Migrants Stories

Ilham and her family

27/4/2017

 

Greece is very beautiful, we’d like to live here but we’ve found out that we’ll finally relocate to Germany.

We’ve spent one year and two months here. It wasn’t easy: at first, we were living in camps, in a tent and then we had to share an apartment with many other families, there was always a lot of fuss and no privacy whatsoever. Additionally, my teenage girl has been out of school for two years now, except for the last one month when she attended school in Axioupolis.

Before the war, my husband, Nehad, was working at the ministry, in the sector of urban planning while I was teaching French at a public school in the city of Deir Ez-Zor. We left our life in Syria as our beautiful city was ravaged by the war. My daughter, Leen, had to quit school as it was destroyed. In the meantime, our son, Mustafa, was born. He was only 4 months old when we fled. We had to cross dangerous territory on foot. We walked on the mountains, it was terrifying. One day, the police put a gun on my baby’s head, they threatened us. We spent two days at the police department. It took us two attempts to successfully cross the Turkish border and in a few days, we managed to arrive to the island of Chios.

Because of the war, our family got scattered. My parents live in Saudi Arabia, I have one sister in Damascus and a brother back home, in Deir Ez-Zor. My other three sisters are in Germany, the last of them arrived there only last week.

I have a lot of dreams for my life in Germany. First of all, I dream about living with my family in a proper house, all by ourselves! Certainly, I’ll need to get a job, as I’m very energetic. Leen needs to get back to school and continue with her education. And of course, I dream of a beautiful life for my boy. He needs to sleep in peace, he has never slept in a calm environment in his short life. I dream of the day that I will be able to buy new clothes for all of us, there’s so much I want to do!

I hope that my husband and I will be able to leave behind all the hardships and focus on our future. Since the day we left, not a day goes by without thinking of Syria. I loved my life, my city, my house, the school where I was teaching. I had my family, my friends and my students. I wouldn’t mind moving to France as I speak the language but in Germany, thankfully, I will reunite with my sisters.

 

 

 

Shakeel Ahmed, 35

20/04/2017

 

Back in 2010, I decided to leave Pakistan and come to Greece. I wasn’t unemployed or anything, but the smugglers managed to convince me that in Greece I’d make a fortune in a couple of years’ time. Silly me, I fell for that and I embarked on my journey to Europe.

The trip was far from easy. I would walk all night long and hide during the day. At the borders between Iran and Turkey, I got captured by some people who demanded €5,000 to let me go. Of course, I didn’t have that much money with me and I wouldn’t be able to find it even if I could ask for money from all my family and friends in Pakistan. So, one day that I was alone in the room, I jumped off the 3rd floor of the building where they held me. I was saved. In total, it took me 25 days to complete the journey. I crossed the river Evros at the Greek-Turkish border and I was finally on Greek soil.

Two years ago, I was strolling on a mountain at Heraklion, on the island of Crete and I stumbled upon a crying little puppy. It was a new-born, probably someone who didn’t want it had abandoned it there to die. I took it home with me and I named him Mino. He could fit in a teacup, that’s how small he was! A couple of elderly Germans, my neighbours at the village of Moires, helped me with Mino’s vaccines and other obligations. They are so nice, I love them very much. Since that day, Mino and I are inseparable. I take him with me at work, we play together and we sleep together. He even looks after me when I fall ill. I love my Mino!

Many of my compatriots, when they return home from Europe, they bring laptops, TV sets and other electronic devices with them. But I don’t care about all that. I only want to take Mino home with me. I couldn’t leave him behind after all that we’ve been through together. I am not returning to Pakistan without him. I’ve told my children that I am bringing Mino with me and they are so excited! I can’t wait to return to Pakistan and build him a new dog house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nilab, Farishta and Marina

19/04/2017

 

Nilab, Farishta and Marina, 13, 9 and 7 years old respectively, are three sisters who, for the last five months live at the open accommodation centre of Oinofyta, together with their family. The sisters recently enrolled to school, in the context of the educational programme for refugee and migrant children staying in Greece.

“I look forward to go to school, I want to learn how to speak Greek”, says Nilab, the oldest of the three girls. “I have attended school in Afghanistan for a few years and today I will start at the secondary school, while my sisters will attend the elementary school. I’m a little sad that we won’t be together but at the same time, I’m excited I will be in the classroom again, it’s a long-awaited day for me”.

Their dad is constantly on their side, just like many other parents, proudly watching the preparations for the first day to the Greek school. “We came from Afghanistan to Greece more than a year ago. We spent 10 months at the hot spot of Moria, on the island of Lesbos and five months ago we were transferred here, at Oinofyta. It’s a big day for us today, their mother and I are really happy that our daughters will go to school. We’ve been in Greece for a long time now and the girls have not attended school so far. Being pupils is going to be very good for them, they will learn many useful things. After all, it is crucial for the children to attend the educational system of the country where they live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abdel and his family

12/4/2017

 

It was a very difficult journey. We left Aleppo because of the war. War is a bad thing, there was death, fear, misery. I was conscripted to fight for the regime, so we took the decision to flee. I didn’t not want to have blood in my hands, to take another man’s life. They cannot make me do that.

When living in Syria, before the war, I had a good job. I was a skilled worker, making plasterboards, fitting wirings, usually for businesses, hotels or private homes. Amina, my wife, took up the upbringing of our children.

It was the journey of death, this is what we call it. Either way, staying in Syria would mean that we’d die. So, we took the risk, either we’d survive or we’d be gone. I undertook a tremendous risk, not only for myself, but also for my wife and my children. But, if we’d managed to make it, we’d have won a life far from the war.  To us, it will always be the journey of death.

We crossed from Turkey to the island of Lesbos by boat, just like everyone else. Another difficult journey awaited, this time from camp to camp. From Lesbos, we went to Kavala, then to Herso, from there to Katerini and then to Thessaloniki until finally we settled in Athens. We’ve been through rough times but we’ve also had nice experiences. We’ve seen beautiful places but the worst part was the bad weather, when it as rainy or cold, or when it was very hot. Nevertheless, amidst all these hardships, we were always surrounded by really nice people who helped us and who we’ll never forget.

