By Avra Fiala/IFRC
Some years ago, two Palestinian-Syrian men – Salah from Damascus and Abu Nidal from Homs – met for the first time in Turkey after both had escaped the war in Syria to save their families. Ever since that chance meeting the two families have been inseparable.
Together, they underwent the perilous journey on a flimsy rubber dinghy from Turkey to Greece, landing in Greece just a few weeks before the country’s border with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was closed in March 2016.
Having made their way to the northern border by that time, the families then supported each other in surviving the difficult conditions in the makeshift camp of Idomeni for several months. Finally, in May, they were all transferred to the Softex/Kordelio camp in the industrial area of Thessaloniki, known to be the most notorious camp in Greece.
“Situation was very hard for us living in Idomeni but even so, living in tents in Softex was worse,” says Salah while Thana – his mother-in-law – prepares us coffee in their new home.
“People stole from each other, women were raped and the living conditions were horrible.”
The majority of migrants in Greece have spent more than a year in similarly difficult conditions. Tents or containers are not appropriate housing in the long-term, particularly during extremes of weather. The Red Cross believes that these are only interim solutions – safe, healthy, durable and adequate shelter options need to be found for all migrants in Greece.
Getting a new house
Salah and Abu Nidal with their families have been lucky in having been granted proper housing. They now live in the urban area of Thessaloniki in a cosy two floor apartment-house – Salah with his pregnant wife and mother-in-law and Abu Nidal with his his pregnant wife and their three children.
“We now have a stable and safe situation. I love the Greeks and Greece. I feel like a human being here, neighbours are greeting me every day even if I don’t understand what they say. I feel included,” says Salah.
A recent survey published by the Municipality of Athens indicates that the spirit of generosity and hospitality towards migrants prevails in Greece. Happy with his new situation, Salah would like stay in the country – just like many of those stranded in Greece – if only there was a future for him, his wife and their future child.
Abu Nidal and his family are also content while they await news about their application for relocation to another European country – a process which was delayed for several months as their official documents were stolen at the Softex camp.
“Our situation in the new house is 100 per cent better than it was when we were staying in tents in Softex,” says Abu Nidal.
“Our neighbours are very cultured and have good manners.”
“They talk to us all the time. We’re trying our best to get to know them and learn to communicate with them better,” Abu Nidal concludes.