm very scared of what the future might bring. At first, I thought the hardest part would be to enter Europe. Now I know it's almost unbearable to live here. But, unfortunately, I have no choice."


Amal, 45, and Ahmed, 16, from Syria

"I don't know anything about the terrorist attacks in Belgium—I just arrived with my son in Athens. We're waiting for the train to Thessaloniki and from there we'll get to Idomeni. We'll be waiting near the border, hoping it will eventually open again. What you're telling me is horrible. I honestly can't believe it.

The Islamic State took everything from us. We've lost our loved ones, our homes, our lives. Syria is wrapped in flames and no one is doing anything about it. We came to Europe to escape jihadists only to find they are ruining people's lives here too. I believe Europe will get scared and we'll be moved back to Syria or Turkey. But my family and I have no choice but to keep going, no matter what."

Amal, 27, and Ganda, 52, Palestinians from Syria

"I have two little children who are four and six years old. All I want is to find my husband in Germany and start over our life. I'm very sorry for what happened in Brussels. People need to know that the majority of Muslims are not extremists and they don't identify with jihadists. On the contrary: We're trying to get away from them. I'm afraid that after these attacks, borders will never open again and everyone will be suspicious of us."

Ibrahim Mustafa, 18, student from Afghanistan

"I fled Afghanistan with just one dream—to finish school. My family and I are looking for a better life, and now we're trapped in Greece with no money. We had no choice but to find shelter in the Eleonas Refugee Camp. That's where we found out about the attacks. We've been upset all morning, because we know that now things will be even harder for us. I'm worried about my future, but I also fear people's reactions. Right now, my dream to reach Germany and finish school seems even harder to realize. Probably impossible."


Tajagul, 23, unemployed, from Afghanistan

"I was afraid of bombings and attacks in Afghanistan and now here they are again. It's stupid to associate refugees with jihadists. We're trying to escape the war and rebuild our lives. Why would we bomb anyone? I'm afraid people will be racist towards us. I've heard about immigrants being attacked. I don't know, all I know is I'll be waiting in Greece until I find a way to go to Germany."

Mohammed Waqas, 20, engineer from Pakistan

"I've been in Greece for four months and all this time I've been sleeping in a tent in the Pedion Areos Park. I don't know what I'm going to do. I took a shot at crossing the border illegally, but I didn't make it. I just tried to apply for asylum, but the people in charge told me I'm not eligible for it. And today I found out about the Brussels attacks. I feel really sorry for the bombing victims and I believe this situation will harm us even more."

Abdul Hadi, 43, lorry driver from Afghanistan

"People behind these attacks have got nothing to do with jihad and our religion. I don't know what to do. I'm desperate—I have no money, no job, nothing. I'm now in Greece with my wife and six children and I had decided to stay here until they would open the borders. But now I've lost all hope that is going to happen. There are too many policemen everywhere and they keep giving us dirty looks. I think there are many racist people who don't want us in Europe. After the attacks in Brussels, I believe things can only change for the worse for us. But where can we go? We're caught between a rock and a hard place."