In the meantime, Amina got pregnant. Since she gave birth to our baby daughter Isra, things are easier, she’s 6 months old now. I cannot describe what relocating to France feels like. We are so happy, we’ll start again, we’ll find stability. Our life will be just like before the war, or even better. I’m certain that a new life awaits, the children will go to school, which is the most important thing for them. I don’t know where we’ll settle yet, but I dream of living in Nice, what a beautiful city! I wish that we’ll love France and that France will love us back. We’ve already started learning French, not only with the help of IOM and the French Embassy but also at home, on our own, thanks to online courses. In France, we’ll try to leave behind us all that we’ve been through, we already try to help the children forget. We don’t want them to talk about it all, or ever go through such an experience again. We two, we’ll never forget, how can one forget such a thing. Our life was unbearable. But the children are still very young, at 9 and 6, so maybe in the end they won’t remember a thing.

 

 

 

Fayaz, 7, from Afghanistan

05/04/2017

 

“I’ve been told that I will learn Greek and English and maths, but I don’t really mind what I will be taught. To me, it’s enough that I will go to school!” says 7-year-old Fayaz from Afghanistan.

Fayaz and his family started their long journey to Europe from the historic city of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. They arrived in Greece over a year ago and they live at the open accommodation centre of Malakasa, 40 kilometres north of Athens.

“I’m excited that my son will go to school. Fayaz has never had the chance to access education, so it’s an important time for us. And hopefully, his sister will follow in time, she’s too young for school but she’s a little jealous of her brother”, says Feros, the father of the two siblings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farzaneh and Amir

30/03/2017

 

Farzaneh is a young girl from Afghanistan. Together with her brother, Amir, their parents and other siblings, she lives in the accommodation centre of Malakasa for almost a year now.

It is a big day for Farzaneh and Amir as they are among the children who will go to the elementary school of the nearby village of Malakasa, in the context of the education programme for refugee and migrant children.

“I’m really happy I will go to school, I can hardly wait!” says Farzaneh, while receiving her school bag a few hours before the school bell. “Neither I nor my brother, Amir, have ever been to school so we are really excited, we’ll make new friends and learn many things”.

Accompanied by their proud dad, Asadullah, the children gather at the entrance of the accommodation centre where the bus and their escorts will pick them up. “I’m very satisfied that my children will finally go to school”, says Asadullah. “I just want them to lead a normal life, like any other kid their age”.

IOM Greece provides buses and escorts for the transportation of refugee and migrant children to the primary and secondary schools, with support from the European Commission – Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid Operations - ECHO

 

 

 

 

Hamid 7 years old

and his mom, Khadire

28/03/2017

 

Hamid is a 7-year-old boy from the province of Ghor in Afghanistan. His family arrived in Greece about a year ago.  They live at the open accommodation centre of Malakasa, 40 kilometres north of Athens. We met Hamid a few hours before attending the elementary school of the nearby village of Malakasa, in the context of the education programme for the refugee and migrant children staying in Greece.

“Hamid will go back to the classroom after a very long time”, as his mother, Khadire, says: “Hamid and his 4 siblings attended school in Afghanistan but because of the volatile situation in our region we had to take them off school. We were afraid that the children would be kidnapped. I’m really happy that my son will finally go to school here in Greece, one of the main reasons that we embarked on this journey is for my children to have access to education, it is really important”.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), thanks to European Commission funding, is ensuring the safe transportation of pupils from the Accommodation Centers to schools and has equipped them with school kits including notebooks, pens, pencils and other necessary school material. The education program is part of the “Multi-sectoral assistance to and protection of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece” scheme.

 

 

 

 

Sana from Pakistan

                                          24/2/2017

 

Sana is a young man from Pakistan who, after spending 1.5 year in Greece, decided to go back to his country as a beneficiary of the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration Programme, a core activity of IOM Greece.

“I come from a village not far from the city of Gujrat in Pakistan, but I used to live in Karachi, where I worked as a driver. I decided to migrate first to Saudi Arabia, where I spent 2.5 years but things didn’t work out for me so I went back to Pakistan.

I have heard so many stories about Greece: that it’s a beautiful country full of history, with great weather and nice people. I really wanted to come and so I did. I left 1.5 years ago from Pakistan. It took me 16 days to traverse Iran and Turkey, before crossing by boat to the island of Lesbos, in the midst of the refugee crisis. I used every means available to make the journey, I walked a lot. When leaving Pakistan, I thought it would be easy for me to get a job in Greece – although I’ve heard of the financial crisis, I was confident that, despite the difficulties, I’d find my way.

I ended up in the island of Crete, in the region of Iraklion, where I took various jobs in agriculture, working in fields and farms. I had a good time there, people have been nice to me and although one hears stories about migrant workers being taken advantage of, that was not my case. I also loved Iraklion city and particularly the port, beautiful and alive.

However, as time went by, I grew more and more homesick. My parents and my three siblings still live in our village and I want to be with them again. I’m also really glad that I will be able to start my own business with the assistance of IOM Greece, as a part of their Reintegration programme. I will start a pharmacy with the help of my uncle, who’s a pharmacist and he has trained me in the past. So, I feel optimistic about my future in Pakistan.

You know, most Pakistanis feel very much at home in Greece – I hope I will be back some day!”

 

 

 

 

 

Relocation to Finland:

Fatima and her son, Suleiman   

20/3/2017

 

At 67, Fatima became one of the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria. Now, 13 months after arriving in Greece, she’s about to relocate to Finland.

“I brought 12 children into this world”, Fatima says, sitting on a wheelchair while holding a thick wooden cane. “Now, two of my children are in Sweden, two are in Germany and another three are still in Syria”.

Fatima is surrounded by her son, Suleiman, her daughter in law and her grandkids. They all show a lot of affection to the soft-spoken matriarch. “We left our hometown of Afrin because there was nothing there for us anymore. We have been through so much pain, so much fear, so many humiliations. I knew it would be a difficult journey but I could still walk on my own and I had my four sons with me, so that kept me calm and composed. We had to reach Europe and we arrived last February, on the island of Lesbos. Now, the time has come to move to Finland. It’s always difficult to make a new start, especially for someone of my age. I feel somewhat apprehensive about moving to Finland, but all I want is to be together with my children and my grandchildren. I know we will find our way in our new home – I don’t miss Syria at all, Syria is over for me.”

