Migrants´ stories 2020 | International Organization for Migration

Migrants´ stories 2020

“I am not sure I can answer the question how our lives will change within the next months. I want to work and be productive again. We will manage it, step by step.”


“I am not sure I can answer the question how our lives will change within the next months,” says Ahmad Azizi just hours before leaving Greece on a flight for Germany through the EU Relocation project. “We are going to a new place, a new country with new opportunities under unique conditions. Our will is for our children to be safe and go to school. We want them to learn how to read and write and start gradually building our future together,” he explains.

Ahmad Azizi (29) with his wife Amis Gol Rahmani and their two children Sama (9) and Sadra who is now seven months old came to Greece sixteen months ago after fleeing Herat city in Afghanistan. They spent three years in Iraq and three months in Turkey before reaching Lesvos island. “We need safety and stability in our lives,” he says. “One of the reasons we want our children to learn how to read and write is that we did not manage to finish school back in Afghanistan,” he admits. “I was very young when I started working as a constructor, then as a worker, then as a farmer, then as a constructor again.”

Ahmad stayed with his family on Lesvos island for 9 months, the last two of these months were spent in the Kara Tepe facility near the Moria camp. Their infant son, Sadra, was born on Lesvos. “When the fire started, we had already been transferred to Kara Tepe. Even though we were not in Moria, we were really afraid that the same thing will happen to us as well. Some of our friends were inside Moria and we were not able to reach them while the camp was burning. We were worried. They managed to call us the next day. They were scared and crying on the phone. They knew that the next day would find them with no place to stay,” says Ahmad.

Ahmad and his family were informed that they were eligible to participate in the Relocation project at the beginning of October. “This was really good news for us,” Ahmad says with a smile on his face. “After five years of instability and insecurity, a silver lining was ahead of us. I managed to sleep at night after a long time. I was watching my children lying on the bed and I was able to make positive thoughts about our future. I want to work and be productive again. We will manage it, step by step.”

Ahmad, Amis Gol, Sama and little Sadra were relocated to Germany in October 2020 as asylum seekers with IOM assistance under the EU-funded Relocation project, which is led by the Government of Greece, through the Special Secretary for Unaccompanied Minors and the Special Secretary or Migration Policy with participating EU member states. Up to the end of the year, a total of 2,209 have been relocated from Greece to other European countries, among them 573 unaccompanied children.

The Relocation programme is funded and coordinated by the European Commission (DG HOME).  IOM is working closely with UN partners, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to support all aspects of the relocation process in close cooperation with the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and other partners.

For more information, please visit: https://greece.iom.int/en/voluntary-relocation-scheme-greece-other-european-countries


“I want to become a doctor. When I see all the doctors inside the hospitals fighting COVID19, I realize that medical sciences can help people”

Amir Hussein Ibrahemi, 16, Afghanistan


Amir came to Greece from Afghanistan. He is 16 years old and he already knows what he wants to do with his life. “Since I was a kid, I remember myself wanting to be a doctor. I know it is difficult and requires a lot of reading and studying, but this is what I want to do. I know I have my family’s support in that,”he says. Amir is currently living in Ritsona open accommodation facility with his father, his mother and his siblings, one brother and one sister. He loves spending time alone and he really enjoys being part of Greek and English language courses inside the facility.

IOM in coordination with UNICEF and Solidarity Now, are organizing language courses for the community in the camp, in the framework of non – formal education activities. “I like physics, chemistry, biology! And what's not to like, I told you I want to become a doctor,” he said during the interview with IOM, which was organized via Skype due to COVID – 19 restrictions. Amir can speak English and Greek as well and that’s why he is not only a student in the camp courses. He is also a teacher for adults, who have just started to learn the languages. He uses the internet as a tool and enjoys watching videos online for practicing his language skills.

“I don’t feel awkward at all when teaching to older people! On the contrary, they are showing a great interest in learning and this is very positive,” he said with his beautiful smile. As an aspirant doctor, Amir could not avoid commenting on all images around the globe, with people and scientists making superhuman efforts to fight COVID – 19.

“When I see all the doctors inside the hospitals with their uniforms, I realize that medical sciences can help people who suffer. It is not just a profession. We all know that scientists are trying to find the vaccine against COVID – 19. And this is something I would like to focus on in the future. Research and treatment for rare diseases,” Amir says with confidence. Amir had the chance to be part of the “Children Of Refugees in Education-CORE" project.

In coordination with IOM's Community Support & Engagement team, CORE aimed to enhance skills and abilities that encourage intercultural dialogue and promote integration among refugee population in the accommodation facilities. Amir and six more Ritsona residents with different backgrounds attended the project. The participants were given the chance to broaden their vocational skills and discover their strengths. “Being part of this special team, made me really happy,” says Amir. “I enjoyed working and interacting with other people from the community to strengthen my life skills. I realized the value of communication and creativity,” he admits.

