Greece: helping restore dignity to refugees

Kai Hopkins • 20 June 2016

I stand counting with her, “1..2..3..4..5..6..7”. She stumbles on 8, but nails 9 and 10. She beams up at me with pride, her crumpled English notebook in her hands. I am in Cherso refugee camp in Northern Greece and the girl, whose name I never got, is from Syria. She explains that she is here with her mother and two sisters while her father is in Germany. Her wavy dark hair, with just a hint of red, frames her pretty smiling face. I think of my own beautiful 6-month-old daughter, and feel emotional.

I am in Greece with the International Rescue Committee to help them introduce a light-touch feedback system for migrants and refugees in four camps. As part of the IRC’s commitment to become more ‘client-focused’ in its programming, the goal is to find out whether they feel their needs and basic rights are met.

When I look at this young girl’s face, I know I can’t be of much help. I can’t unite her family, I can’t give her back the life she left behind, and I cannot restore her innocence. I imagine my daughter in a similar position. It breaks my heart. This girl’s fate lies in the hands of those who have the power– the uninterested governments of Europe and the unwieldy UN. This breaks my heart again.

The work we are doing in Greece is about restoring some dignity to the migrants – ensuring that while they are stuck in this purgatory, their basic human needs and rights are met. In regular surveys, we are asking whether people have the information they need and their views on specific services, such as the hygiene facilities in the camp – the latrines, the showers – and the safe spaces provided for women and girls, like the one I met. We are also asking if they feel treated with respect and if they feel comfortable voicing their concerns to NGO staff. Using their feedback, we are working with the IRC to take action on what they hear – asking without responding is not going to help anyone – and trying to create a simple management system which can digest and act quickly on the data.

The context is challenging and the process for applying for refugee status long and slow. People simply do not want to be here. The one thing on everyone’s mind is where will I go from here, and when? By working with IRC, collecting feedback and helping their teams use it, we hope to give people a say in how they live, even if they can’t decide where they live. In doing so, I hope to provide people like the girl I met with what we all deserve and what I want for my own little girl – some hope and dignity.

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