Suleiman, at 35, has to take care of his mother and his young family. “I have dreams for them. My children are my biggest priority, of course, I want them to have the best possible education, so that they will be able to advance professionally. But, I also have my own little dream. Back in Syria, I was working as a car painter and I was looking forward to start my own workshop. I had to abandon this plan because of the war but now that I’m moving to Finland, I will make my dream come true, I will start my own business”, Suleiman says enthusiastically, holding his children in his arms.

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                 

Fawzi and Hamide

16/3/2017

 

“It’s been 11 years since the last time I saw my son. I can’t wait to hold him in my arms again!” Hamide is taking out her phone and proudly shows photos of her son who lives in Finland, where she and her husband, Fawzi, will soon relocate. Her face lights up as she talks about her son and Fawzi shares her joy and pride: “Our boy left Syria to work in Europe when he was just 17 years old. He lives in Finland for 6 years now, where he works as an interpreter and he’s engaged with a Finnish girl”.

“It was the first thing I told during the first interview of the relocation procedure! I need to go to Finland!” says Hamide. “I have three daughters, too. One of them is with her family on the island of Chios. The other two are still in Afrin, our hometown in Syria. I hope they will be able to make it safely to Europe…” she adds with a tone of sadness in her voice.

Fawzi recounts the couple’s journey from Syria: “we arrived in Greece on February 20, 2016. From Chios we went to Athens and then straight to Idomeni, but we arrived too late, the borders had already closed. We have seen bad things happening at the camp there… after about a month we got back to Athens and started the relocation procedure. At first, we stayed in a squat in central Athens and then we moved to a wonderful hotel in Nea Makri. It was so nice there, so cosy. You know, Greeks have been really supportive and helpful. They understand. I have worked very hard all my life, I’ve worked in hospitals, in cafes, you name it, I’ve done everything to bring my children up, and Hamide, too. Even now, we have crossed the sea and fields and mountains, we have endured so many hardships just to see our boy again.”

Hamide nods approvingly: “I wish that my girls, too, will eventually join us in Finland so that we can be all together again.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sara and her family

10/03/2017

 

Sara is a little girl from Sinjar, Iraq. After spending one year in Greece, she relocated to Germany together with her family.

“We have arrived on March 2nd, 2016 on the island of Samos”, recalls Samir, her father, just a few hours before boarding the plane to Germany. “However, we left Iraq long ago. We come from Sinjar, a predominantly Yazidi city – we are Yazidi, too. In the summer of 2014, Sinjar fell to the ISIS offensive. Thousands of our people were massacred. I had no choice but to take my family away from danger, first in Kurdistan and a few weeks later to Turkey. I feel lucky, I didn’t lose family members, thankfully. All I wanted was to secure a future for my children”.

Sara plays nearby with her brother, while her mother, Harby, grooms the youngest of the family, Samra. Sara is a lively girl with almond eyes. While staying at the Skaramagkas accommodation centre, on the outskirts of Athens, she got enrolled to the Greek elementary school where she took Greek and English classes. “School is fantastic” she says. “I couldn’t wait to go and every day, when I came back home, I was telling my parents every little detail of my day. My teachers are so nice, I love them very much and I’m going to miss them”.

Samir listens, smiling. “We were very happy to send her to school here in Greece, it made Sara so happy. And our experience in the country is very positive, we felt accepted by the Greeks. You know, we lost everything in Sinjar, I even left my dreams there. So, now that we’re finally going to Germany, all I can hope for is for a safe future for Sara and my other children. I wish they will be able to lead a normal life in peace and of course, to continue their education”.

All Yazidis wear a bracelet made of red and white thread, a talisman to protect them from the sun, disease and the evil spirits – a wide spread tradition in Greece and the Balkans, as well. “When the bracelet falls off our wrists, we make a wish”, says Sara as she waves goodbye before boarding the flight to Munich and a new beginning.

 

 

 

 

Murad from Syria

09/03/2017

 

Murad is 6-year-old boy from Damascus, Syria, who had to fight adversity from the first day of his life. Born with syndactyly, a disability where the fingers are fused together, Murad was bullied all the time. “Everyone was laughing at him” Sinam, his mother, says “so I’d hide his hands in long sleeves to protect him”. Two surgeries later Murad was getting better however, that was when the war broke in Syria.

“We moved to a camp in Iraq and Murad grew to be a very mischievous boy. It was really difficult for me, Murad was very lively and naughty. Parents of other children were constantly complaining about him”. The family then moved to Turkey and soon, Murad’s father and brother left for Germany, leaving the rest of the family behind. Sinam, Murad and his brothers tried to cross the land border between Greece and Turkey 4 times to no avail. Finally, a smuggler cramped them into a lorry and transported them to the other side of the border. “So many people were crowed in there! I was very scared that my sons would get crushed. I was holding Murad into my arms so tight, he screamed, ‘Mummy, my legs are breaking’ and I hugged him even more tightly”.

However, their adventure was far from over, as the family ended up at the makeshift camp of Idomeni, northern Greece. It was already late, as the European borders had already closed. “We were waiting for the border to re-open. Every day, for more than 4 months, we were hoping and every night we were saying to each other ‘no worries, it will open tomorrow’. When they moved us to the Derveni Alexyl camp we had no money, no clothes, we had lost hope… but soon we felt better, because there we had food, toilet, showers and shelter. Eventually, I thought, ‘God saved us, let’s stay here and something good could happen to us’”.

Since January 2017, Murad and his family, along with 223 people, live Dimitra Hotel, in Mouries, Kilkis, while the accommodation centre is undergoing construction work to upgrade the standards of living. Sinam says: “Murad now is happier and calmer than ever before. For the first time in his life he’s staying in a proper house, he didn’t know what it’s like to live in a house, as until now he has lived only in tents. The first days everything was a surprise for him. He opened and closed the doors, went up and down the stairs, everything seemed so strange to him. The first week he kept on falling off his bed, because he was not used to it. I didn’t sleep as well as I had to keep an eye on him”.