IOM operates in Ritsona camp as the official Site Management Support Agency (SMS) with the support of the European Commission – DG HOME, under the project “Supporting the Greek Authorities in Managing the National Reception System for Asylum Seekers and Vulnerable Migrants (SMS)”.



Atta’s family build their life in Greece

We share same words such as "keftes (meatball), kerasi (cherry), ntoulapi (cupboard), melitzana (eggplant)" says his daughter Tre!


Atta Rasul with his wife, Farida, and their three children, Kardo, Heshw Atta and Tre Atta, live in a house in Peristeri, one of the largest and more lively municipalities in Attica, close to Athens. Their home is not characterized by luxury, but the smell of spices and tea flavors created a very warm atmosphere. IOM met the family in November 2020, in their house rented under the EU – funded project HELIOS. "The support we received through the project was particularly important, because it allowed us to pursue a normal life again. We left Iraq in March 2018, because we didn't feel safe, due to threats that we received," Atta Rasul states.

Three months later they arrived in Kos via Turkey and stayed there for about 11 months. After they were granted international protection, they came to Athens, where they realized they would have to build their lives all over again. "The landlord is a good man. He is kind and has introduced us to other families in the neighborhood. He was one of the first Greek people we met. He takes great care of us, he's like our uncle, he's told everyone in the neighborhood to look after us,” Tre says.

Farida and her daughter, Tre, are learning Greek, and classes are offered online because of the lockdown. "I want to learn Greek and get to meet more Greeks," Tre says. Then, she enthusiastically enumerates to IOM staff the words that Greeks and Kurds have in common, such as ¨keftes (meatball), kerasi (cherry), ntoulapi (cupboard). melitzana (eggplant), and she admits laughingly that their meatballs are tastier!

Kardo, the youngest member of the family, attends the Greek school. He speaks Greek very well, although he was too shy to talk to us. Unlike his children, Mahmood doesn't speak fluently Greek yet. However, this did not stand in his way of finding a job since he is a very capable blacksmith. This is an art he had learned from his father and exercised it in his homeland.

"In Greece I found a job at once, in a small craft industry that makes metallic rolls for stores. All I want is to be healthy, to be able to work in Greece and provide for my family. In our homeland we drink tea almost upon birth," Tre says, as she serves us a wonderful jasmine-perfumed tea from her hometown.

“On the day we left our homeland we did not tell anyone. It was 21 March 2018, the day of a big celebration for us Kurds. We told all our friends and relatives that we were going for a picnic in the countryside, as it's customary on this day, and we never went back. No one should have known that we were leaving, because we were receiving threats against our lives. We miss our homeland and our habits very much. But since we came here, we acquired new habits. In Greece we managed to swim in the sea for the first time. Back in our homeland we only had lakes,” the father explains. “We did this trip to live somewhere safe. I want my children to study to be independent and at some point, I would like to open up my own shop," Atta says, with love.

Through the HELIOS project, IOM aims to promote the integration of beneficiaries of international protection into the Greek society through integration courses, housing and employability support. IOM's HELIOS project is implemented with the support of the European Commission - DG HOME.


"Phychological equilibrium and stability are priorities for me. Music and wrestling are an ideal combination to achieve it" 

The story of Esmail


“Wrestling is a family tradition; it is really something special for me and my family. I started practicing 20 years ago, when I was fifteen years old. I was taking part in local championships, but I did not have the chance to participate in international tournaments. My dream is to become a professional athlete and compete in an international level. Sportsmanship is a communication bridge between nations,” says Esmail after finishing his guitar lesson in Malakasa open accommodation camp.

Esmail came to Greece from Afghanistan two years ago with his wife and two children. They are currently staying in Malakasa open facility, where Esmail, together with professional Greek teachers, teaches guitar to children in the camp’s music school of the non – profit organization “Connect by music”. Among his students is his older son Milad.

“I want my children to learn how to play a music instrument and I also want to share my music skills with them. Music brings balance to our lives and helps us escape from the everyday difficulties. If you combine music with wrestling you manage to achieve psychological equilibrium,” Esmail says with his calm voice.

“Physical strength is one thing, but when I combine music with sports, I also feel strong inside and this is very important for me and my family,” he adds.

Esmail is also following training sessions in Athens with his Greek wrestling coach who is very proud of his progress and devotion. Due to COVID - 19 restrictions, trainings have been put on hold, but the camp is always a good place to practice!

“When the camp was under quarantine, I had the chance to teach wrestling to children in the camp, almost on a daily basis. Children’s response was amazing, and I knew that I was a good example for them. Wrestling is a combination of mind and body and that means discipline and focusing,” says Esmail.

Esmail is an asylum seeker who wants to stay in Greece and watch his children growing and going to the Greek school.

