Rasha’s passionate plea to be reunited with her son in Germany
A Syrian mother and daughter stranded in Greece, separated from their family
It’s calm at the newly launched Centre for Families and Children in Mytilene, Lesvos, Greece. A light breeze blows through the olive trees as a bus slowly approaches the centre and comes to a halt. Suddenly, the laughter of children fills the air. Together with their mums, dozens of children walk towards the centre, which is located just a few kilometres from Moria camp, the largest refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos.
Together with my colleague Sebastian, I am here to learn more about the situation for unaccompanied and separated refugee and migrant children.
We talk to Rasha, a single mum and former English teacher from Deir-ez-Zor in Syria. Her eyes sparkle when she tells us that her 17-year-old son, Quaseem, lives near Frankfurt, in Germany, where he fled to with his uncle. She and her 15-year-old daughter, Mariam, hope to join him there soon. They fled to Damascus and from there to Turkey. But over two years have gone by and they haven’t seen Quaseem since he left.
I feared for his life in Syria. Many youths in our city disappeared. As an adolescent, it was simply too dangerous for him. He had to flee.
Rasha flicks through the pictures on her mobile phone – the daily chats with Quaseem are the only way for her to see him growing up.
For the past 50 days Rasha and Mariam have been trapped in Moria camp. They share a crowded container with three other families that they don’t know, and are surrounded by wire and desperation. Like other people in the camp, they do not have access to the most basic human needs such as clean water and safe washrooms, food, legal help and medical care.
Nearly 7,000 people, including 1,300 children, live at the camp, which is already at three times its capacity. Many people are stuck there for months, sometimes years, on end.
Under the EU asylum legislation so-called Dublin Regulation, unaccompanied and separated child refugees like Quaseem have the right to apply for family members to join them in their European destination country. However, family reunification processes are often slow and complicated, which can keep families separated for months or even years at a time.
Rasha doesn’t know when she and Mariam will be able to leave Moria camp or when they’ll be able to see Quaseem again. A paper she carries with her states that she has a hearing in Athens in September. But she doesn’t have any further information and her questions remain unanswered.
“The situation is particularly difficult for Mariam,” says Rasha. “She misses her brother. In Syria she went to school. In Moria she is scared the entire time. That’s why we visit the centre as often as we can. Mariam is learning English and both of us take part in dance lessons.”
In the midst of the chaos and confusion, the UNICEF-supported centre for families and children provides a safe space for children and mothers. Mothers can access services like psychosocial support and legal advice while children and young people can play and participate in different activities, including the dance classes Mariam and Rasha love so much.
We won’t be defeated. We love life.
Mariam joins us. She smiles when she tells us of her passion for dancing and Indian music. “I cannot wait to see my brother again. And I’d like to go to school again. One day I’d like to become a pharmacist.”
Rasha and Mariam fled conflict and violence. They were separated from Quaseem. They survived the difficult journey to Greece. But they never lost their passion for life. “We won’t be defeated. We love life” says Rasha, “Close to Moria, there’s a cafe we sometimes go to. I’m considering teaching English there. I need to feel alive.”
A few minutes later they get back on the bus which will take them back to Moria and back to the overcrowded camp. Back to a place characterised by misery, sadness and waiting. Waiting for a decision on their asylum status. Waiting for answers. And most of all, waiting to be reunited with their son and brother.