For the time being, Murad can be a normal child and keep on playing in and around the hotel with his brothers. As for Sinam, she’s anxiously waiting for the time that her family will be reunited again in Germany and start a new life, all together again.

 

 

 

 

Mohammad and Maya, a young couple from Syria

 

In February 2016, Mohammad, 20, and Maya, 16, crossed from Turkey to Greece after fleeing the war in Syria. The young couple is now relocating to Norway, together with their newborn baby, Gwaad.

“We got engaged in Syria and I left for Turkey”, says Mohammad. “A couple of weeks later, Maya joined me. We spent some time in Turkey, where we also got married and then we crossed to Greece, almost a year ago to the day. We arrived on the island of Lesbos and from there we travelled up north. However, by the time we got to Eidomeni, the border had closed. We came back to Athens and joined the EU Relocation Programme. Now, we are finally leaving for Norway. I don’t want to depend on others to support my family, so as soon as we get there, I will learn the language and get a job. I really look forward to be part of the Norwegian society, to integrate.”

“It is very important for me to complete my education” says Maya. “I will learn the language, finish school and hopefully, I will become a hairdresser, which is my dream”! The young mother is holding tenderly her 3-month-old baby in her arms as she speaks. “Only one thing scared me during our journey and it was the sea. It was so terrifying. Our boat run out of fuel in the middle of the sea. Thankfully, the Greek coast guard came and rescued us, I will never forget them”.

“As soon as we arrived in Greece, we felt embraced by the Greek people. They showed us love, tenderness, they cared for us. Now, I can dream again. In our new home, I will work hard to have my own restaurant, I love cooking!”, Mohammad says.

“He’s such an amazing cook!”, Maya says proudly for her husband. “You know, we come from Damascus and food is so special there”!

The Relocation Programme of the EU is implemented by IOM Greece.

 

 

 

 

 

Rashad, 7 years old

 

“I just can’t wait to go to school every day! And my dad is so happy that I’m learning new things in Greece”. Rashad is a 7-year-old boy, coming from Hasakah, Syria and currently living with his family at the Open Accommodation Centre for Refugees in Ritsona, Greece. He has been enrolled in Greek school since October 2016.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), thanks to European Commission funding, is ensuring the safe transportation of pupils from the Accommodation Centers to schools and has equipped them with school kits including notebooks, pens, pencils and other necessary school material. The education program is part of the “Multi-sectoral assistance to and protection of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece” scheme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ali and the escorts

 

Ali is a 10-year-old boy staying at the accommodation centre of Eleonas in central Athens, together with his family, after they fled war in their native Deir ez-Zor in Syria. Since October 2016, Ali has been attending school in the context of the refugee children education programme.

Sophia and Alexandra are two of the bus escorts who accompany the children to and from school every day. It was a matter of time before a strong bond formed not only between them and Ali, but with all of “their children”.

“Ali is a great boy, he’s really sweet. I’m not saying that because he’s my favourite, he really is something else”, Alexandra says. “But all of our children are so nice, they shower us with hugs and kisses every day. It’s such a fulfilling job to be their escort. We are family now”.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), thanks to European Commission funding, is ensuring the safe transportation of pupils from the Accommodation Centers to schools and has equipped them with school kits including notebooks, pens, pencils and other necessary school material. The education program is part of the “Multi-sectoral assistance to and protection of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece” scheme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roula from Syria, Relocation to Portugal

 

Roula is a 31-year-old hairdresser from Daraa, Syria. Together with her family, she’s about to relocate from Greece to Portugal.

“I was out with my son, Moulham. My husband, Suleiman, and my daughter, Kinana, were at home when the bomb struck. Arriving at my destroyed house, with my loved ones buried underneath the rubble, I nearly lost my mind. Thankfully, the Red Crescent managed to get them out and transport them to a makeshift hospital at the buffer zone between the regime army and the rebels. My daughter had both her legs in plaster for a very long time and my husband’s back was badly damaged.

I used to be a hairdresser and Suleiman was a chef. When the war started, there were no jobs so Suleiman was working here and there to make ends meet. But we had our house so we didn’t plan to leave Daraa, our hometown. After the bombing, we spent another two months there, so that both Suleiman and Kinana could make the journey. It took us one month to get to the Turkish-Syrian border. We walked for 9 hours each night to avoid trouble and I was pregnant and carrying Kinana on my back.

In Turkey, it was the first time we ever saw the sea. It was terrifying, as well as the crossing to the island of Chios, on January 2016. After we got registered, we were sent to Ritsona accommodation centre near Athens. A few months later, I gave birth to my baby boy, Mohammad. We got in the Relocation Programme, hoping to settle to Germany. However, God or fate, you name it, decided that Portugal will be our new home. I hope that everything is going to be fine. I don’t care about me, I only care about the future of my children. My son Moulham is 9 years old and he has never been to school. He doesn’t know how to read or write, it’s very important for me that all of my children will have access to education. We didn’t leave out country because we were poor or hungry but to escape war. All we want is to live a life in dignity. Dignity is the most important thing for a human being.

Now that our adventure is drawing to an end, I have so many memories, some bad and some good. A fond one is Greece and its people. You have been so kind and generous to us. We’ll never forget you”.

The Relocation Programme of the EU is implemented by IOM Greece

 

 

Ahmed, 23 from Iraq

 

“I am from Iraq and I came to Greece seven months ago and here I am now on my way back to Baghdad.

I am a professional hairdresser and I left my home country, seeking a better life in Europe for me and my wife. And although she made it to Germany, I got stranded in Greece. At first, I worked as a hairdresser but as time progressed, I found myself with limited options and opportunities. That is why I started looking for a way to go back to Iraq.

That was the moment when I found out about the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration Programme, materialized by IOM Greece, through fellow migrants and I quickly decided it was the right way to go. I want to go back and see my parents who are in Bagdad. Also, I will bring my wife back from Germany, although she was granted a German passport.