“I want my children to learn the Greek language like I do. I have reached A2 level in Greek and English language as well, and I am also following online courses to enhance my skills," he says.

Esmail’s language classes are part of the non – formal education component, as organized by IOM and Solidarity Now inside Malakasa camp, in partneship with UNICEF.

IOM operates in the camp as the official Site Management Support Agency (SMS) with the support of the European Commission – DG HOME, under the project "Supporting the Greek Authorities in Managing the National Reception System for Asylum Seekers and Vulnerable Migrants (SMS)". IOM and Connect by Music cooperate in the camps of Malakasa, Thermopyles, and Eleonas and aim to extend their cooperation in other camps on Greece's mainland soon.


"Teaching strengthens the bonds between the camp community and brings people closer" 

The story of Farzana Hakimi and Feridon Rahimi


“We want to learn, and we want to teach! Learning a language is a very important communication tool,” says Farzana Hakimi, after finishing her English language course with young female students in the open accommodation site of Malakasa, close to Athens. “Teaching strengthens the bonds between the camp community and brings people closer, especially the children, who are eager to learn new things," she says with a smile on her face.

Feridon Rahimi (42) and Farzana Hakimi (36) came to Greece from Afghanistan thirteen months ago. They spend four months in Moria Reception and Identification Center, before their transfer to Malakasa camp in the Greek mainland. “When we were in Moria, we noticed that children had a lot of free time and we wanted to do something interesting for their everyday life. Now that we are in Malakasa, we managed to materialize our idea,” says Farzana.

“With the support of IOM, we have managed to organize English language courses for boys and girls. I run a class with girls and my husband is helping young boys three times per week,” she addThe classes of Farzana and Feridon are complementary to the courses that IOM, UNICEF and Solidarity Now run for the site community, in the framework of the site management support.

“COVID – 19 has affected the lives of all people in the country, including ours and the camp has been under quarantine in the past. We acknowledge the need to follow the rules and the importance of safety, but at the same time we want to do something nice for ourselves and the children in the camp.”

Feridon and Farzana believe that teaching children a new language is an investment for the future. In parallel, they both organize recreational activities to make the class more productive and colorful. “The positive response we get from the children and their parents is our biggest reward. Living in a camp has a lot of challenges, but at the same time communicating with children helps us alleviate the stress we may feel from time to time,” admits Farzana who also teaches her little daughter Mahya.

“We are both students and teachers,” says Feridon. “We also follow English language lessons and at the same time we learn the Greek language. We want to be a good example for our children,” he adds. With the support of IOM and Solidarity Now teams, Farzana participates also in special community groups, organized in a weekly basis, focused on female population in the camp.

“It is important to motivate women to get out of their containers and communicate their thoughts. Those groups support our socialization into the community and help us build relationships based on trust and confidence.” Farzana and Feridon met each other when they were children and since then they are together. They are staying in Malakasa camp, as asylum seekers.

IOM operates in Malakasa camp as the official Site Management Support Agency (SMS) with the support of the European Commission – DG HOME, under the project “Supporting the Greek Authorities in Managing the National Reception System for Asylum Seekers and Vulnerable Migrants (SMS)”


From Moria to Germany: Hawa and Ahmad from Afghanistan speak to IOM on the eve of their Relocation

“Today, we are feeling human again.”



“We are used to a life full of changes, especially during the last two years,” said Hawa from Afghanistan who arrived in Greece on February 2019 after leaving her home city Herat, along with her husband Ahmad and their two children Wahed (11) and Milad (4). “Our journey lasted 7 months and from Turkey we crossed to Lesvos. We stayed in Moria for almost one year and a half. September’s fire was one of the most traumatic experiences in my life,” she admitted while looking back at those difficult days.

“When the fire started, we were sleeping in a big rub hall tent with other families. I woke up and I saw the fire, I smelled it. Small explosions were taking place everywhere. I thought that my hearing would be seriously affected. My body was trembling, and we were all very afraid,” she continued. “Due to the limited space we had in our tent, all our clothes, all our staff were already packed in bags. I was ready to go. My only option was to follow the crowd to get outside of the camp and escape the fire.”

IOM met Hawa and her family in a temporary accommodation facility in Athens while they awaited their relocation to Germany. “Before and after the fire in Moria we felt desperate. We did not feel safe,” Hawa explained. Looking forward to her family’s new beginning in Germany, she expressed optimism and hope.

“Today, here, we are feeling human again. We are allowed to have options and chances for us and for our children. I can say that our life has started again,” she said.  Ahmad, Hawa’s husband, recalls their dire situation the day after the fire at Moria left them without shelter. “We were alone in the streets of Lesvos. We felt hopeless,” he said.

