Moth­ers of new­borns in camps

While their par­ents wait for the slow wheels of bu­reau­cracy to turn, in­fants take their first steps

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY PET­ROS GIANNAKOURIS

RITSONA– Ah­mad, Farah and Mo­hamad drew their first breaths in their Syr­ian par­ents’ promised land of Europe – or at least on the edge of it. Greece lies at the wrong end of the con­ti­nent from where the fam­i­lies wanted to land, sep­a­rated from the pros­per­ous heart­land by an ar­ray of high fences, ra­zor wire and bor­der checks.

So for now, while their par­ents wait for the slow wheels of bu­reau­cracy to turn, the in­fants are learn­ing to smile, turn over and sit up in a refugee camp some 70 kilo­me­ters (43 miles) north of Athens. If they’re lucky, they’ll be re­set­tled in an­other Euro­pean Union coun­try by the time they are walk­ing some­time next year.

Hun­dreds of women who were preg­nant when they squeezed into flimsy smug­glers’ boats for the ter­ri­fy­ing – and some­times fa­tal – sea cross­ing from Turkey to the east­ern Aegean Sea is­lands are among the 60,000 refugees and other mi­grants stranded in Greece. One baby, the youngest of six chil­dren, even was named Ritsona, after the camp where she was born with se­vere dis­abil­i­ties on March 31.

The hastily erected Ritsona camp is the same one where Mo­hamad, Ah­mad and Farah stay. It houses an es­ti­mated 570 peo­ple in roughly 15 square me­ter (160 square foot) can­vas tents that have been re­in­forced against the rain and sun with im­pro­vised tarps. Rows of pre­fab­ri­cated homes equipped with bath­rooms and kitchens stand un­oc­cu­pied, await­ing fi­nal ad­just­ments be­fore the refugees can move in.

Mean­while, the mi­grants do what they can to cre­ate homes. Women bake in makeshift mud ovens. Veg­eta­bles and sweet-scented basil grow in small gar­dens. Neigh­bors gather on the benches of im­pro­vised pa­tios, drink­ing end­less cups of tea or cof­fee. But for moth­ers with new­borns, the need to nest and the aware­ness of all that’s lack­ing are es­pe­cially strong.

“This life is very dif­fi­cult, but in Syria [it’s] also dif­fi­cult,” Hanan Halawa, 39, a mother of four chil­dren ages 12 to 4 months, said. Her youngest, Ah­mad, was born June 10 in a hos­pi­tal in the nearby town of Halkida.

Halawa and her hus­band, Yousef, a once-pros­per­ous dairy man­u­fac­turer from Idlib, crossed with their three older chil­dren from Izmir in Turkey to Chios is­land, the adults pay­ing smug­glers 700 eu­ros each and 350 eu­ros for ev­ery child.

“I want for my chil­dren, not for this baby only but for all my chil­dren, a safe place, good ed­u­ca­tion, only,” she said, cradling Ah­mad. “That’s what we want.”

Her neigh­bor, Hala Baroud, 28, was four months preg­nant when she made the sea cross­ing from Turkey to the nearby is­land of Lesvos, with her hus­band and their 5-year-old son. They were evicted from Dubai in late 2015 and had nowhere to re­turn to in their na­tive Syria.

“I hope for my baby a good life, a happy life, and to live in good places,” she said, hold­ing her weeks-old daugh­ter Farah. “I hope I can give her every­thing. I hope when she grows up, her stud­ies and ed­u­ca­tion, it will be good. That’s like all moth­ers. I hope noth­ing will be miss­ing from her life.”

Rima Al Basir, 30, was al­ready in Greece with four chil­dren when she learned she was ex­pect­ing a fifth. Some Greek doc­tors in Halkida be­rated her for get­ting preg­nant again and told her the baby would need to be de­liv­ered by ce­sarean sec­tion. Their shouts of dis­ap­proval stunned her to tears.

She had Mo­hamad, now 5 months old, in Athens.

“After I woke up, I looked be­side me, no­body was be­side me. I did not ex­pect that. I said to my­self: ‘If I [had] my baby in Syria, it would be bet­ter for me. At least my mother would be be­side me.’ But here, no­body was be­side me.”

Al Basir hopes to be re­set­tled in an­other Euro­pean coun­try.

“Any coun­try is com­fort­able for my fam­ily and my chil­dren,” she said. “Anywhere, but not in these tents.”

Tent fam­i­lies. From left to right: 33-year-old Kaouser Tamo, a Syr­ian mother from Al Hasakah, 35-year-old Na­jlaa Khalil Tamo, a Syr­ian mother from Al Hasakah, and 35-yearold Siha Ham­nad, a Syr­ian mother from Al Qu­nayti­rah, pose with their ba­bies in a tent made of blan­kets from the UNCHR at the Ritsona refugee camp in Greece.

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