I am very happy, because IOM staff informed me that I am eligible for the Reintegration Programme which will give me the opportunity to have further aid and support when I get back home. Finally, I will have my own hair salon! Together with my wife, we will start again our lives in Iraq and later on we will have a family – we are still young. I wish I will be able to visit Greece again, as everyone was really kind to me, IOM staff included. Only that next time, I will be coming as a tourist”!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abbas, Sirwa, Mohamad and Tina from Iraq

 

“Midway, the boat started to take on water and soon it came to a halt. We were absolutely frightened”, Abbas recounts of the perilous sea crossing between Turkey and Greece back in March 2016. Thankfully, the Greek coast guard came to the rescue and the refugees were taken to Alexandroupolis, northern Greece.

It took one month for Abbas, his wife Sirwa and their two children, Mohamad and Tina, to make it from their native Kirkuk, Iraq, to the Turkish coast. A combination of local tribal conflicts and the presence of ISIS forces meant that fleeing was the Kurdish family’s only option. Like so many others, they were hoping to reach Germany, France or Belgium. However, by the time they arrived in Greece, the European borders were closing fast. They had to re-evaluate their situation.

“We got word about the relocation programme by fellow refugees. Two months after our arrival, we moved to Athens, in an apartment, waiting to be relocated”, says Abbas. Now, the big day has come and the family is ready to move to Norway. At the question of how do they feel about it, Abbas’ face brightens up in a split second: “We are so glad!” he exclaims. “I was a blacksmith in Iraq and hopefully I’ll be able to get a similar job in Norway. All we want is a calm, safe life. And education for our children”.

“But the Greeks have been very nice to us, too”, his wife Sirwa adds. “And we are really satisfied with IOM’s help all the way through the process of relocation”. Her son, 10-year-old Mohamad, interrupts her – in Greek: “I like that we are going to Norway, I want to go to school. I have only been to school here in Greece and I love maths”! His mother comments that it’s football that he loves the most and Mohamad giggles as the family poses for a photo.

 

 

 

 

Relocation to Germany, Raaffat Al-Gazawi and his family

 

“I was born in 1993, in Daraa, Syria”, says Raaffat, holding his little girl in his arms. It is the place where the uprising that would lead to Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011.

Five years on, Raaffat, a cook by profession, is attending the cultural orientation session at IOM Greece headquarters in Athens, in the context of the EU Relocation Programme. Together with his wife, 21-year-old Ayat, their two children Bisam, 4 and Mohamad, 2 as well as 13-year old Mohamad -Ayam’s relative- they are travelling to Germany. His younger brother is already there, waiting for them.

“We arrived on the island of Lesbos on the 19th of March 2016, just one day before the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement. At first, we were mistakenly registered to have arrived on the 23rd, so that would mean that we wouldn’t be eligible for relocation. Thankfully, the mix-up was quickly resolved and in a matter of days we got into the relocation programme and an apartment in Athens. During the whole process, IOM staff have been very supportive and helpful. The pace of the procedure was good, we finished with our medical tests very fast”, he continues. “We are looking forward to a new beginning in Germany. We will be safe, far from the bombs and the bullets of our country. All I want is to protect my children, this is why we left. To save them from war and to offer them the chance to be educated, to have a chance in life”.

 

 

 

 

 

Khaled Alazzo’s family

 

“Do you know where I’d really like to be relocated? To Cyprus!” Khaled says, eyes sparkling. “The climate is nice, the place is beautiful, but do you know what the most important thing to me is? That every morning I will take a deep breath and smell the fragrance of my beloved Syria, on the other side of the sea”.

Khaled, a 32-year-old builder from Hama, Syria, arrived on the island of Chios on March 2016, along with his wife Hyam and their children, Suleiman, Amina and Hamzeh. After spending a month in the makeshift camp of Piraeus port, they were sent to Agios Andreas camp, northeast of Athens.

We meet the family at Marathon Beach Resort on an unusually busy day: IOM staff are here to distribute winter clothing and shoes. The hotel, in a sleepy coastal town not far from Athens, is the place that about 100 refugees call home for more than a month now, while construction work is being done at the near-by Agios Andreas camp. Khaled, although he’s the last in line to receive the winter gear, doesn’t mind: he explains that his family has a lot to be thankful, so far. During their stay at the camp the family encountered some urgent medical issues. “We are thankful for all the help we received from IOM staff at the time, although it was a really stressful period. They have been there for us, they assisted us with the hospital, the medication, everything”, says Khaled. Also, three months ago, Hyam gave birth to their 4th child, Malak. IOM staff assisted her during her pregnancy, as well.

And how’s life at the hotel? “After living in a tent for so long, it’s really nice and comfortable”, Khaled says as his children play all around the small but cosy room. Soon, the discussion leads us to the future plans of the family, who have already started the relocation procedures. “My brother-in-law is already in Germany and my sister has applied for the family reunification programme. So, we would like to be all together. If not, then it’s definitely Cyprus that I’d choose!”

 

 

 

 

Alaeddin, 32, from Aleppo 

 

When Alaeddin fled Aleppo, Syria, on February 2016, he was leaving behind his wife and newborn daughter, looking forward to pave the way for them to a safe life in Europe. Now, almost 11 months later, he’s among the first group of beneficiaries –for 2017– to be relocated from Greece to Portugal, under the EU relocation programme, implemented by IOM Greece.

After arriving on the island of Lesbos and then to the port of Piraeus, Alaeddin met a Greek family that got him in their home and asked him to volunteer as a translator, helping with various issues the refugee population staying on Greece’s biggest port. He was the perfect choice, given that he’s a polyglot. “I’m fluent in English and Arabic and I also speak basic Greek, Portuguese and Chinese”. He smiles at our surprise: “Back in Syria, I had a cosmetics store. I would travel to China to import products so I got to learn the language basics as I found it helped a lot”. But, he’s not your regular salesman: “I have a degree in telecommunications and I was also studying economics which I haven’ finished yet”.

