Fatmata. A woman not killed ‘by accident’
On Thursday last week, we posted regarding a woman who had been killed at the Greek border with North Macedonia. At that point, we did not know anything about her. Now, we wish to share some reflections on Fatmata, from her family and some people who worked with her. And we must also reiterate. Fatmata was not killed ‘by accident’. She died because of us. We have a duty to ensure nothing like this happens again.
On Thursday (20 April 2023) we posted regarding the shooting to death of a woman who was seeking a safe, decent, place to live, learn and work with her family.
We said then that she was rumoured to have been at Katsikas camp, Epirus, north-eastern Greece, before leaving Greece.
We can now confirm that this is true, along with sharing several other details about her life, including her name: Fatmata. The woman shot dead on the border of Greece and North Macedonia, in what was supposed to be a simple vehicle check, was called Fatmata. She was 23.
In common with every person who arrives in Greece, and every other person all over the world, she had a life, hopes and dreams. When you read what follows, you will learn more about that, and some hints of the future she dreamed of
We are able to report some of these details because her family – including her husband Abu Bakar, and her mother Mariatu – asked the organisation Second Tree, which works with people based at Agia Eleni, and whose staff worked with Fatmata, to help make sure she is not forgotten.
We are sharing what Second Tree wrote here, without comment, because they knew her and we did not.
We are also re-posting, below that, what we said on Thursday, before we knew even her name, which can perhaps be summed up as follows:
What happened to Fatmata – her killing – was not a ‘tragic accident’, however it might first appear.
It was a crime, with definite, clear causes: stupidity, illegality and cruelty. Not from Fatmata or anyone in her position. From us. It is time to stop.
From Second Tree:
Fatmata is dead. She was shot, by police, in North Macedonia on Wednesday. She had just crossed the border from Greece, the country that had denied her asylum, making her invisible, a non-person.
But she was a person. She was warm, enthusiastic and joyful. If you didn’t know, you would never have guessed she lived in a refugee camp.
She was 23.
She was movingly full of life: always willing to share her strength and energy, and, especially, to dance. Oh, did she love dancing. She would dance and sing ‘to the top of her voice’, as her sister Bintia put it. Imagine her like this, because it is the way we will remember her. She was part of the Second Tree community.
She was also very, very in love with her husband, Abu Bakar.
They had known each other since they were kids, and often called one another ‘my everything’. They were so visibly into each other that often we would jokingly comment: ‘I hope I find someone that loves me like that!’
Two months before being killed, Fatmata told Abu Bakar that she was pregnant. They didn’t have papers or money, so they never had a test. He still doesn't know if their first child died with his wife.
Abu Bakar was with Fatmata when she was shot. She shouted his name. Then he begged for help. The video of Abu Bakar hugging Fatmata, while she is on the floor, dying of a gunshot wound – crying her name in vain – is just emptying.
He was then handcuffed, driven several hours away, held in detention for a day without news of his wife. Then he was offered to be dropped at the border, to move on to Serbia. Of course, he wanted to stay: ‘I want justice for Fatmata’, he said.
Giovanni and Juliette from our team are now with Abu Bakar in North Macedonia. He still doesn't know where Fatmata’s body is, and has been asking to see her since they were separated. He now has a lawyer, and the resolution to seek justice. We will do what we can to support him and Fatmata’s family.
Abu Bakar chose the picture that accompanies this post. He took it when they left, as a memory to keep. Right after taking it, Fatmata told him: ‘Now all doors seem closed, but another door will open for us. The future will be good.’
The first time we asked Abu Bakar what he needed the most, he said: ‘I want the world to know.’
This is the same wish expressed to us by Fatmata’s family – she was the youngest of five brothers and sisters. In the news, you will only read about ‘a young migrant’ who died killed by the police, but the people who love Fatmata want everyone to know that behind that empty label there is a precious, unique, character.
The last time we talked with Mariatu, Fatmata’s mother, she asked us, as she was asking the world: ‘Please, please don’t forget her.’
Please, please let’s not forget her.
It is time to stop.
A woman has been shot dead outside Gevgelija, close to North Macedonia’s border with Greece.
The shooting took place yesterday (Wednesday 19 April 2023) during a vehicle inspection.
No details of the woman have been publicly-released, but it is rumoured (we stress, not confirmed) that she had been a resident at Katsikas refugee camp in Epirus.
She was shot through the chest when police attempted to arrest a 26-year-old man they claim to believe is a people smuggler. The man is said to have grabbed an officer’s gun, which went off in the ensuing struggle.
She died of chest wounds in a nearby hospital.
The man, along with one other smuggling ‘suspect’ and seven other people, were all arrested.
The list of things wrong with this situation is genuinely just exhausting.
First of all, why are we sending armed police to carry out vehicle checks? What do we think will happen?
Second, especially why do so when those we are likely to arrest are people trying to seek safe places to build decent lives? What threat do those people pose to us?
Third, we do not know who this woman was, but the chances are she was fleeing persecution and violence in a country most of us would feel lucky never to have visited, let alone had to live in.
But she wasn’t killed there.
She was killed here.
How can we continue to do this?
Fourth, it is not illegal to enter a country to apply for asylum. In fact, it’s the only way one can apply. Not only why are we sensing armed police to stop this, why are we sending the police at all? And under what possible pretence were the seven people not ‘suspected’ of being smugglers arrested?
Fifth, Fatmata had been denied asylum. The Greek government makes life for such people extremely difficult, refusing them food, and of course entry into the social security system. They do this so people must leave, and leave fast, or become homeless, and risk starvation, or become illegal workers in a black market economy. Fatmata, as most of us would do, chose to leave, to seek a safe place for her and her family to live, and be part of a community.
We responded by killing her.
Sixth, why are there still even refugee camps in Greece, some seven years after the most intense moments of the refugee response ended?
Why are we making people live like this?
And is it any surprise when people wish to leave, and do so under their own power? (the answer to this is no: in fact, this is why the Greek government has slashed all protection, housing and aid programmes available to people who arrive here: to force them to leave through the sheer, bitter misery of their lives here)
We did this to this woman.
Through stupidity (taking guns to people-smuggling investigations).
Through illegality (stopping people from travelling to seek safety, which is their legal right).
And through cruelty (making people’s lives so miserable in the world’s wealthiest ever political bloc that they are forced to leave through desperation).
We did it.
We have said many times that the price of bigotry is paid by other people. In this case, a young woman who had done nothing wrong, paid for it with her life.
We cannot keep doing this.
Postscript: it is very easy to ‘help’
Fatmata did not ‘have to’ die. Nor did she die ‘by accident’.
She was killed as the result of a systematised series of policies, public statements and calculations made by people who had the power to do better.
It is easy for us to blame those politicians – and they do need to take that blame. But we all contributed to this. By making people think we wanted it, by not thinking about it at all, or by not doing enough to prevent it.
We cannot make a difference to what has already happened, though if we could we should.
But the one thing we do have is the power to ensure nothing like Fatmata’s killing ever happens again. We caused this, we did this and that means we have the power to stop any repeat of it.
We can stop pretending it is a crime to cross a border to seek safety.
We can stop using language which influences other people to believe people doing so are criminals.
We can stop sending armed police to situations in which vulnerable men, women and children are exercising their legal and fundamental human rights.
We can obey international law and allow people access to the asylum application process.
We can make sure that people have decent places to live, learn and work during and after their asylum application period.
None of this is beyond us, and it is our job, our responsibility.
We cannot fail, because as we know, that failure means death.