AN INVITATION FOR CHILDREN IN EUROPE
We, 26 people from Italy, Spain, Morocco, Turkey, Germany, Netherlands, the UK and Greece came together for a training about diversity and conflict resolution in Greece this summer (2020). When the members of our group, a Greek psychologist, Anna, working in the refugee camp and a Syrian refugee, Mahmood, shared with us their personal experiences of the refugee camps we were all very touched. Most of us were aware that the conditions in the camp are dire and extremely difficult due to the limited benefits, long term stay in the camp and legal procedures, overpopulation and lack of connection with the local community. People often sleep in tents in both very hot and very cold weather, they don’t have clean toilets and queue for a long time for food.
What was new for us, was the specific situation in the Safe Zones for Unaccompanied Minors, which is especially hard. Children have nothing to do besides a few hours of school (only the half of them due to few available seats and they go to a seperate class from the Greek children) or some courses per week of non-formal education. They also frequently experience pressure from their families in their home country to send money because they are in great need and that was the basic reason for the migration. Although, it is illegal in Europe to work when you’re under 18 (and when you don’t have a residence permit yet). This leads children to get involved in drugs trade. For the drugs mafia, children are cheap labor forces and because of their age, adults can avoid problems with the law. Most children suffer from psychosomatic and psychopathological symptoms. They are deeply traumatized from both past experiences in their family and country and the journey to Greece. Moreover, they are retraumatized again and again by the uncertainty in their lives in Greece.
In the meantime, the rest of Europe is not taking in many refugees, and the majority of asylum seekers have to stay in Greece. The Greek government is not very willing to support the refugees, as they are afraid more people will arrive and put more strain on the capacity of Greece to host them, and, as pointed out, due to the circumstances some of them are getting involved in crime or violence. We understand this as a cycle of violence: On the very top there is an unwillingness to help, which then puts pressure on the local government, further on the local NGOs and finally on the refugees, the children in particular.
We thought about putting more pressure on our governments to change the situation, and heard such an initiative already exists: Europe Must Act. So please go there if you want to join us in this effort. More importantly, what our group wants to do is to start a new initiative, to make a small gesture for the children in Thiva refugee camp near Athens (where Anna works) to start a pen-pal project. Any child between 7 and 18 can take part. If they cannot write in English, we ask the parents to translate the messages.
This will be important for the children in the camp, as they can communicate with children in other European countries, ask their questions, feel their solidarity and care. It will give them something to look forward to and will give them more hope. Children can exchange postcards, letters, emails, photos or drawings.
We hope you will take part! If you know any children that want to join, please get in touch and send an email to Nina & Anna at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Thank you so much for caring!