Today is the UNs International Children’s Day, and we want to use this day to shift our focus to the children who have been forced to flee their countries. Thousands of children spend large parts of their childhood in refugee camps with their lives in limbo. For most of them, their right to education as determined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child is not being met. They lack safety and security in the camps and have no hopes or guarantees for the future. We met “Reza”*, who is 14 years old and lives in Skaramangas refugee camp. His biggest dream is that his father will get a job and that him and his sisters will get the opportunity to go to school every day, something which is considered a part of everyday life for most people. Read more about his story, life in the camp and his thoughts about the future.
By: Vibeke Hoem and Maria Sagen Vodentsis Translated by: Miranda Ørke
A first meeting with Reza
We are in Skaramangas refugee camp and waiting to meet Reza. He is a well-known face and all the residents of the camp know who he is, he usually hangs out around the heart of the camp, the Community Center. It is in this community space most activities and lessons take place.
When we see Reza for the first time we both smile, because we have already noticed him after just a day in the camp. He is tall and slim with a big smile. We ask if we can have a chat with him, and he would like to. “I have been here long”, he says, before he continues “I can tell you everything”. But first, he has things to do, and we agree to meet an hour later.
When Reza shows up he walks worldly and knowingly into the Hope Library where he sits down. Reza is only 14 years old, but he seems older in the way he carries himself. Some greet him on the way in, and he says he just has to talk to us for a bit. He twists a bit in his seat and we ask him how long he has been in Skaramangas. – About two years he says, looking out the Hope Library door.
The long journey
His family has travelled far, and through many countries before reaching Lesbos. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq are some of the countries they have been through. When he talks about the long journey to Lesbos he finds it hard to remember the time spent travelling. First, he mentions weeks before months and, in the end, he does not know how long it took. We try to talk about something else before he tells us about a frightening incident from the boat crossing from Turkey to Lesbos. In the middle of the ocean they notice the little sister was gone, they looked in the black ocean and saw she had slid out of the boat into the water. A frantic minute ensued before the mother was able to reach her arm and pull her back up. It became silent.
“Here in Skaramangas it is good”
Reza and his family was in a bad camp before they came to Skaramangas. – But here in Skaramangas it is good he says. We ask him what he dreams of and he says:
My biggest dream is that my whole family gets asylum in Greece, that my father can get a job, and that me and my sisters can eventually start school. I dream of becoming a pilot he says proudly as he smiles so widely that all his teeth are on display.
When we have talked for a bit and are heading back out in the camp we ask if he can show us where he lives, and he proudly points to the container he lives in. The container he points to is in the middle of what is considered “the nicest street in Skaramangas”. The reason being all the planted flowers outside the containers. He smiles wide when we take a picture and straightens out his clothes standing next to it. Proudly.
Everyday life in the refugee camp and a life in limbo
He asks if we want to come inside, we hesitate a bit, not wanting to be pushy, but Reza insists. – You have to meet my family he says. Just wait., he says knocking on the door. A woman opens the door slightly, and they talk a little before he says – come in, you have to come in. We follow him into a small entrance before it splits into one room on the left and one on the right. It is nice with some extra space they say. We go in the room to the left which contains a kitchen counter and a living room with a carpet. On the counter there is a big melon ready to be cut. They ask us to sit, and we assemble in a ring. The little sister comes in, and they joke and laugh. We sit and talk for a while, and Reza translates what we say to the parents, who answer back through Reza. They ask if we want some watermelon as we are leaving, but we agree to instead meet Reza later, on the pier. We tell his father he can be proud of his son, and that we hope he becomes a pilot one day. His father thanks us and smiles proudly as he looks over at his son.
When the door closes behind us we stroll slowly out of the “pretty green street” and into the camp. We talk about how grateful we are for the openness and hospitality the family has shown us despite the situation they find themselves in as we continue towards the pier in the cool ocean breeze. We are already excited to see Reza again later. At the same time, we feel the hopelessness that rests like a heavy blanket over the whole camp.
But soon we will spend more time with Reza and join the afternoons kid’s activities – nothing feels more meaningful than that right now.
*Reza is a fictional name to ensure anonymity
Did you know?
- A Drop in the Ocean is the only Norwegian organization still present in the refugee camps Skaramangas, Elefsina and Nea Kavala on the mainland
- About 40 % of the people living in the refugee camps are children
- 65 000 people are still on the run in Greece
UNs Convention on the Rights of the Child
…have the same worth.
…have the right to a name and nationality.
…have the right to protection.
…have the right to healthcare and sufficient food and water.
…have the right to speak their mind and be taken seriously.
…have the right to go to school.
…have the right to leisure, play and rest.
…have the same rights.