After volunteering in various camps around Athens as a translator he got a real job with an NGO, while waiting to be relocated. “This procedure takes a long time really and I feel as if I’m putting my dreams on hold”, he says. “I know that I’m off to a beautiful country with very nice people. I’m really qualified and I would like to start working as soon as possible. I would really love to work as a translator, I have lots of professional experience now and a thorough knowledge on the refugee issue. Actually, if I had the opportunity to work for an organization such as the IOM, that would be a big start for me!” he says with a big smile on his face.

 

 

 

 

 

Rama, 12 years old

 

“I want to learn everything! Writing, reading, drawing, everything!” says 12-year-old Rama from Syria, who is now staying with her family at the Accommodation Centre for Refugees in Trikala, Greece.

Fleeing Aleppo, nine months ago, was a hard decision for her mother, Fatima. “I promised my children that they will have a better future and that they will go to school again in Europe” she says.

Sundos, her 9-year-old daughter, noticeably impatient and excited, jumps in our conversation too: “I want to learn many languages! I’m so happy to go to school and I want to play with my Greek friends.”

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), thanks to European Commission funding, is ensuring the safe transportation of pupils from the Accommodation Centers to schools and has equipped them with school kits including notebooks, pens, pencils and other necessary school material. The education program is part of the “Multi-sectoral assistance to and protection of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece” scheme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fouad, Mohammad and Hamza, Syria

 

It is the last group of Syrian refugees to be relocated from Greece for 2016. Destination, Norway. Among the 33-strong group attending the cultural orientation session at IOM Greece’s headquarters, Fouad and Mohammad seem particularly cheerful and they constantly joke about the cold Norwegian winter that awaits them, making everyone laugh.

Fouad, a trained electrician, left from Aleppo and arrived on the island of Lesbos, Greece, 9 months ago, after spending six months in Turkey. In a camp outside Thessaloniki he met Mohammad, a ceramist from Deir Ez-Zor, who has been here about the same time, accompanying his 8-year-old nephew, Hamza. They became close friends and as luck has it, they will continue the journey to a new life together, in Norway.

“I’m really happy to go, we can finally get some peace of mind, feel a little better”, Fouad says. For both men, the priority is to learn the language and get a job as soon as possible. “I would also like to study”, says Mohammad as Fouad nods approvingly. Young Hamza, who has been playing by the Christmas tree, runs into Mohammad’s arms. Orphaned by a father, he left on the perilous journey with his uncle. Now, they hope they will be able to bring Hamza’s mother and siblings to Norway. So, how does Hamza feel about the journey? “I don’t want to go to Norway, but I will go, there will be a lot of snow”.

Fouad, as we say goodbye, says: “You should get us in touch with your IOM colleagues in Norway so that we can have friends already waiting for us!”

According to IOM official data, 7,068 asylum seekers have been relocated from Greece to other European countries.  Through the Relocation Programme, the International Organization for Migration in Greece supports the Government of Greece in relocating with safety and dignity more than 65.000 asylum seekers to other EU Member States of Relocation (MSR).

 

 

 

 

Hiyfat, Sara and Muhammad, Syria

 

Hiyfat is walking up and down restlessly, peeking through the windows of the administration building in the refugee accommodation centre of Trikala, central Greece. In a few hours, two of her three children, Sara and Muhammad, 10 and 9 respectively, will go back to school for the first time in years and IOM staff is here to register the new pupils and to distribute school kits. Anticipation is in the air.

“I’m really happy for my children as I believe education is very important” Hiyfat says. “It’s been ten months we are in Greece and in the meantime, I have tried to teach them on my own everything I can, while trying to improve my English, as well”.

Hiyfat has escaped Aleppo together with her husband and 3 children more than a year ago. The family arrived on the island of Lesbos and moved around various camps across Greece before finally settling here, four months ago. “People are nice here in Trikala, we have made friends. However, I think it’s in the best interest of my family to move to Holland or to Norway, where we also have relatives”.

Sara and Muhammad are buzzing around their mom as they wait to get their colourful bags. “I have been to school for one year, back in Syria”, Sara says. “I love that I’m starting again, I would like to study English, to learn every language in the world! It would be nice to do some drawing and to make new friends, too”. Muhammad is a little more reserved: “I’m looking forward to go to school tomorrow, but I want to see how I turns out before I say anything, I don’t know whether I’ll like or not. I miss the classroom but I would really love to play some football”.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), thanks to European Commission funding, is ensuring the safe transportation of pupils from the Accommodation Centers to schools and has equipped them with school kits including notebooks, pens, pencils and other necessary school material. The education program is part of the “Multi-sectoral assistance to and protection of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece” scheme.

 

 

 

Zahid from Pakistan

 

When Zahid set out from his native Pakistan he was pursuing the dream a better life in Europe. After a long, dangerous journey, done mostly on foot and occasionally by car, Zahid arrived on the island of Lesbos, Greece. After spending 12 days there, he ended up on the island of Crete to work in husbandry.

“It was difficult, sometimes I had work, others not so much”, he recounts, almost 2 years later. At 24, the young man found himself stuck in Greece, with no income and no options. That was the moment when he found out – through an acquaintance – about the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration Programmes, a core activity of IOM Greece. “The staff here have been really helpful, really nice. Thanks to the reintegration programme, I will have the possibility to start a small grocery store, together with my brothers”.

Since 2010, IOM Greece, through the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration Programmes (AVRR) for short – has helped more than 30.000 individuals to return safely back home. Furthermore IOM Greece has supported over 3.200 migrants to successfully complete personalized reintegration plans in terms of sustainability for themselves and their families.

 

 

 

 

 

Joan, 12 years old

 

“I played the drums today with the musicians and I sang two songs! I really liked the musicians that played the trumpet. When I grow up I want to be a musician too, I want to be a conductor!”, says 12-year-old Joan from Syria, waving his hands around like a real conductor in front of his orchestra.

“I go to the Greek school and I like it very much. Today we played music and it was so beautiful”, he says full of joy. We met him at the Accommodation Centre for Refugees at Lavrio, Attiki on the day when the Athens State Orchestra and its musicians organised a workshop on musical instruments and music genres.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), thanks to European Commission funding, is ensuring the safe transportation of pupils from the Accommodation Centers to schools and has equipped them with school kits, notebooks, pens, pencils and other necessary school material. The education program is part of the “Multi-sectoral assistance to and protection of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece” scheme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shakeel, 34 and Mazhar, 26, from Pakistan 

 

Shakeel and Mazhar are two young men from Pakistan who, about a year ago, left their country in the hope of getting a good job in Europe so that they could support their families back home.

