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'We dreamt of Europe but awoke as slaves in Megara'

Prosecutor to examine allegations of slave labour and trafficking scams

They slave for up to 15 hours a day in chicken farms or on vegetable fields for wages that are never paid. Others have lost everything they've earned in a scam that promised them visas for their relatives. Now a prosecutor is looking into the appalling conditions faced by a group of Pakistani migrant workers in Megara, outside Athens

(Photo: Orestis Seferoglou, Eleftherotypia) (Photo: Orestis Seferoglou, Eleftherotypia) The shocking living conditions of a large group of Pakistani nationals in a town west of Athens and allegations that they were victims of a punitive trafficking scam is the focus of a preliminary investigation by prosecutor, after their plight was highlighted in an article in last Saturday's Eleftherotypia newspaper.

The report found some 110 men living in primitive conditions in disused poultry sheds outside Megara who said they were working 15 hours a day for little or even no pay, on local chicken farms or vegetable fields.

The "residents" at the old poultry farm said that they were were being charged €40 rent a day for "rooms" that once housed chickens but were now sleeping 3-4 workers on foam bedding. During the summer, temperatures soared inside the sheds. 

With only a couple of toilets and showers are available in the "village" for the use of the men, the conditions are comparable to those in Manolada, where in April foreman opened fire on migrant workers demanding wages.

(Photo: Orestis Seferoglou, Eleftherotypia) (Photo: Orestis Seferoglou, Eleftherotypia) Written by journalist Alexandra Tzavella, the report was published in Eleftherotypia on August 31 under the title "We dreamt of Europe but awoke as slaves in Megara" and It was with photographs taken by Orestis Seferoglou.

The head of the local Pakistani community, a man called Sabir, told Tzavella: "In Megara, there are around 1,000 legal and 700 undocumented Pakistanis, who work 12-15 hours a day, and eight out of ten bosses don't pay."

At one stage, Sabir said, Megara had 3,500 Pakistani residents, but many have now returned home.

"They worked for so many years here, but left empty handed. Those who stayed have stayed because they owe a lot of money."

"We're fools, we've no sense. Listen to what I'm telling you. We are fools. They say to us 'come and work and I'll pay your tomorrow' and we go. There's one guy who hasn't paid anything in three years. 'Don't stop now. I'll give it to you.' And do you know what he wanted to give me? €50 a month.  If I were to beg, I'd get €50 a month. I am not a beggar," Sabir told the newspaper.

(Photo: Orestis Seferoglou, Eleftherotypia) (Photo: Orestis Seferoglou, Eleftherotypia) Another worker, Mohammed Nasim, said that that he'd come to work in Greece for a better life.

"But now your boss says 'keep quiet'. Who do you want to come for you, Golden Dawn or the police? We just don't know where we go."

Apart from looking into allegations that workers are not being paid by local farm owners, the prosecutor will also investigate the most serious complaint from the Pakistanis, that they were tricked in a massive trafficking scam run by a local man.

A number of Pakistanis in the settlement say that they were done out of considerable amounts of money by a local who promised to arrange visas for their friends and relatives.

Although they paid the money, their relatives never arrived, the Pakistanis say. Sabir, the community leader says, the sum involved runs to "hundreds of thousands of euros".

(Photo: Orestis Seferoglou, Eleftherotypia) (Photo: Orestis Seferoglou, Eleftherotypia) The victims don't have money to hire a lawyer to fight their case, they say they have evidence of the money handed over to this individual.

One of the longest-serving workers in the area, 63-year-old Mohammad Yunus explains how he has hoodwinked by the scam, that devoured more and more of his money and left him penniless.

"He told me three years ago that he wanted people to work for him. He said 'Bring me your sons and nephews' and now he owes me €16,000 in total, €4,000 for each of my children. At first, I gave him a €2,800 deposit. I borrowed the rest of the money, says Yunus, a legal immigrant who has worked in the area for 40 years.

"Then he slowly took more from me. 'Give me some cash for the embassy,' he said, 'the paperwork has come, give some more' until I paid him the lot. Now I'm in pain. I've worked for nothing. Now I have to work to pay what I owe."

* Alexandra Tzavella's full article (in Greek) on the Pakistani workers in Megara appeared in the print edition of Eleftherotypia on August 31


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