“Back in Afghanistan I was working as a farmer. Going somewhere peaceful is a one-way street for us. We want to raise our children in an environment of safety and hope,” he continued, while hugging his son, little Milad. “I must admit that I do not know what to feel right now. Mixed feelings probably? We are standing ahead of a new beginning and new doors are opening, but at the same time it is something unknown for us. But we will try to do our best for us and for our children,” said Hawa.

“I want to share my best wishes for the people that are in Greece. Some of them are vulnerable, have disabilities and serious health problems,” she said. Hawa, Ahmad, Wahed and Milad were relocated in Germany in October, as asylum seekers under the EU-funded Relocation project. As of 11 November, 1,013 asylum seekers have been relocated from Greece to other European states, while the total sum of Relocations including refugees and unaccompanied children is 1,622 people.

The Relocation programme is funded by the European Commission (DG HOME), it is led by the Government of Greece, through the Special Secretary for Unaccompanied Minors and the General Secretary of Migration Policy with participating EU member states and is coordinated by the European Commission. IOM is working closely with UN partners, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to support all aspects of the relocation process in close cooperation with the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and other partners.

For more information, please visit: https://greece.iom.int/en/voluntary-relocation-scheme-greece-other-european-countries


Ali’s Story


IOM met Ali in the HELIOS integration learning center (ILC), located in the center of Athens, where he follows Greek language courses and attends employability sessions with the support of IOM and DRC staff. He has brought with him paper boxes full of handmade jewelry and colorful wall clocks, all crafted by himself.

“I started following creativity online seminars one year ago; YouTube videos have been proved very helpful. The idea of crafting jewelry and wall clocks was very exciting. It still remains a very fulfilling everyday routine,” Ali admits.

Ali is a recognized refugee and he is currently living in an apartment in Athens, rented in the framework of the HELIOS project, with his wife and two daughters, eight and three years old. He came to Greece from Afghanistan in February 2016 and had been granted for asylum a few months ago.

After staying at an open accommodation facility in Attica, Ali enrolled in the EU-funded HELIOS project last winter. He found an apartment and, for the last four months, he is attending Greek language courses in the ILC. Ali is very shy and discrete to admit his Greek language skills; however, the progress is obvious, and our discussion was held in Greek.

“I am able to speak, read and write in Greek. It is a language I am really enjoying. My wife is also attending Greek language courses and we try to practice together at home. Now I am preparing myself for B1 exams,” Ali says.

In parallel and since mid-April 2020, Ali is attending job counselling sessions, conducted by IOM Greece in the framework of HELIOS integration project.

“I was working for 13 years as a tailor and for three years I owned a small clothing business. I know the job really well,” he says. “Now with the support of IOM, I am looking for a job and I am interested in becoming an interpreter. It is very challenging, I acknowledge that, but I really want to find a job here.  At the same time, though, I continue designing and creating jewels,” he says.

Ali is buying all the necessary materials from little shops in Athens. His products are made mainly from wood and resin, while all the colors are coming from China, ordered online. He promotes his artwork on the internet, through an e-shop, where a lot of Greek and foreign artists are hosted.

Through the HELIOS project, IOM aims at promoting the integration of beneficiaries of international protection into the Greek society, through integration courses, accommodation and employability support. HELIOS is implemented by IOM with the support of the European Commission.


From A, B, C to… ‘May I help you with Greek?’


“I was in a haze,” Saher tells IOM, his bright eyes depicting his intense emotions of the first days post his arrival into Greece. “It was all about unknown shapes and funny sounds. All was… Greek to me and Greece was a foreign land.” IOM met Saher at his compartment at the long-term accommodation site in Drama, inside his neat room.

Twenty-nine-year-old Saher has been through a lot in the past two years. Forced migration, solitude, seclusion. A young man who had suddenly become a stranger among strangers. He remained a Kurd from Iraq -his identity would never change- but his mother tongue, Sorani, was no longer useful because of the new norm in place. He and his family had migrated to Greece. Consequently, the Greek language had taken over and dominated his everyday life. But he did not know how to speak it, thus he could not communicate with people easily.

Everything was new to Saher and for the first eight months he was lost, as if someone had pulled the rug from under his feet. “I could not speak, I had no friends -no chat time for me,” he remembers. It was about time he acted, he decided. The number one secret to his own life success was taking baby steps each day. No tutor by his side yet with the help of dozens of Modern Greek language online applications at first, he sensed he could break the ‘code’. “Ligo, ligo,” he says now in broken but fine Greek, that means ‘little by little’ referring to the progress he made.

Following the initial hiccups then came the thaw. After moving from place to place around Greece with his wife and their little boy, and before being transferred to IOM’s facility in Greece’s northern city of Drama, opportunity knocked and Saher took advantage of it. While in the city of Veria, he got the chance to attend night school classes of Greek for two months. That boosted his learning capacity, offered him potential and paved the way for further improvement language wise.

