Ex­iled in de­spair: Mi­grants in Greece los­ing hope

Malta Independent - - WORLD - Pet­ros Gian­nakouris

Rit­sona, a six-month-old Syr­ian girl with large brown eyes and a quick smile, was named af­ter the refugee camp where her fam­ily stayed when she was born.

Still there, she’s faced with a fu­ture that looks in­creas­ingly grim.

Rit­sona spent the first few weeks of her life in and out of hospi­tal, af­ter doc­tors were alerted to se­ri­ous birth de­fect in her lower spine.

At the camp in cen­tral Greece, she spends her days on a flimsy fold­out bed, as her fa­ther, Mo­hammed Khalil Isa, tends to his other four chil­dren, in­clud­ing 15year-old Ahmed who uses a wheelchair and suf­fers from a sim­i­lar ill­ness. Other fathers try to pro­tect their tents from rain and overnight cold.

Like dozens of refugee camps hastily cre­ated around the coun­try, Rit­sona started with tents set up in an aban­doned mil­i­tary fa­cil­ity. But signs of per­ma­nence — along with bore­dom and de­spair — are set­ting in as Euro­pean Union coun­tries fall fur­ther be­hind on com­mit­ments to take in those who fled from war.

More than 60,000 refugees and mi­grants are stuck in Greece, stranded by mea­sures de­signed by the Euro­pean Union to stop more trav­el­ling to the con­ti­nent. Only 4,500 peo­ple — less than 10 per­cent of the to­tal — have been

placed so far in EU coun­tries, where anti-im­mi­grant sen­ti­ment is on the rise.

Greece’s govern­ment is scram­bling to pro­vide con­tainer huts be­fore the win­ter, while camp dwellers have turned the tent city into a tiny shanty town: ham­mer­ing fur­ni­ture to­gether out of scrap wood, cook­ing on cin­der block stoves and hoist­ing tarp cov­ers for roof­ing.

Af­ter a re­cent down­pour, Syr­ian refugee Yousef Hanash cleared mud away from the base of his tent. On quiet days, he spends the af­ter­noon teach­ing two of sons how to play chess.

A fa­ther of four, Hanash said he came to Europe as a last re­sort, un­able to keep his fam­ily safe af­ter his cheese fac­tory was de­stroyed in the war and he moved around Syria.

He paid smug­glers to make it across Turkey, reach­ing Greece by dinghy just be­fore a late March dead­line, af­ter which new ar­rivals were de­tained for de­por­ta­tion. “Our plan was to go to any coun­try in Europe, to save our chil­dren from war and give them a bet­ter life,” Hanash said.

“But there is noth­ing for us to do here. No jobs or op­por­tu­ni­ties. Life here is mis­er­able. All we can do is deal with the weather, the heat, the cold and the rain,” he said.

“We es­caped from war and an im­me­di­ate death. But here we are dy­ing ev­ery day.”

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