Sitting in a tent at the Souda camp, on the island of Chios in Greece, a Pakistani family of 12 recalls the lives they had in their home country.
Muhammed, the father, is an aircraft training engineer. “We have a good home. We have cars, we had everything in our life. All of our children were in high-level schools.”
They had everything except safety. Muhammed and his wife, Asia, along with their 10 children, fled their home country in search of a place where they weren’t constantly fearing for their lives.
“We left our country because we were in danger from the Taliban,” he said. “We aren’t poor people who are only coming for money in Europe. We come only for a safe life.”
Already, eight of their extended family members across Pakistan have died at the hands of the Taliban. Muhammed’s younger brother fled to Germany, where he is living with his uncle’s family. Muhammad and his family made the trip to Greece in a boat carrying 73 people, some of whom were fighting for a spot.
The Souda camp is one of the few refugee camps in Greece in which refugees can still move freely. But they must endure a lack of information, long food lines, and poor nutrition and sanitation.
Greece is currently hosting more than 50,000 refugees.
Many churches are offering food, clothing and other support, either directly to refugees or to aid groups assisting in the camps. Some of the camps host more than 10,000 refugees - equal to the population of an average Greek city.
The refugees have also arrived in a country in which 25 percent of the population is jobless.
The frustration of stillness
At the Souda camp, children play on the concrete outside the tents that house refugees who sleep side-by-side in rows. Clothes hang drying along the fences that divide the tents. Yet the children still smile, with small respites in music and poetry, and wry jokes about the current state of limbo.
Limbo is sitting still, doing nothing: that’s what breeds frustration among refugees who have skills that, in the former lives, provided a secure life for their families.
Mahmoud, a father from Gaza, Palestine, describes how he was a handyman in his homeland. “But I want a secure future for my baby,” he said. “I don’t have a home. I don’t have one cent. I want to go. I don’t want to sit here.”
His daughter, Sirin, says, simply: “I want to go.” His wife, Afifa: “Life here is very bad.”
The families wait, with courage, for what they need to live.
Muhammad, Asia and their children - Sonia, Fenrida, Anila, Emsuliman, Osman, Naila, Mermak, Naiab, Ibrahim, and Baktaran are waiting for the day when they can make a living, provide for themselves and rejoin a community.
“This is a very difficult life for my children,” said Asia, holding her youngest child on her lap. “We come only for human rights.”
Faith-based refugee workers – Witnessing conditions after EU-Turkey agreement (WCC press release of 21 April 2016)