Summary of the article Glimpse of a life; Syrian refugees in Greece posted in EL PAIS 5th October 2016 by Gloria Rodríguez-Pina.
The life in a Greek refugee camp seems to be a sociological experiment where the inhabitants` mental and physical health is being put at stake in a kind of obscene game. The days are floating into weeks and months in slow motion. With the time passing by, the hope of a better life evaporates into the sky.
It`s completely random where the 60.000 refugees stuck in Greece are living. Whether they are stuffed into abandoned factories, ancient Olympic Games sports halls, containers, military installations or squats in the city of Athens, their daily life is more or less the same.
Burning sun at 40º in summer or frequent rain in the winter. Same food from the Greek navy, no answers, dispersed families, minimum of entertainment, private life and simple human commodities. The luckiest one live in cabins in wood, others in tents.
One of the luckiest is Hassan Alhusean, 49 years old. He has eight children aged from one month to twenty years and his wife with him. He used to work in a refinery in Deir Ezzor (east of Syria) and lived a quiet life, with several houses, a big car, a large ground and two cows.
Then Daesh besieged and bombed them from the air. Three of his brothers died. His smallest children hid in the bathroom to escape from the bombs. The area they lived in was destroyed. The day the school was bombed they decided it was time to leave. He does not know what happened to his property, but he says to himself that it could have been worse. At least they live in a cabin with a rood of wood, and not in canvas as in other camps.
Younger families tell their stories, like Liza Sido and Mohamad Abu Shiru, 21 years old, one son aged two and expecting another. Before they arrived to Europe they had tried to live in Turkey, but as they are Kurds, they were treated badly. However, in Europe Sido is feeling completely abandoned.
“They tell us we have to wait, but we are waiting for months, for what? Sometimes I feel that they treat us like animals. Whether we have food or the rain is pouring down, nothing matters to them, as we were cats and dogs.”
In the camps, many families are separated, and they count the days to be reunified with their families, but nobody knows if it will happen.
Eman Slameh, 47 years, an energetic woman with a simple and easygoing personality has a special story to tell. She is the daughter of Palestinian parents, born in Jordan and was raised as refugee in Yarmuk, in Syria. When she was a child, her mother tried to settle in Lebanon. Because of the war, they came back to Syria.
Decades later, a new war and she had to pack her suitcase and leave with her husband and five kids. After a failed effort to flee to Jordan, they arrived to Turkey. Her husband managed to leave to Germany in September 2015 and two months later one of her sons and her daughter in law joined him.
“My husband is working as a gardener for a German lady and is learning German. He is not alone, he lives with other refugees, but it is not the same as a family. Every time we speak, he is crying.”
Some other habitants in the camps are like her. They don t lose their smile. Mohammed, a young veterinary is doing the Arab translations when needed. Even after hours and hours of simultaneous translation, he is still going strong. His brothers Mahmoud (28) and Mohanad (22) are both excited, they try to find something to do during the day.
Ammar Hussein, her husband and her four children do not speak English. But they speak through laughter and smiles with the volunteers and always invite them to share what they have.
Waiting for months for the interview that can change their future
The residents have one year of permission to stay. But not to work. They are normally pre-registered in the reunification program of the European Union in order to continue their travel to another country in Europe.
However, by the 11 of September, only 2.986 refugees have been transferred to another member country in the Union. 4,5% of the 66.400 places promised.
They are supposed to be contacted by SMS, but they are still waiting. Rumors are starting to occur, some of them have got a paper inviting them for an interview end January. And after this, they have to wait at least four months. This means that in the best case, they will have to stay in the camps at least until May.
“There is nothing to do here. We live like cows, we only sleep and eat. We cannot feel like normal human beings when we are not allowed to work. We want to feel useful, to earn our money. Sometimes it feels like a mental hospital” says Anwar Honari, 28 years old and mother of two sons. She was a physiotherapist in Homs (Syria). Her husband was mathematics teacher.
Some residents are lucky to have their own phone, only way to keep in touch with the world outside. Family members sometimes dispersed between Syria and Europe. The kids play around and do not worry as much as their parents. Thanks to the numerous NGO volunteering, the kids have a quite peaceful and “happy” life, as other kids. 10.000 of the kids are being accepted in the Greek school from September.
What to the refugees live off?
The Greek government provide simple and less diversified food. Pasta and rice every day. Very basic and not appetizing. Some have been able to plant some orchards in order to have a minimum of fresh products. Others go by feet or bus to Athens or the village to buy some fresh fruit and vegetables.
All non-food items are donations from all over Europe, prepared and distributed by volunteers. To organize some activities, kind hands and souls are coming for free from the European Union. The number of volunteers depends on the season and the camps. They pay their own travel, their own hotel. Some stays for a week, other for months. But still often too little to really establish personal relations.
On the edge of patience
In some refugee camps, tensions are starting to appear due to the longs hours, weeks, and months of waiting in inhuman conditions. As well as the existing tension between different groups in the camp. The result of this was a death of an Afghan refuge in the Elliniko camp this July. Elliniko is an old Olympic stadium that houses 3500 refugees today. Another event, fire in a camp in Chios.
Of course, living in a refugee camp is still safer than risking to have a bomb falling on your head. Still, people are starting to feel unsafe, desperate, restless.
There is an important difference between the refugees as well, coming to culture, age, history, personality, country, religion. Like in every community. Depression and impatience are increasing, so much that some prefer to go back to Syria and die in dignity than to die a little bit every day.
Some of the younger men try to escape to other countries in order to start a life and earn money for their families.
Eman Slameh tries to be patient, asking every day for news, but the volunteers cannot do anything else than be there, listen and try to give the day an extra glimpse of light and hope. When Eman then starts to cry, it’s difficult to say all the time: “be patient”.
Summary by Elisabeth Guerry Pedersen
Photos – screenshot from EL PAIS 5th October 2016