Thanks to his effort and devotion the funny shapes of Greek letters began making sense. The task has proved rather arduous, however, Saher chose a one-way ticket. He grew to love the Greek language and he even began helping his wife to learn it too. It was many times that he repeated “It is a beautiful language, I like it”, while we talked.

At a later stage, he realized that the volume of his notes was large. Their neat structure and the sufficient material at his disposal were enough to allow him to consider a crazy though an especially brilliant plan; that of creating his very own and the very first Greek-Sorani phrase book. One which would be sheer bliss to other Sorani speakers who would wish to learn Greek from scratch, the easy way. “I transliterated Greek letters, words, even whole sentences into Sorani, so that a new learner would know how they are properly pronounced. I reached a point where a word’s meaning was not everything. What I wanted the most was to understand and learn the pronunciation of the new vocabulary. So, it was mainly out of necessity that I began with the transliteration scheme. And it worked out just fine. It is a useful tool that makes the learning process more fun and brings results faster.”

Challenges feed his mind while his persistence and perseverance earned him a trained ear in Greek. “I realized that accomplishing something is only a matter of strong will and proper goal setting. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Putting all my notes together was that first step that triggered my next move. Compiling a handbook was an unstoppable flashing light in my head. I became positively obsessed with the idea.” And day after day, it was taking shape. He allowed himself a new… best friend, his laptop -his notebook becoming the runner-up. First, he chose the right frame, then the theme fonts and he got down to serious business. Step number two -the most time-consuming part- was digitalizing his handwritten notes.

Saher shared his all-out effort with IOM staff working at the long-term accommodation site in Drama who in turn talked about it to their Solidarity Now colleagues, also active at the facility.

Not long after that, IOM and Solidarity Now personnel suggested to Saher to get his digitalized work promoted into a printed version. “Are they joking?” – “This was my thought at first but then I thought to myself that this was a great honor and an exceptional opportunity to realize a dream of mine. Up until then, seeing it printed had been wishful thinking. However, their proposal was for real and it could act as the springboard for other similar projects of mine in the future.” His next thoughts come unexpectedly but he is precise, using simple Greek language nevertheless exact and correct wording that leaves no room for misinterpretation. “When this ‘publication’ is over, my aim is to dive into the next language tool. The difference will be that, instead of translating and transliterating from Greek into Sorani it will be Greek into Kurmanji as well Greek into Arabic. I hope I can make it,” he added.

Learning good Greek has been a major factor that played a role in his decision to live in Greece with his family. “Other Kurds tell me they will move to Germany or the Netherlands or that they dream leaving Greece. Not me. Greece is beautiful, the people are kind, the weather is nice, and I feel it suits me as a country. So, why look for yet another new base? Discussing the matter with my wife we both come to the same conclusion: we wish to settle in Greece.”

Saher is now a recognized refugee and he is building his life in Greece. He has rented an apartment in Northern Greece, under the EU funded project HELIOS. IOM implements the "Supporting the Greek Authorities in Managing the National Reception System for Asylum Seekers and Vulnerable Migrants (SMS)" project, with the support of the European Commission.


A story of humanity and courage


The story unfolded a few weeks ago on the beach of Perigiali in Kavala, where Mr. George Filippidis and his wife Maria went there for swimming. Mrs. Maria, while swimming with her friends, slowly began to be drawn away from them and at the same time she started losing control of her body. On the same day, Mohammad was on that same beach with his wife and their four daughters.

Mohammad, seeing the woman in danger, dived into the sea without even thinking about it.

“At that moment only one thought crossed my mind, to take her out of the sea. She may have been a stranger to me, but she was a human being in danger. I reacted as every man would have reacted," said Mohammad Abushalha, a Palestinian who lives in the Open Accommodation Facility in Kavala. "My mother could have been in her place; I had no choice. I immediately dived into the sea and took her out to the beach," he recalls. He then provided her with first aid to restore her breathing and few minutes later the ambulance arrived and took her to the hospital.

Maria Filippidou had to be hospitalized for a few days as her lungs were full of water. Today she has fully recovered.

In the meantime, Mr. George was looking to find the man who saved his wife. Eventually, he found out that Mohammad and his family live in the Open Accommodation Facility of Kavala and went there to see him and thank him in person.

The meeting of the two men was a special and very touching moment, as admitted both the staff and the Manager of the facility, who were present. Mr. George in tears thanked Mohammad for his initiative. Now Mr. George is waiting Mohammad at his place, upon the invitation of Mrs. Maria, who also wants to thank Mohammad in person.


IOM implements the "Supporting the Greek Authorities in Managing the National Reception System for Asylum Seekers and Vulnerable Migrants (SMS)" project, with the support of the European Commission - DG Home.


