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Border Experience | Part 4

GRenzerfahrung | Part 4 – 10/08/2017

Last week, 433 refugees arrived in Greece. At least 45 people drowned during the illegal crossing of the Aegean Sea towards the Greek islands. Most of them are fleeing from the continuing war in Syria, political instability in Iraq and ethnic persecution in Afghanistan.
We would like to share our experience during our stay with the Intereuropean Human Aid Association (IHA) in Thessaloniki, Northern Greece in the upcoming weeks. In our blog, GRenzerfahrung, we will document our volunteer experience, which for us means five weeks of quite literally borderline experiences.

We are sitting on the hard ground of the football field in Epanomi, gazing at the sheet that is attached to the goalposts. Everyone gets some popcorn and then it’s finally time to start: it’s movie night at Epanomi! Around 40 people have come to watch “Mr. Bean” – especially for the children among them, it’s a welcome distraction from the long days at the camp. The apartment balconies offer quite a good view at the screen, too, so some have decided to stay “at home” to enjoy the movie rather than having to sit on the dusty ground. The movie is in English, but has Arabic subtitles. The evening, organised by IHA, turns out to be a success.

Yet we find it hard to focus on the movie. Our thoughts turn again and again to the children who have come tonight. They have suffered through so much already during their short lives and experienced things we wouldn’t wish on anybody, which we cannot even explain. Their experience is a traumatizing one, of war and violence, which some of them experienced first-hand. Some lost their parents, others were exploited as child labourers in Turkey, and all of them missed out on education. There are currently 19.000 child refugees in Greece. None of them have access to the Greek school system. In Epanomi, they only receive a couple of hours of lessons per week. From a political viewpoint, children are classified as a “vulnerable group” which requires additional protection. During our visits to the camp, we see many children struggling to get attention and longing for closeness. On average, each refugee child loses 2.5 years of schooling during its journey. Children who fled from their home at the age of 15 are very unlikely to ever visit a school again.

And there’s another distinct group, which is called “unaccompanied minors” and mostly comprises teenagers – 2.300 of them currently live in Greece. The real number is likely to be much higher. They do not have the same level of access to monetary aid as adult refugees and are subject to special protection laws. This means you can’t just take an unaccompanied minor in your car to attend German lessons, for example: “It’s like running in an empty circle, we’re not adults so we can’t work, but they also don’t give us money.” (a 17 year old refugee who fled from Iraq)
This group of adolescent refugees is especially at risk of being exposed to violence and abuse (find a report by ZeitOnline here – in German). They often lack a person to talk to, money and most importantly: a father or mother. On the other side, parents are often overwhelmed by the situation their children are in. How would you explain to your child that you have no idea where and when you will be able to apply for asylum? How much longer will these people have to live in Epanomi? Will they remember their time here later in life?

We’ve reached the end of the movie. People applaud and Mr. Bean has one last funny scene to say good night. The evening has been a success and IHA will continue with their movie night in the upcoming weeks to bring a little bit of joy to Epanomi.

Further reading:

What’s it like fleeing from Syria? Haunting images from a film documentary: Http://blog.zeit.de/teilchen/2017/08/04/syrien-fluechtlinge-reise-europa/ (in German)

Migration researchers Paul Collier and Alexander Betts published a book highlighting the situation of refugees “stranded” along their way. Please find an interview with Alexander Betts here: http://taz.de/Fluechtlingsforscher-ueber-Integration/!5395721/ (in German)

Translated from German by Christin Reitschuster