In order to give people outside Chios the possibility to understand how it is to be in a refugee camp on the island, A Drop in the Ocean will present an alternative Christmas calendar this year. Each day until Christmas, we will post 24 amazing stories about the people we are so blessed to spend our everyday with.
December 15th: Meyar
Written by Sara Wilhelmsson and photos by Nickie Mariager-Lam
Its a cold and windy day on Chios when I sit down at a local restaurant with Meyar from Souda Camp. It has been a rough couple of days at the camp, with many new arrivals and tension between the residents and the refugees, and after some relatively mild and sunny days, the temperatures has dropped sharply and the wind has picked up.
Meyar is 18 years old and from Damascus, Syria. He arrived on Chios in March, and he has ever since that day been an active and social figure in the camp, helping out with translating at the hospital and between the organisations and the refugees. He started teaching himself English a couple of months ago, upon arriving in Greece, to help himself and his people. “I also taught myself some Greek, to be able to understand what the police and the people say about me and about us”, he tells me.
Meyar used to work as a barman in Damascus next to his studies in geology and electronics, and he was living alone with his mother before leaving the country. Apart from his brother who is serving in the Syrian army, his father and two sisters already left the country. “I refused to join the army and I told them that I won’t take a gun to kill my own brother”. He was put in jail for two days and decided that he had to make a change. “You can’t be safe in Syria, either you go with the Talibans or with the army. A couple of years ago Syria was a place full of love and peace, and I learned from my parents that is does not matter whether you are Christian or Muslim. Today you don’t know, who you can trust”.
Meyar’s mother wanted him to leave to a peaceful country, to continue his studies and to fulfil his dreams, so she decided to sell their car and pay a smuggler 1700 euros to take him to the Turkish border. He left with a single backpack, some items of clothes and a bracelet from his mother inside it. The army confiscated his bag and he arrived at the border only with the clothes he was wearing and his phone. After staying a week at the border, he was smuggled through Turkey to Istanbul, and about a month later smuggled from Turkey to Chios, Greece, where he arrived together with an influx of thousands of others in the days and hours leading up to the ratification of the new agreement between Turkey and Europe. “I had this sweet dream of Europe, but now the borders are closed. I could find another smuggler to leave Greece, but I want to respect the law, it is important to pay respect, and to be a good person”, says Meyar. He shares with me how he does not dare to tell his mother of the conditions he lives in at the camp, because he does not want her to worry. “We cannot find peace here at the camp, we live like animals. It is so difficult to be this far away – I cannot hug and kiss her or ask her if she is eating well. I tell her that perhaps I can start working tomorrow, but it is not true”.
Meyar expresses his concerns about the negative opinions about refugees; in his experience many European people associate refugees with something negative and something dangerous. “Europe does not want us here. The police is helping the fascists, who hates us and beats us. But there are good and bad people everywhere and I need to prove that we are not bad. I dream of seeing a new Syria, of going back home, of cooking with my family”.
The sun is sinking lower behind the town of Chios as we walk back from the cafe to the Souda Refugee Camp, and we talk about the absurdity of our lives, of me being able to leave when I choose to, and Meyar not knowing when, or even if, he will. “I feel like my life is on hold here, I cannot study, I cannot work, I can not progress. But one thing I have learned at Souda is to wait, to wait for food, for the toilet and for the shower. And this is my life, and I am my entire world and the only thing I have.”