Desperate and depressed, Syrian refugees in Greece regret leaving home
In this file photo taken on Monday, June 13, 2016, migrants who live in the Hellenikon refugee and migrant camp in Athens wait to register for asylum. AP photoIf some of the refugees had known what it would be like living in a refugee camp in the Greek capital, they would never have left Syria, while hundreds of thousands of Syrian parents in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan face the stark choice of whether to feed their children or send them to school as nearly 1 million Syrian refugee children are out of school in these countries.
Regretting having left Syria applies for Mustafa.
Four months of living in a broken tent by Athens’ Piraeus harbor, waiting for his asylum claim to be processed has caused Mustafa to bitterly regret his decision to leave Aleppo.
“Anywhere. Anything is better than this,” he said as a tear trickled down his cheek.
Only 38, Mustafa, who like many asylum seekers declined to give his full name, looks much older - as does his wife Nadia, 37, who sits beside him, sweaty and squashed in their small tent. Outside the temperature rises to more than 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit).
The couple left most of their family behind in Syria, except for Mustafa’s parents who made it to a refugee camp in Turkey.
“We didn’t think we’d be here long but we’ve yet to have our first [asylum] interview,” Mustafa told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“They’ve delayed it over and over again. At this rate we’ll be here for years. Sometimes, I just want to take my wife’s hand and jump into the sea.”
Since 2015, Greece has been the main entry point into Europe for refugees and migrants fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and beyond.
To receive asylum in Europe, migrants in Greece must go through a rigorous process through EASO, the European Asylum Support Office.
This entails a minimum of two interviews in Greece, spread over several weeks or months, and then at least two additional interviews in their country of relocation.
“The time it takes for a relocation request to go through in Greece really depends on the member state in question. Some are relatively fast and some are not,” said Iota Peristeri, who works at the Greek asylum service.
‘Nobody helped us, no volunteers, nobody’
When migrants arriving on Greek islands like Samos or Lesbos get the call for their first asylum interview, they must pay for a ferry to Athens. The journey is often very expensive for families who have spent their life savings getting to Europe.
These asylum seekers are meant to be provided with accommodation in Athens but this did not happen for Damascus-born Nama Abdullah, 28, and her three children who live in Kara Tepe, a refugee camp on Lesbos.
In May, Abdullah was told she and her family had an interview in Athens but unable to afford the 178 euro ($200) journey to get there, she sought financial help from other refugees. She said she received no help with accommodation.
“I couldn’t afford to rent a hotel for the night and all the camps in Athens sent us away,” Abdullah said. “Nobody helped us, no volunteers, nobody.”
Altogether, Abdullah and her children spent two nights in Athens, the time it took her to raise the money to sail back to Lesbos. Again, other refugees funded her journey.
She will go back to Athens for a follow-up interview on Sept. 9.
1 mln Syrian refugee children out of school in neighboring countries
For the refugees that have opted to stay closer to their home country either in Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan, the choices are no easier.
With just 60 days to go before the start of the new school year, hundreds of thousands of Syrian parents are faced with the stark choice of whether to feed their children or send them to school, experts said on Aug. 3.
Nearly 1 million Syrian refugee children are out of school in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan which host the vast majority of the nearly 5 million refugees created by Syria’s civil war.
Many Syrian children are forced to work to help make ends meet, or unable to pay for transport to school, according to a report written by the head of the London-based think tank, Overseas Development Institute (ODI).
“If you’re a parent faced with a choice of giving your children a square meal at the end of the day, or paying for the transport ... to send them to school ... you’re likely to make a choice in favor of adequate nutrition,” ODI Executive Director Kevin Watkins said in an interview.
Watkins said there is now an “epidemic” of refugee child labor in the region. He estimates that between 400,000 and 500,000 Syrian children are working in Turkey alone.
Turkey allows refugees to work and be paid a minimum wage. Even so, many of them are working informally for less pay, and there is some evidence that parents are marrying off their daughters young, the report said.
“I would love to go to school, I miss reading and writing. But if I go to school, nobody is going to bring food to my home,” the report quotes a 13-year-old refugee in Turkey as saying.
Lack of education ‘reason for hazardous journey to Europe’
Sarah Brown, president of international children’s charity Theirworld which published the report, said the lack of access to education was widely cited by refugee parents as one of the main reasons for risking the hazardous journey to Europe.
“The vast loss of potential caused by the crisis in education threatens to deprive Syria of the skills it will need to rebuild a war-torn society,” said Brown, wife of U.N. envoy for education and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in a statement.
Watkins said young teenagers with no hope of an education grow up at greater risk of being recruited by extremists.