Through Taher's eyes: waiting limbo of refugees in Greece

 Emergency Response
 9th Jan 2017

By Dora Vangi, Emergency Communications Officer for CARE Greece

“I am always trying to stay positive. But you know…I’m tired of staying positive. Nothing is changing”

Taher is one of all “those”. Those 62,784 asylum seekers currently residing in Greece. Those who live in adverse conditions in a legal limbo that is exacerbating the stress and suffering they experience since they left their homes and livelihoods. Those who got registered by the Asylum Service but have to wait for their applications to be processed and those who do have the right to work in the country but have to face the language barrier and the current unemployment level which remain insurmountable obstacles. 

From the first moment I saw him, I knew he is a talented determined young man. His positive energy would make the chills of our first meeting disappear in a moment. However, this second time I met him, something was missing from his bright smile. In my warm “how are you”, he replied with a sincere but troubled smile “I am fine. Oh well…you know. Not great but fine”.

Taher is from Syria, Aleppo, and he arrived in Greece almost one year ago. He studied financial management and marketing but his passion for cooking made him a successful chef! His family is still in Aleppo. “They are safe for now” he reassures me. “I have the right to bring them in Greece because my siblings are under 18 years old, but I can’t. What will they do here? I am responsible for them. If they leave our house, someone will take it and then we’ll have nothing. We will lose everything. I have to find a job first. If I can’t support them, why bring them here? It is dangerous there I know, but here it’s bad too”. He applied for relocation but his application was rejected and that was the moment when he started feeling the pressure.

“I don’t know how they decide who will be relocated and who will not. They took some people and they rejected other people who have the same characteristics. It is a random choice. At first, I was really upset, but I said ok. I will stay here (in Greece) now and I will try to find a job but it is really hard”.

We are sitting in a small café in the center of Athens and right next to us a stray dog lies down sleeping. Taher caresses him as we speak: “It is really hard you know. All the plans that you make in your imagination are gone. You have to start again and it feels like all the people who talk to you are playing. PRAKSIS* will not support me forever. In one month, I have to leave the apartment and then what? Where I will go? Many people are telling me ‘don’t worry; everything will go well at the end’. But how it will be ok if I can’t work? That makes me really stressed. What I am I doing here? But people also tell me that I have to get used to empty promises. You do not feel safe here. In any moment you can lose everything”.

When I listen to his words, I try to comfort him, but I know that words are not enough. All asylum seekers have gone already through too many hardships and they have survived, they do not need words of console and empty promises. They need to know how they will be able to re-build their life. Where they will stay, how their kids will go to school, when they will be relocated, why their application is rejected. The more the questions, the more the uncertainty.

“I am staying positive but you know I am tired of staying positive. Maybe I will have to go again. I like Greece very much. But the situation here makes you leave again. Young Greeks are leaving too. I walk in the city and I see homeless Greek people. I love Greeks you know. I am so lucky to have so many good friends. It is not a matter of the country or its people. The situation is bad for all people here” he says, and I know, as a young Greek myself, that he is right”

At the end of our discussion, I asked him his thoughts about 2016 and I hoped that I would listen something positive. I needed a happy end for this discussion.

“2016 was a very difficult year but I liked it. You learn a lot, you experience so many different and strong situations and feelings; you get to meet so many people. You know what is the most amazing thing? I met very kind people, people who loved other people. It is the most powerful thing, but you know…unfortunately it is not enough. I hope next year will be better. For everyone not just me. I achieved my goal. I wanted to go to a safe country and my journey stopped here in Greece. Here I try, try, try and nothing gets better. But you know what my father is telling me? ‘Always remember how lucky you are. People here (in Aleppo) cannot even walk in the street; they do not have water or electricity. If you have water to wash your face every day, then you are lucky’. That makes me strong and positive again. I think yes, I survived and I am here, I am doing well”.

There it was. The positive message of our discussion is hidden in the humanity and love Taher experienced during his journey and in the fact that he survived. But wait. Is this enough?

We all want to hear something positive, to make sure that something is improving. We need to see results, to say we did well. Europe and all member states, the European leaders, international and local civil society organizations, the European citizens, the Greeks, everyone did well. We want to be able to say we were there. But no. This is still not the case for asylum seekers in Greece. Taher is only one among the thousands who remain in this waiting limbo.

With the increasing areas of conflict worldwide, the continuous influx of asylum seekers and rising right-wing populist sentiments in Europe, there continues to be more than enough to do for civil society organizations in Greece and other countries around the world. CARE is currently supporting asylum seekers like Taher providing cash and emergency assistance including accommodation and protection, kindly supported by the European Commission. Living under such conditions and uncertainty, make this kind of support more urgent and necessary than ever. However, we still have a long way until we are able to say this “we did well” that we all crave to say. The challenges refugees in Greece are facing at the moment urge for long term planning and for projects promoting actual integration.

Therefore, my wish for the New Year is to be able to say “we are doing well”. I wish to build bridges and promote respect and mutual understanding. To continue to show and express louder our support to refugees. And last, I hope the European Union shows commitment and dedication to basic humanitarian values and the fundamental human rights. At the end we should keep in mind, as European Citizens, if we ever want to realize this unique paradigm of the United States of Europe or even just get closer to it, we must invest to immigrants and refugees originating from other continents of the world. Either because they will contribute here, either because they will open routes of communication, cooperation and sincere relations between European member states and their countries of origin. Population movements do require management policies, involving security issues, but they are neither a problem, neither disruptive forces within societies. Like Taher said: “it is not people the problem. I have met so many kind people who loved me and helped me. It is the systems”.

Find out more about CARE's work in Greece here.

About CARE in Greece: With 70 years of experience and long-term presence in many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries, CARE takes a comprehensive approach to emergency response: first by working with communities to prepare for and mitigate the impact of disasters; then by partnering with local groups to provide immediate assistance when an emergency hits; and finally by working with affected communities to help them recover after the crisis has passed. With the influx of refugees to Europe, CARE started providing emergency assistance to refugees stranded in Greece, including cash, protection and accommodation. The project is funded by the European Commission.

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