Refugee Stories from Greece- Macedonia Border: A Denial of Humanity

CO-AUTHORS:

Hana Abu Hassan: Dr Abu-Hassan works in the UK and Jordan. In Jordan, her country of origin, she holds an academic post at the School of Medicine, University of Jordan, where she conducts research and teaches both medical students and Family Medicine residents. She also works at a Family Medicine clinic based at Jordan University Hospital which covers patients in the capital Amman and those commuting for healthcare to Amman from the outskirts or other rural areas. In the UK, she is a self-employed GP and works between different GP surgeries in London, Hampshire and Jersey. In addition to her work at the University of Jordan and in the UK, Dr Abu-Hassan works with refugee populations pro bono in both Jordan and Greece. [hana.hani@gmail.com]

Lucy Waterfield: Lucy is a UK trained doctor with an MBBS from University College London and three years post-graduate experience working in the NHS. With a Diploma in Medical Care of Catastrophes (refugee health focus) as well as a Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Dr. Waterfield has taken time out of training to work with the SAMS Global Response in Greece. [lucywaterfield@me.com]

Those of us working on the ground with Syrian refugees understand that their stories remain with us long after we hear them. Now thousands of miles away, the harrowing stories of adversity we heard last week from Syrian refugees while on a medical mission with the Syrian American Medical Society Foundation on the border of Greece and Macedonia repeat uninterruptedly in our minds.

Shireen, 7 years old, lost both parents while crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Lesvos. Before she and her family made the journey, Shireen was told to wait for her parents on the shore in case they got separated. When rescue workers found her, she was speaking to her teddy bear, Luna, about her parents. She refused to leave the shore for 5 days, believing her parents were still coming. "Daddy and mommy are just swimming slowly, Luna. I am going to see them again very soon." Today, she is one of thousands of unaccompanied minors in Greece, some of whom refuse to believe that their parents have died.

Mohammad, 35 years old, was a nurse in Syria before he escaped to Greece. Last week, he, his wife, and his 1-year-old girl left one of the camps on the Greece-Macedonia border to be smuggled into Macedonia. Several miles away from there, police officers heard the daughter's cry and sent the family back to the camp. Next week, Mohammad is paying to be smuggled in the opposite direction: back to Turkey. "All Syrian refugees here have died several times already. We died when we left our home and our families in Syria. We died when we literally crossed the world on our feet to get to Turkey. We died on the way to Lesvos. The worst death of all, however, is the slow one experienced right now in this camp- where we are expected to merely eat and sleep without any understanding of what will happen to us tomorrow. I would rather go back to war in Syria than be treated like this in Greece."

Dalal, 23 years old, lives with her husband in a camp and is active on social media. "I saw on Facebook that people are talking about an animal killed somewhere in the world and how that's been one of the most important pieces of news. I think if we were animals, the world would care more about us. Because as humans, the world has demonstrated over and over again that we do not matter. Europeans do not want us. We are not worthy enough to be humans in Europe."

There are close to 57,000 refugees in Greece of whom a proportion live near the border of Macedonia. The misconception is that these refugees were able to escape harrowing adversity, war, and persecution to achieve stability and peace in Greece. That said, Syrians on the border reiterate that the worst part of the journey thus far has been their experience in Greece. Denied sufficient medical and psychological attention, denied sufficient amounts of food after long days of fasting Ramadan, denied opportunities for jobs and education, refugees stuck on the border of Greece and Macedonia have been denied basic human rights.

The Greek government is currently stretched far too thin. With a lack of resources, personnel, and a very limited budget, they are doing what they can with what they have to help Syrian refugees. The responsibility then falls on us, citizens of affluent nations, to pressure our governments to offer more financial support to help enhance the conditions of these camps. The responsibility falls on us to ensure Shireen, Mohammad, and Dalal are not further denied their humanity.