Attending IT and English language courses


My name is Manaf Alhamad Alrizij. I am 25 years old. I'm from Syria. I'm in Greece for 1,5 years. I have been living in Andravida for the last seven months.

My family is in Syria, I also have a brother in Germany and one in Greece. When I was in Syria I was a high school student and then I started studying engineering. Unfortunately, due to the difficult conditions I had to stop from the very first year. In the future I want to continue my studies and get my degree. In my free time, I mainly study computer programs and for this reason the computer courses organized by the IOM team are a wonderful activity and very creative. I hope that in the future other similar activities will take place in the Andravida camp aiming at knowledge and creativity. That's why I'm so excited about the volunteer computer team we created with the support of the IOM team.

I also attend English classes organized by Solidarity Now, via computer.

IOM implements the "Supporting the Greek Authorities in Managing the National Reception System for Asylum Seekers and Vulnerable Migrants (SMS)" project, with the support of the European Commission - DG Home.


Jameel's story


Chester Bennington's voice, his songs, they have kept my spirits up during the rough moments. I managed to reach Greece in 2016 and have lived in camps for the most part up until 2018. His lyrics were my strength, they inspired me, they kept me going.

I was just sixteen then… soon to turn seventeen, having my younger brother with me; our father had not yet made it to Greece, and he was stuck in Turkey. So, Bennington was my guardian angel. Now, in my twenties and, although things have changed to the betterand I have potential and prospects, Bennington is still by my side. Thanks to IOM, where I have been working as an interpreter since 2018 with the SMS project, I have a healthy daily routine and the means to achieve my goals. Painting is one of them. The first time I came to realise I was good at it, was in primary school where I received the basic knowledge around it. In the past years, sketches, drawings, and paintings allowed me to express my deep emotions, my inner self. I like to paint this way; I put music on -Bennington remains my top choice- anything negative disappears, I chill, and I create. Looking back on my recent past, raking it up is something that happened to me often, yet not in a bad or painful way. Working with migrants and refugees was a wish of mine because I can understand what they are going through thus, now I can help my fellow human beings offering them useful services and a friendly hand like the one that was offered to me when I mostly needed so, which I grabbed and used it as the springboard for a better future. Thanks to the six languages I speak (Pashto, Urdu, English, Hindko, Punjabi, Farsi) there are many refugees and migrants I can communicate with. Currently Greek has been added to the list as it is the seventh language I want to master.

Work is truly important to me but, at the same time, painting is where my heart belongs to. Until now, I have participated in a dozen exhibitions in Athens and Thessaloniki and I was about to travel to Budapest for another exhibition, but it got cancelled due to COVID19. My latest participation was at an event in Thessaloniki organized at the French Institute, in November 2019, while many works of mine have been sent to Germany, Belgium, US of A, Luxembourg where they were exhibited and sold by art lovers. Studying is a dream of mine and, ideally, I would like to go either for engineering or architecture. I am a strongly motivated person who finds solutions in art. As for Greece and Thessaloniki in particular, it is my home turf and I do not wish to leave it. I see it as my haven and, right now, I could not imagine building a life away from this city.

IOM implements the "Supporting the Greek Authorities in Managing the National Reception System for Asylum Seekers and Vulnerable Migrants (SMS)" project, with the support of the European Commission - DG Home.


The story of Lela and Ali



“From day one, integration was our sole thought and goal. We knew we wanted to keep up with our routine even as migrants and socialize as much as we possibly could.” says Lela. “This is the main reason behind our decision to find a gym near the camp and sign up for membership,” Ali adds. “Having said all of the above, enrollment in HELIOS project appeared as the natural next move of ours. Being part of the Greek society is top priority and always has been,” he continues. Lela chips in saying that, “long before we were about IOM’s HELIOS we had begun looking for a flat ourselves. Now it will simply be easier, and the aid will be much appreciated. We arrived in Greece in 2017 and have been living at the IOM site in Kavala ever since. As recognized refugees we want a more private life in our own place,” she explains. Overall, the Organisation’s support in past years has encouraged them to move on to better things whereas Greek bureaucracy often stands in their way.

Opposite their camp flat, they created a vegetable garden where they also planted flowers for a more colorful touch. The summer like fence made of discarded palm fronds, allows them some privacy while the tree above offers thick shadow. “It’s lovely sitting out here but now that the COVID-19 measures are lifted, I can go back to my part-time job, thus not much space to relax,” says Ali and adds “but I prefer it as I missed work.” Through a Greek friend he met at the gym, he found a job at one of Kavala’s most popular restaurants. “I work about three times per week in the kitchen. It differs from what I used to do as a civil engineer in Iran but at least it makes me feel better with myself.” He is rather modest, so Lela finds the right time to chip in. “Thanks to that same friend, he got his summer job too, at an all-day bar in Potos, Thassos, an island not far from Kavala.” They are a very active couple when it comes to their employment. “I like being ahead of the game, thinking things in a practical way, feeling autonomous and standing on my own two feet,” says Ali. “Back in Iran I was a make-up artist. Although I would like to find something similar here, there is the language barrier,” Lela admits. Their spoken Greek is broken but they understand most of it, as for their English, it is much better. “Improving Greek is a major task,” says the couple. “Our daughter attends Greek school, so she is great help and so are our Greek friends. Improvement is ahead of us,” they say in a positive attitude.

