‘I Was Alone, I Had Nothing’: From Child Refugees in Athens to Student Nurse | Global development

AAt some point in his journey to a free place, Atim Khan came to a fork in the road. The 50-day journey from his native Pakistan to the plains of northern Greece was unexpectedly terrifying and exhausting.

“We had a lot of dreams,” he says, recalling why he and his brother Zeeshan left their village near the Pakistani city of Haripur. “We were teenagers; we didn’t know what we were doing. We did what we had to do to survive.

The road was divided for the brothers when, after a fifth attempt to enter the EU from Turkey, Khan, then 16, ended up in police custody outside the Greek border town of Orstad.

“I was alone, my brother was already fluent and I didn’t have any papers, nothing,” Khan learned in fluent Greek.

“Then, all of a sudden, my asylum application was granted and soon I was in a camp, and then in a shelter. I was very happy. I said to myself, ‘From now on you will not do anything illegal. There is a white road and a black road and you will take the white road. ‘

Khan says now a training nurse, four years later, she has seen other lonely children travel to Europe from Asia, Africa and the Middle East in the same way. “They took the easy road, and lived on the streets,” he says. “They smuggle drugs, but it’s a very difficult life.”

According to National Solidarity for National Solidarity (EKK), Greece, Europe’s longest route for the majority of asylum seekers, has an estimated 3,300 child refugees. Of that number, more than 900 residents live in “unsafe housing conditions”. Under bridges, in parks, on roadsides and in public squares, or in squats and other shelters they barely know.

Athens is finally taking action, after more than a million people fled the Syrian civil war, six years after the European migration crisis spread.

Earlier this month, it unveiled a nationwide “tracing and protection mechanism” through a multilingual hotline to identify homeless children and move them to safer housing.

“It’s a great step and a long delay,” said Sofia Kovalaki, head of the home. The project, which has housed more than 600 children in 14 shelters in Athens over the past five years.

“Since 2015, many children have gone missing because they have slipped under the radar and remained unsafe outside of any government care system. This is unforgivable.

For years, the treatment of inhumane children in Greece has been criticized by human rights groups. National youth deterrence policySecurity custody“, Who are often in a depressed and depressing situation, have been severely criticized, with harsh judgments by the European Court of Human Rights. The controversial act of condemnation was ended only in December 2020.

Prime Minister Kryakos Mitsutak’s center-right government, which has had more difficulty dealing with immigration and refugee issues than its left-wing predecessor, has also faced allegations of discrimination against asylum seekers. ۔ Allegations of payback of the boats of migrants trying to reach the shores of the Aegean island of Greece have spread widely.

But Kowalki says there has been a significant change in government policy for single immigrant children. A special secretariat for the protection of unaccompanied minors has been set up, and Greece is working with other EU states to relocate or reunite children at home.

The first children went to Luxembourg last year. The devastating fire at Moriah, Europe’s largest venue in Lesbos, has intensified efforts to evacuate minors from the camps on the terrifying overcrowded island. About 2,000 immovable children have since been relocated from the Aegean islands.

Psychologist Ernie Agapedaki, who heads the secretariat, said the hotline was the latest step in eliminating IDPs. “This is our first priority,” he told the Guardian. He added that about 1,000 emergency shelters are expected to be built and operational by the end of May.

“Now that we have eliminated the embarrassing process of security custody, which was in fact a transitional measure because we did not have adequate care facilities, the national approach will provide an operational alternative.”

Agpedaki, who took office in February 2020, insisted the secretariat would help prevent other minors from going missing. “The largest pool of displaced children is in northern Greece because, unlike the islands, there is no reception center around Evros. [land] Border, “he says.

Mehr Asaf, who fled the conflict in Athens with his nine-year-old brother in Syria at the age of 15.
Mehr Asaf, who fled the conflict in Athens with his nine-year-old brother in Syria at the age of 15. Photo: Helena Smith / The Guardian

Teams of social workers and psychologists spent nearly a year working on the road, including interviewing undocumented minors. Many young people said they wanted to go to shelters but did not know.

“The hotline operates in six languages, as well as English and Greek, and has received a lot of calls from children since its inception,” said Theodora Tsouli, head of the UN’s Child Protection Unit. Who helped to understand the move.

“The mechanism is not just a tracing line,” he said. It also brings together NGOs, field workers, day centers, emergency accommodation, asylum services, public prosecutors for minors and the Greek police. We have adopted a very comprehensive approach.

Khan knows he is lucky to have found refuge in a mostly privately funded home project. Like Mehr Asaf, who left Syria with his younger brother, Muhammad, at the age of 15, was deprived of years of education. “My biggest goal is to get a job as a nurse and become a Greek citizen.”

Asaf, now 20, who has spent most of his time in a home shelter in Athens, is still in school with 16-year-olds in his class.

“We tried 12 times to go from Turkey to Greece, and once he got stuck in a truck after his tires exploded,” he said in English, adding that he had received a scholarship to a private college in Athens. Honored after winning. “There were 15 people inside and, thank God, there were holes [air vents]. We had to use bottles to go to the toilet. Finally we called the Turkish police for help.

The Syrian brothers and sisters, who began besieging the country because of the conflict, fled, thinking they would stay in Turkey. For three years he lived in Istanbul, initially in a two-room apartment where 35 people slept on bank beds in exchange for a strange job. Now, in his spare time, Asif works as a caregiver at home.

In the pleasant offices of the NGO, amidst the ban and laughter, it is easy to forget that the children who ended up as its wards were forced to travel at high risk by the dark forces.

Khan admitted that, while he and his brother had to leave “because of a dangerous family dispute”, he was amazed at how he survived. “We traveled on foot and by bus and car, and never knew what the new day would bring. In Iran, smugglers left us in a village without enough water or food. “If I was offered anything,” he says, “to do anything in the world again, to do it again, I wouldn’t do it.”

At the age of 19, Dorcas Mack is one of the few unusual minors to arrive with a small child. “For a long time it was difficult to see why I was living,” he said. He explained that his father had paid for a flight to Turkey and helped him escape the Republic of Congo in 2018. From there, she and her two-year-old son, Kevin, were trafficked across the Aegean in a wealthy boat.

“The police caught us for the first time in Izmir [trying to get to the island of Chios] And we spent 15 days in jail. When I got here, I was always sad, always stressed. Everything else made me angry. Now, I see it as the past. A part of my past life. I think a lot about my future because I want to be another person.

Today, McKay works in home shelters, and dreams of becoming a beautician.

Kovalaki says the biggest challenge for Greece and the European Union is to “recognize the need” to move forward with wholesale integration policies. “In the five years of our operation, we’ve only seen children wanting to return,” she says. ۔ At some point all these children will be 18 years old, and collecting them should be a priority.

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