“I took a ship from Karachi to Iran and then I had to walk to Tehran. From there, I mostly walked my way to Turkey. It took me 17 days to get to the island of Kos in Greece. It felt like forever”, explains Mazhar, who left behind a 4-year-old daughter.

Shakeel, from Lahore, had a similar journey. “I was happy to get here but it was impossible to get a job, no matter how hard I tried”, he adds. Mazhar was luckier, or at least that’s what he thought. “I got to work in the fields of Skala Lakonias (in the southern Peloponnese) but I never got paid for my labour. I ended up in Athens, I spent 3 months in the streets, homeless”.Both men, with no job or place to stay, got increasingly desperate as they felt stranded in Greece with no means to go back home, until some of their compatriots talked to them about “The implementation of Assisted Voluntary Return including Reintegration Measures” (AVRR) of the IOM.

Shakeel places his hand on his heart as he enthusiastically says “I’m so happy I’m going back home, I can hardly wait! Thanks to the help of the IOM, not only I will be able to go back to my son in Pakistan but I will also get the financial aid to start a small farm”. Both Shakeel and Mazhar are beneficiaries of the personalized reintegration plans, which are based on their specific needs. “With the help of the reintegration programme, I will buy two cows together with my brother”, says Mazhar, “and hopefully, I will be able also to work as a boat builder, just like I used to do before coming to Europe”.

 

 

 

 

 

Ameer, Ahmad & Rant 

 

About a month ago, Ameer, a 28-year-old mother from Aleppo, Syria, found out that her family was eligible for relocation to Germany. 

Ameer left her hometown of Aleppo together with her husband Ahmad and 4-year-old daughter, Rant, to escape war – her mother is still trapped there. On March 13, 2016 they arrived by a rubber boat on the island of Chios and soon they ended up at the Diavata camp near Thessaloniki, where the family spent 3 months, hoping that the border would open. After applying for asylum, Ameer and her family moved to an apartment and got into the relocation programme of the European Union, implemented by the IOM. It was during the IOM’s medical tests that they discovered that Ahmad suffers from a serious heart condition. Ahmad, a carpenter, has been complaining about chest pain when in Thessaloniki, but at the local hospital he was reassured that it was nothing to worry about. Ameer believes that it’s the war and the hardships of being a refugee that took a toll on her 31-year-old husband’s heart.

Now, Ameer’s priority is her husband’s heart surgery: “at the hospital here in Athens, they proposed that Ahmad would have the operation here but we opted for Germany, since we’re moving there anyway”. Germany is the “holy grail” for the majority of Syrian refugees but Ameer is not among them: “to be honest, I wanted to go to Sweden to continue my studies in biology”. She’s yet to know in which city she’ll start her new life: “we’ll find out today, during the cultural orientation session. All I want is to go there, get my husband back to health, learn the language and get a job”. Ameer didn’t waste any time while in Greece: she took Greek language classes (she’s already fluent in English) and she even got to work with ‘Time’ magazine while they were covering a story on Greece: “I did translation work for them but then I got more and more involved. I really liked it and hopefully the experience will help me get a job in Germany”.

 

 

 

 

 

Mari, 10 years old

 

“Ι love all my teachers, all my friends in Greece! In school we learn Greek, English, maths, but when we go out on a break we play ball games”, says 10-year-old Mari from Palaistine. “I like music so much. My favorite musical instrument is the guitar”.

For the past few months Mari and her family are staying at the Accommodation Centre for Refugees at Lavrio, Attiki. Recently she started going to primary school again on a daily basis.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), thanks to European Commission funding, is ensuring the safe transportation of pupils from the Accommodation Centers to schools and has equipped them with school kits, notebooks, pens, pencils and other necessary school material. The education program is part of the “Multi-sectoral assistance to and protection of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece” scheme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ahmed Yacoub

 

Ahmed Yacoub from Syria has been living in Luxembourg with his family for the last 13 months. Their apartment – the second one, after spending a short period of time in a reception centre – is located at the beautiful, leafy suburb of Beaufort.

On the 15th of November 2015, Ahmed’s family was among the first group of beneficiaries that left Greece for Luxembourg, under the relocation programme of the European Union, implemented by the IOM. From Athens, the family of five flew to Brussels and a bus took them to Luxembourg. They were accompanied by IOM’s staff and since that day, they never lost touch. After all, it’s easy for Ahmed to communicate in Greek: he has spent 10 years in Greece, working for a small garment factory. Then, he went back to Syria, before the war broke. The next time he set foot on Greece, it was to save his family from war. His son, Mohamed, was also born in Greece. Ahmed is fluent in Greek and he loves popular Greek music.

A year on, IOM’s staff met again with Ahmed, his wife Amina and their three children. They are very satisfied with their life in Luxembourg, in particular with the health care and education system. At the family’s arrival, all three of the children enrolled to school and they already speak Luxembourgish, French and German. As for the parents, for the moment they are taking French classes in order to be able to work as soon as possible. They are all very happy and now, they also can apply for Amina’s mother to be relocated from Syria to Luxembourg.

The door of the family’s welcoming home is always open for IOM Greece staff. After all, Ahmed wants to keep on practicing Greek and visit as soon as he gets the opportunity.

 

 

 

Hamza, 10 years old

 

Forced to leave his home and school behind in Deir ez-Zor, Syria, 10-year-old Hamza is now staying with his family at an Accommodation Centre in Greece.

“I had to stop my education last year, but now I’m back to school. I hope to become a pilot one day. I speak English but I have to study more,” says Hamza. He attends classes in a primary school in Greece and adds: “Going to school is always nice!”

