My alarm alarmed me at seven am. I woke up having already experienced the day ahead in my dreams, so it was a surprise to see my contact was balding rather than the dude with dreadlocks that my subconscious had portrayed him as. There were seven of us in all; me, four Czechs, an Afghan and a man who was born in Kuwait but was raised and now resided in the USA. He was only on holiday in Prague for a week too so hats off to him to dedicating his time to the greater good. The Afghan and the lad from Kuwait, I won’t reveal their names, acted as our interpreters as well as showing solidarity to those locked up for nothing more than fleeing war and persecution.
We set off on the eighty-five mile journey; a journey, which took less time than it did to wait for clearance but longer than the visit time we were granted with the refuges. I won’t go into the details too much here because I am writing an article on it but I’ll spill some of the beans. We were held in a waiting room for two hours and I knew we had to be searched for phones and cameras, and I knew they were not really into journalists. Not that I am one, but I was there to attempt to be one, and so the sight of the guards wearing rubber gloves caused me a bit of concern. I had nothing to hide as such but I quite needed a poo, and I thought that the moment I had to squat and show them what I had for breakfast, the turtle’s head would pop out and say hello. Thankfully, it was all metal detectors, and pat downs. I was also told that a previous journalist and some activists had had their phones hacked by the secret service, one had pictures deleted from her phone as they were leaving. My contact said his phone was probably hacked. If that is true then they definitely have my details. If I go missing or am found dead, dressed up as a pervert with an orange in my mouth then you know where to point the finger. Good luck in finding the right police station to complain to though.
We finally got in and it was pretty depressing. We chatted about their stories and most of them had been grabbed off trains and taking to detention centres. A pointless activity as all were held without charge and all would be released at some point. The Czech authorities do not send them home, it costs too much, so they take them to a train station and send them on their way, probably to where they intended to go in the first place.
Most of the refugees were in their twenties and looked like they were OK physically but they were obviously stressed mentally. Release seemed to be random. One kid was fifteen. FIFTEEN! Thousands of miles from home and locked up for nothing more than the origin of his birth, a crime not fitting of his six month sentence. Our time ran out but I think I have enough scruffy shorthand to get a story from. A story that needs to be told so I hope I can do it justice.
I got home just in time for my Skype lecture. Afterwards India informed me her Grandfather died, more sad news. I felt for her. She will probably go home early now and obviously that is the right thing to do but I will miss our conversations.
After a quick writing of a draft of my article I had to go and meet Mel and Martin from the bus station. I stood shivering in the cold for half an hour and when they turned up, good old Geordie Martin was wearing a T-shirt and moaning about how it wasn’t that cold. He turned a few heads tonight that’s for sure. We went back to their hotel and even though the room was lovely, Martin noticed that there was only one sink in the bathroom. “Howay man, put the bag doon” he said. ‘Executive suites have two sinks, I’m going to complain.” And off he trotted to the front desk. The guy upgraded him too. Probably frightened by a man wearing a T-shirt in minus 5, saying stuff in a tone of English that he didn’t understand. The new room was like a palace too. Beats my bloody bedsit hands down.
The night got better too. We went out for beers and food and despite trying, I didn’t have to put my hand in my pocket once. The cold had got the better of Martin, he went cold mad and paid for everything. So there you go. A day filled with excitement, sadness, and free beer. It’s a shame that not everyone is as free to enjoy their lives.