HELIOS project supports for the integration of recognized refugees in the Greek society. With the support of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund of the European Union - DG Home.

A new beginning for Masumeh and Gulnesah


Masumeh and Gulnesah were very emotional when saying “Goodbye” to old friends from the hotel they were staying for the last one year and a half, a few kilometers outside Athens. Both are recognized refugees who have decided to enroll in the HELIOS project and begin their new life in Greece. With the support of the HELIOS team, they started looking for an apartment and live together, as roommates, with their children in Athens.

Masumeh (41) and Gulnesah (42) are both single mothers from Afghanistan with one and two children respectively: 13-year old Matin, 15-year old Marjan and her 12-year-old brother Amir Reza. They came to Greece, through Iran, back in autumn 2018, when they stayed on the island of Lesvos for 50 days, before their transfer to Attica.

Their decision to search for an apartment was taken during the challenging period of the lockdown in Greece, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. They were aware of the HELIOS project, implemented by IOM and its partners, which supports the smooth integration of recognized refugees in the Greek society.

“We knew that taking new steps during the lockdown would be difficult and challenging. But we had to assess and make use of our options. Finding an apartment was one of them,” says Gulnesah.

Due to the lockdown and the movement restrictions in Greece, Masumeh and Gulnesah were supported by the HELIOS staff remotely. Through online individual sessions with the HELIOS staff, they were able to view listings and photos of available apartments, contact apartment owners and, ultimately, lease their own apartment.

“We decided to live together, not only because we are friends. We also want to share the everyday expenses. We feel very grateful that we have found this new place to stay. At the same time, though, we feel the anxiety that most people are dealing with, when new challenges are in front of them,” says Masumeh, while unpacking her stuff in her new apartment.

Through HELIOS project, Masumeh and Gulnesah are receiving rental subsidies for their new apartment and, within the next days, they will start going to an Integration Learning Center close to their house, in order to start Greek language and integration courses.

“Our next goal is to learn the language. It is very important for us and our children to start working soon. Finding a job is the most sustainable solution towards independent living,” admits Masumeh.

HELIOS project supports for the integration of recognized refugees in the Greek society. With the support of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund of the European Union - DG Home.


Khaled Al Hamadi’s story 



"My name is Khaled Al Hamadi. I’m 20 years old and I am from Syria. I have been staying in Greece for three years. I first arrived in Chios island, where I stayed for 5 months and then I was transferred to Andravida open accommodation facility. Members of my family are currently in Iraq and in Germany. When I was in Syria I studied in high school and during my staying in Greece I studied in the Greek public school. I can speak English and Greek and one of my future plans is to study the German language as well. I have already participated in German, English and Greek lessons organized by IOM.

I have been living in Andravida camp for some months now and I am trying to be an active member of this small society. During my free time, apart from playing the guitar, I am organizing activities in which other children in the camp can take part. I was also working as a volunteer escort to an IOM bus which transferred children to the public school.Interacting with people inspires me and I wish someday to become a cultural mediator in an international organization that helps refugees and migrants all over the world. This is the reason I am interested in studying foreign languages. Everyone has a different personality, but sometimes we share the same thoughts, same fears, same hopes. I strongly believe in communication between people, regardless nationality and religion. I want to say that I am optimist person who makes dreams for the future."

IOM implements the "Supporting the Greek Authorities in Managing the National Reception System for Asylum Seekers and Vulnerable Migrants (SMS)" project, with the support of the European Commission - DG Home.


Read Talha Mohamed’s story from Syria


"If anyone told me a few years back that, right now, I would be looking for a job in tourism in a foreign country, as a refugee, I would laugh. But, that’s life, this is me and here I am. Shortly after I was granted asylum in Greece, my homeland Syria, sadly enough, belongs to my recent past. After investing time to learn good Greek with the support of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, I am in a position now to search for a job with the support of IOM HELIOS project staff. Job counsellors provided me with directions since day one; we sat down together and did my CV at the Integration Learning Center in Thessaloniki which operates in collaboration with Greek Council for Refugees. Ever since, I have been enjoying the support along an uneasy path, this of finding a job in my new home, Greece. My participation in job-day fairs and more specific practicing on interview related matters have enhanced my self – confidence.

