Burned-out mi­grants stranded in Greece try­ing to keep sane

Kathimerini English - - Focus -

Kawa Mo­hammed lives in a small tent with his wife and three chil­dren in the Kalo­chori refugee camp on the out­skirts of the north­ern Greek city of Thes­sa­loniki.

“It is the bed­room, the kitchen, the liv­ing room and some­times the bath­room of the chil­dren,” said Mo­hammed, a 34-year-old Syrian refugee who fled the war in his home­town in Afrin near Aleppo. As he waits in the hope of set­tling down with his two broth­ers in the Ger­man city of Han­nover, he and his fam­ily are men­tally ex­hausted.

Many mi­grants liv­ing in this ware­house tent camp and an­other one nearby are also feel­ing burned out. They try to keep busy as they dream of a bet­ter life in Western Europe and not let bore­dom or de­pres­sion set in.

Be­cause of a harsh win­ter and bit­ter cold, many mi­grants rarely ven­ture out and away from the monotony and flu­o­res­cent lights hang­ing over­head.

So the camps’ in­hab­i­tants try to find ways of keep­ing busy. Some draw on their pro­fes­sions back home and set up makeshift tai­lor and bar­ber shops, for ex­am­ple. Women at­tend knit­ting classes and men work out in im­pro­vised gyms.

For Mo­hammed, it’s about dress­ing up his small tent.

“We dec­o­rate our tent to make it feel like home, for the chil­dren to feel [like they are] in their room,” he said. “For me and my wife to feel busy, we spend our days do­ing noth­ing but walk­ing around the camp, talk­ing to neigh­bors and play­ing games on my phone. Oth­er­wise we will suf­fo­cate while wait­ing here. We are men­tally ex­hausted,” he said. “Hav­ing a home and work is what will keep us sane, and so far since we ar­rived to Greece last Fe­bru­ary we have none of that.”

Refugees here are able to get psy­cho­log­i­cal or emo­tional sup­port from non­profit groups.

“Our main mis­sion is to re­duce the trauma and en­hance the well-be­ing of refugees in these camps by of­fer­ing psy­choso­cial sup­port to in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies liv­ing there,” said Zar­lasht Halaimzai, co-founder and di­rec­tor of the Refugee Trauma Ini­tia­tive.

More than 62,000 refugees and other mi­grants have been stuck in Greece since a series of Balkan border clo­sures and a Euro­pean Union-Tur­key deal on stem­ming mi­gra­tion, ac­cord­ing to Greek gov­ern­ment data.

These in­clude about 15,000 who reached eastern Greek is­lands af­ter the March 2016 agree­ment, and aren’t al­lowed to travel to the main­land un­less they suc­cess­fully ap­ply for asy­lum. If they can­not prove they merit asy­lum in Greece, rather than neigh­bor­ing Tur­key from which they trav­eled, they face be­ing re­turned to Tur­key.

“We set up group ac­tiv­i­ties and help them to come up with ev­ery­day strate­gies to cope with their emo­tional dif­fi­cul­ties and feel part of a com­mu­nity within these camps,” said Halaimzai, a 34-year-old Bri­tish-Afghan na­tional who fled Afghanistan in 1992.

She added: “I was a refugee my­self. I know how it feels to lose ev­ery­thing: your home, your lan­guage and your cul­ture. I un­der­stand what most of the refugees are go­ing through; that’s why as a pro­fes­sional for the last six years I be­lieve that psy­cho­log­i­cal help is as im­por­tant as any other need. Men­tal scars don’t heal by them­selves.”

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