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), thanks to European Commission funding, is ensuring the safe transportation of pupils from the Accommodation Centers to schools and has equipped them with school kits, notebooks, pens, pencils and other necessary school material. The education program is part of the “Multi-sectoral assistance to and protection of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece” scheme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adbalsalam Yassouf, Thermopiles camp, Greece

 

“I want to eat what I produce from my own labor. I want to help the others and not ask for help. I have learned in my life and in my village to do everything by myself. But during the war they stole everything from me. I used to have it all: buildings, money etc. but during the war we lost everything. People were killed next to us, buildings were collapsing. I am sick but I keep on trying with these crops to produce something and help other people. We prefer to see the green color, I am happy to eat one onion with one piece of bread but form my own crop.

I will keep on going, as life goes on and I need to feel that with these fields I do something important.

I know that it is difficult but God always helps us and we are fine…

We need to live with dignity….

We are thankful to you and IOM because you help us, you help people here at the camp.

Thank God and thank you for everything…“

As a response to the EU Mediterranean migrant and refugee crisis and in order to address the exacerbated emergency situation in Greece, IOM Greece is implementing the project “Emergency Support to Assist Most Vulnerable Migrants Stranded In Greece”, funded by the Directorate General “Migration and Home Affairs” of the European Commission, Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) Emergency Assistance. The project targets vulnerable migrants and refugees in Greece. More info: https://greece.iom.int/en/emergency-operations-unit

 

 

 

Amal, 11 & Asad, 12 years old

 

It’s been only 9 months since 12-year-old Asad arrived in Greece from Idlib, Syria, but already he speaks impressively good Greek. “I want to be a doctor and a footballer”, he says. Sitting right next to him, his 11-year-old sister, Amal, also dreams of becoming a doctor, although she’s very much afraid of the needles. The two children are staying at the Accommodation Centre of Thermopylae together with their parents and three siblings and can hardly wait to go to school.

“I want to learn Greek, English and maths. I’ll share the classroom with my friends Mohammed, Samer and Madgid”, says Asad. “Me, too! I will be sitting with Saima”, Amal adds. Their mother shares with us the joy of seeing the children back to school again.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), thanks to European Commission funding, is ensuring the safe transportation of pupils from the Accommodation Centers to schools and has equipped them with school kits, notebooks, pens, pencils and other necessary school material. The education program is part of the “Multi-sectoral assistance to and protection of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece” scheme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jameel Muhammad, 35, walked 5.854 km

 

"I come from Kashmir, Pakistan. In 2001-2002, the dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir resulted in explosions and bombing. Bombs were exploding next to us on a daily basis. In 2002 the situation escalated and I left Kashmir for a neighboring village in order to save my life.

After this crisis, the economy of Kashmir could not recover at once; it would take time, which I could not spend. I come from a family of 11, which means that we had many needs. As the youngest of nine brothers and sisters – who were already married – it was up to me to support my parents. In 2006 my parents arranged my marriage to my wife. In July 2007 I left for Europe.

I left with a backpack filled in with a few clothes, a bottle of water and some food, my only belongings for my new life in Europe. The journey started in July 2007, crossing Pakistan by truck and bus. Of the 40-50 people of my group, the majority were from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. In Iran, we had to cross the mountains so that we wouldn’t be tracked down by the police. We hid during the day and walked all night, in the bitter cold of the mountains. I remember wearing a thick jacket, two jumpers, two pairs of trousers and two pair of socks. We huddled together to get warm. You could die of cold…

The trip was really difficult and we did not have enough food. Smugglers didn’t give us food on a daily basis, and if I didn’t have my own I wouldn’t have survived, I was hungry all the time. It took us 15 days to walk from Pakistan to Iran. We crossed Iran mainly on foot. It was very painful and discouraging. When we reached Turkey, the smugglers drove us by cars, five persons per car each time, in order not to raise any suspicions. All 40 or 50 of us stayed together in a house and then we got on a truck which took us to Greece 15 days later.

My first year in Greece was really difficult, I had no friends or family. I craved to return to my wife, who I had abandoned a few months after we got married. I wanted to return, to make a new start, but I couldn’t afford to leave Greece. I spent many years working in greenhouses in Crete and took various jobs in Athens. I applied for asylum in 2012 but it was rejected in 2016 and now I go back to my country.

I am glad that I am finally returning to Pakistan. With the assistance of the International Organization for Migration I will buy a cow and some goats and I will rebuild my farm. This time, I am going to Pakistan for good, to live with my wife, to grow our family and look after my parents."

 

 

 

 

Roham, 7 years old

 

"I love school, efcharisto!” says 7-year-old Roham from Tehran, Iran, moments before taking the bus to the primary school. "No, I don't get tired in school, when I get back here I do my homework straight away", he delightfully affirms. Learning Greek is his favourite course. "Efcharisto!” he repeats in an impeccable accent, after having his photo taken at the Open Accommodation Centre for Refugees.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), thanks to European Commission funding, is ensuring the safe transportation of pupils from the Accommodation Centers to schools and has equipped them with school kits, notebooks, pens, pencils and other necessary school material.  

Roham is one of the beneficiaries of the education program, part of the “Multi-sectoral assistance to and protection of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece” scheme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merevais, 12 years old

 

"I'm very happy I'm back to school. My teacher is a really nice lady - although I'd much prefer an orange bag instead of the blue one I got!". Merevais, from Kabul, Afghanistan, is a 12-year-old boy who, for the last 7 months, lives in an Open Accommodation Centre for Refugees in Athens. Thanks to European Commission funding he's going to school again, this time in Greece.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is ensuring the safe transportation of pupils and has equipped them with school kits including notebooks, pens, pencils and other necessary school material.

The education program is part of the “Multi-sectoral assistance to and protection of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece” scheme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shabanen, 7 years old

 

“Sourour, Niloufar and Shahiba are my best friends and we go to primary school together. I am sharing my desk with Sourour!,” says 7year old Shabanen from Afghanistan full of enthusiasm just before she leaves for school.For the past seven months Shabanen is staying at the Open Accommodation Centre for Refugees at Eleonas, Attiki.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) thanks to European Commission Funding is ensuring the safe transportation of pupils and has equipped them with school kits including notebooks, pens, pencils and other necessary educational material.

The education program is part of the “Multi-sectoral assistance to and protection of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece” scheme.