23.10.2017 - News

Looking towards the future: A day in the life of a Syrian refugee family in Greece

While thousands of refugees are still blocked in camps in Greece, Terre des hommes (Tdh) offers them a more dignified alternative. In the Tdh protective apartments we help them with social support. Our collaborator Tatjana Aebli spent a day with a Syrian family in their new home in Ioannina. Here is her testimony.

Proudly, Ahmed, the 22-year-old Syrian, presents his soccer T-shirt: number 17. He couldn’t look happier in this moment. He managed to get into the local soccer team by himself and trains now three days a week. He cannot play in the official matches yet due to his status, but this doesn’t matter for him. It’s all about the recognition he got by being offered this T-shirt.

This seven member Syrian family is a perfect example of the opportunities refugees can be given, after arriving from a past they rather want to leave behind. It shows how refugees can thrive and live a life in dignity.

The house has enough space for its inhabitants. It is furnished. And clean. But there are no pictures on the wall – no souvenirs. Nothing that would remind them of the past. The family doesn’t want to talk about it. They won’t look back. They rather talk about their future: the father about the family’s plans of initiating their own business, the 8-year-old daughter about her dream to be a ballerina, and one of her sisters about becoming a doctor here.

Syrian refugee girl in a protective apartment in Greece, Ioannina, supported by Terre des hommes (Tdh)

Despite their big dreams, they clarify that this will be achieved step by step. “We will have to recover first, until the strength comes back and then start slowly,” explains the father who has suffered a stroke some months ago and cannot do the gardening besides his passion for it, looking at the tomatoes that grow outside.

The mother enters the living room and serves sweets from Syria, biscuits filled with dates and cinnamon pudding sprinkled with walnuts; if you close your eyes, you can feel the teleportation to their home country. To their past. The young Shahad wakes us up from our daydream, declaring loudly, that she ate 43 walnuts. Everybody laughs, it doesn’t matter what the real number would have been. The father looks at his wife and tells us, that she is a really good cook. I can only nod, still amazed by the food I am tasting. Ahmed shows me his soccer team in Syria from the time he was studying economics on his phone. It is something from his past.

Not looking back doesn’t mean forgetting the good memories. Because it is those that keep them going. The father wants to realise his dream of a family business in Syria now in Ioannina. “It will be a restaurant, a tavern. We wanted to create a business there – now we will do this here, step by step.” The 23-year old daughter, who has completed her medicine studies back home but lacks a certificate which is valid in Greece, will restart University here. Ahmed, following his passion, found a soccer team to train with in Ioannina. The bubbly 8-year-old daughter will be able to start in the local school next week, and her 16-year-old sister can attend high school. The Greek lessons they attended daily in the Tdh and Oxfam community centre prepared them for this challenge.

Syrian refugee, supported by Tdh through protective apartments, with his soccer team in Ioannina,

“The restaurant will serve Arabic and Italian food,” the father says sipping his black tea with fresh ginger. Ahmed adds: “I love Italy.” They all learned about Italian culture and heard the father’s stories, who lived in Italy when he was 18 years old. They all know some words in Italian thanks to his teaching. After they get their visas, they will be allowed to travel. I don’t even have to ask where to, in order to know the answer. A big smile goes from family member to family member.

This visit taught me, that there is not always the need of showing the negative past of refugees. It is not about showing the bad experiences that they went through. It is not about the trauma they had suffered. We have heard too many similar stories already and are deaf to them. But let’s focus on the family, which is, like any other, full of jokes, hopes and memories. Let’s think about the amazing feeling a Tdh social worker has when stepping out of their door every week, after having fought for so many months to provide this family with legal support for their stay in Greece, with medical assistance during the long hospital hours and the social support that helps them get a new life full of hope. So that they finally can sit down and do what they like, whether it's ballet, soccer or thinking about an Italian and Arab taverna. In peace.

In our 30 protective apartments in Ioannina (Greece), which host more than 140 members of vulnerable refugee families, Tdh social workers provide them with weekly support. Next to Greek and English lessons in the community centre, families are referred to legal, medical and psychological services if needed. This gives them a context where they can do the step to integration in dignity.

Tatjana Aebli, Communication, Tdh

Discover more about our protective apartments project in Greece.