Two years ago, Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised to create Athens’ first Muslim cemetery. But immigrant Muslims are still forced to send their loved ones’ remains either back home – to countries as far as Pakistan – or to Greece’s northeast where there are Muslim cemeteries. Both options are expensive and it is only with the help of local immigrant communities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that this can be done.
In a recent interview with Lifo.gr, the president of the Pakistani Community in Greece, Sayed, says that he does not know of any Pakistani immigrant being buried in Greece. “Last December alone we sent 23 dead back to Pakistan,” he said. “In 2017, we sent 70. It is a huge problem that is growing by the day.”
According to Sayed, the cost of transporting a body from Athens to Pakistan can run as high as €2,500 and it is more expensive if the body needs to be transferred from another part of the country.
“We can’t afford to build our own cemetery because it’s too expensive,” says Sayed, “and where would be build it? There are fellow Pakistanis who have been living in Greece for many years and who want to be buried here but right now it is very difficult. There is no where to bury them, and if there is we don’t know about it because there is no information.”
According to Sayed, the municipalities or other officials need to inform the immigrant communities.
“We are 44,000 Pakistanis in Athens and it is not possible for there not to be a cemetery for us,” he says. “Many immigrants here do not have family and members of our community raise money – one euro from each one of us in order to raise enough. The Pakistani embassy does what it can, but it can’t cover the full cost.”
As for 20 hectares of land in the public cemetery of Schisto in Athens that was allocated for Muslims by the Greek Church back in 1992, the conditions are “unacceptable”, according to Sayed.
“In Athens, I know there’s another site in Nikea (western suburb) where Muslims from different countries are buried, mainly Syrians. But the biggest problem is that bodies are exhumed after three years – which is something that is not permitted under Islam,” says Sayed.
Cemeteries in Greek cities are so overcrowded that cemetery plots can be leased for three years.