Two mothers, two children and two safe spaces
The co-funded European Union ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative is helping to support safe and friendly spaces for mothers and children
Many mothers with babies and young children, as well as unaccompanied children, are among the hundreds of asylum seekers who gather each day at the Greek Asylum Service Offices in Athens and Thessaloniki. They often have to wait for hours. Responding to their needs, UNICEF’s partner METAdrasi has created Mother and Child Spaces next to the Offices in Athens and Thessaloniki.
The co-funded European Union ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative is helping to support these safe and friendly spaces, where mothers can breastfeed and take care of their babies while their young children can play in the care of dedicated METAdrasi team members and volunteers. The ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative has also supported the creation of information materials on health-related risks and services for refugees and migrants, and more specifically for young mothers and caregivers. METAdrasi launched breastfeeding materials in Arabic and Farsi in 2020 with great success and has prepared materials on woman’s personal hygiene for distribution in both Mother and Child Spaces in mid-2021.
Marmar in Thessaloniki
Marmar, a young mother from Syria, is waiting patiently with her child and her own mother for an appointment at the Mother and Child Space in the Asylum Service office in Thessaloniki. While her son plays happily under the watchful eyes of team members and volunteers from METAdrasi, UNICEF’s partner on the ground, Marmar feels comfortable enough to tell us why she is here.
“It is not my first time here. I have visited the Mother and Child Space before; in 2018 when I came here to register my new-born child.”
Marmar, who arrived in Greece in 2016, is here because, as she explains with a bright smile: “I am waiting to receive the answer on my mother’s application.”
Marmar is called to the Asylum Service Office, and she leaves her child playing with the other children. But when she comes back to the Mother and Child Space, she is in tears. Her mother’s application has been rejected and she is inconsolable. Staff from METAdrasi immediately offer her a glass of water and a few kind words to help her compose herself.
“Very often we have the feeling that this space functions as a container for the absorption of negative emotions of the people who visit us. People who come here often feel safe enough to share their fears, their frustrations and even their darker thoughts. We try to give them space to express their feelings and we always find ways to boost their morale.”
Leyla in Athens
In the Mother and Child Space at the Asylum Service office in Athens we meet Leyla, a 26-year-old Syrian mother of three children. She moves around the space with confidence and her three children seem at ease. Victoria and Maria, Coordinators of the Mother and Child Space, point out that this is Leyla’s fifth visit with her children since November 2018. “The first time Leyla came here, she was pregnant with Eva,” they explain. “So we have known her little one since her birth when her parents came to the Asylum Office to register her!”
Leyla confides in us that her children are always very excited when she tells them that they need to visit the Asylum Service, because they will have the chance to pass their time “at the madrasa (school)” as they call the Mother and Child Space. This time, Leyla and her children have prepared a wonderful surprise for the team here: they have brought a dessert they have made especially for them to say ‘Thank you’
“You are like a family to us. My children feel very safe to be here with you.”
This is also the last time Leyla and her children will visit the Mother and Child Space. They are here to go to the Asylum Service Office and collect their passports; they are about to move to Germany where they have relatives.
Every month, more than 400 mothers and children benefit from each of these safe and welcoming Spaces. Since METAdrasi launched this initiative in June 2016, there have been more than 10,350 visits by mothers and more than 25,000 visits by children to the two Mother and Child Spaces in Athens and Thessaloniki.
This story is part of the Project Strengthening Refugee and Migrant Children’s Health Status in Southern and South Eastern Europe, co-funded by the Health Programme of the European Union (the ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative). The content of this story represents the views of the authors only and is their sole responsibility. It cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission and/or the European Health and Digital Executive Agency or any other body of the European Union. The European Commission and the Agency do not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.