Back in Aleppo (Syria) where I lived, my profession was not related to tourism. I studied to be a mechanical engineer and worked as one whereas now, due to the new reality, the order of things has changed. Still, a fresh start is always possible. I have never regretted my decision to learn the Greek language ahead of searching for work. I am now a B1 level speaker and ready to achieve more, language wise. HELIOS project combines employability with boosting language skills, providing the significant tools to other people who are in same position as myself."

Under HELIOS - Hellenic Integration Support for Beneficiaries of International Protection project, with the support of Directorate General Migration and Home Affairs of the European Commission (DG HOME)


M.S.'s story


“When I was going to school back in Kabul, I was really enjoying the course of biology very much. I find pictures of human body interesting and challenging. Now, in my new school in Athens, close to Victoria square, I would like to focus on computer science. This is something I want also to follow as a professional,” says M.S. from Afghanistan who is currently staying at an apartment in the center of Athens. M.S. is 17 years old and he is in Greece for the last two years and five months. He is currently staying at an apartment in Athens with three friends, who also reached Greece alone, as unaccompanied migrant children. Two of them are from Afghanistan, one from Pakistan and one from Egypt. The apartment operates under EU funded project PEDIA, implemented by IOM in collaboration with UNICEF and provides semi – independent living conditions to unaccompanied children in Greece.

“We like to cook in a daily basis. If you ask me to choose between chocolate and pasta, I would definitely choose the second one! I met with my roommates before moving in together. I was staying in a hotel in Athens for one year and a half and I had the opportunity to explore and learn a big part of the city. I really enjoy Athens, the people and the every – day habits. In my spare time I am visiting the gym. I love exercising because it gives me strength to follow up my daily routine obligations, such as school.” M.S. joined the Greek school again before the holiday season. It was a challenging experience, however as he admits, his teacher and schoolmates have been proved warm and helpful. “When I was staying at the hotel, I was taking English, German and Greek language courses. I enjoy the German language and I must say that Greek language is difficult and challenging.”

“I like computer science, but as an alternative I am also thinking to become a tailor. I find it very creative. Leaving Afghanistan was not easy. My family was constantly threatened, and I decided to take a step towards a safer life. The trip to Greece was not easy. From Afghanistan, I went to Pakistan, then to Iran and I ended up in Istanbul where I stayed for 25 days. My last stop was In Moria. I stayed there for four months before I was transferred in Athens. At the end of the day Athens is a city, where I can see my future,” says M.S. who is looking forward to the upgraded internet connection in his new apartment to enjoy movies and video games with his friends.

M.S. has been granted international protection. IOM and UNICEF support his accommodation in Athens through PEDIA project. Through PEDIA project, IOM is taking urgent actions to ensure that migrant & refugee children in need are immediately placed in a protective environment and receive tailored services. With the support from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund of the European Union - DG Home.



Τhe story of four IOM Greece’s HELIOS project beneficiaries who decided to become flatmates, support each other and begin a new life in Thessaloniki


Marcel, Abdou, Ousmane and Daniel now share the same roof. They live in an apartment in Thessaloniki and even though they come from different countries in Africa they are stepping forward. They are all refugees and now gradually organize their lives in Greece. The initiative was taken by Marcel, who met Abdou, Ousmane and Daniel while they were waiting for their asylum applications to be processed. "I couldn't imagine a better continuation of my life in Greece after Lesvos and Moria. After many months in Greece, I feel respected again and able to continue my life in the country," Marcel says.

All four were informed of the options provided by “HELIOS”, the IOM's integration program aimed at beneficiaries of international protection residing in Greece. "They gave us information about our choices. They informed us about home - search procedures, the need to learn Greek so that we can ease our daily lives and, of course, about the most important part of our integration; finding a job to support ourselves financially," Daniel explains.

"Sharing the cost of an apartment benefits us all, and so, once we agreed, we moved on to the procedural. We are now living in the center of the city, surrounded by electrical appliances and with the hope within us for a better future,” says Marcel from Cameroon.

Ousmane from Guinea is the youngest of his group and his dream is to become a footballer. "I want to learn Greek and make Greece my second home," he says.

Finding a job is the biggest challenge for all four refugees. With the support of HELIOS project, through job counseling sessions, workshops and other related activities, Marcel, Abdou, Ousmane and Daniel will have the opportunity to move forward with their integration in the Greek labor market.

"I want to work in telecommunications again," says Daniel, while Marcel prefers to stay open to job opportunities. "As I said before, football is what I want to pursue. It is my dream, and I'm going to pursue it," adds Ousmane. At the same time, Abdou knows what he wants: "I want to do what I did in my homeland, Togo. I was trained and worked as an electrician. The opportunity that this program gives me to learn Greek will be my ticket to achieve my goal. "

HELIOS project supports for the integration of recognized refugees in the Greek society. With the support of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund of the European