Example10 Example11 MCH LSE Refuge City ATH Refugee Info 003
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People Example10

Get to know the newcomers, activists and volunteers we met in Athens, Berlin and London, as they share their personal experiences of refuge, welcome and the digital city.

Tareq family

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Abu Tareq, Umm Tareq, Amneh and Tareq*
Syntagma, Athens, November 2018

First, our village was bombed by America. Then it was occupied by ISIS. Then came the Shia militias, backed by Iran — they burned everything down, our homes, our farmland and orchards. We have nothing left.

The moment we get our papers, I will take my family to the airport and we'll go somewhere other than Athens. I have relatives in Germany, but every day you hear more stories about racism and discrimination against refugees there. We dream of going to the Netherlands. I’ve heard good things about Dutch people, and that they have good farmland and healthcare. Both of us grew up raising cows, eating and drinking from what we grew and cared for. It’s what we know how to do. And at the end of the day, we’re not looking for a place for more handouts. We want a place that will welcome us, where people are kind. Where I will be able to live among its people, work, and support myself and my family.


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We left the camp in Kurdistan in November 2016. I found a smuggler who took us into Turkey for 800 dollars and we stayed there for 3 months, before deciding to leave. There was a lot of exploitation there, they would pay you 10 liras (2 euros) instead of the 100 they would pay a Turkish citizen for the same day’s labour. My wife sold a pair of gold earrings her father had given her and we paid another smuggler to take us to Greece. In Izmir we waited for 15 days for an opportunity to cross. At this point we had nothing at all. I had to go to the smuggler and beg for some money back just so we could eat.


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On the day we crossed, we attempted it three times. I still remember it clearly. It was raining heavily and my daughter was drenched. Being in the sea was torture. The Turkish coast guard actually tried to drown us. They drove close to us in speed boats, causing waves and trying to topple us over. They sent out a net that attached itself to the boat so we couldn’t move. We were stuck, right there in the middle of the sea. That’s how they push you back to the border. But then a military ship came, the EU’s NATO ship, and saved us all. It brought us to Mytilene on Lesbos island. That was in March 2017.


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We like this park. There is a park that is closer to where we live, but we barely go there. It’s unsafe. There are always people drinking or taking drugs there. If Greece had a better level of security, if the streets were safer, and I had a chance to get a job, I would be happy to live here. You know the weather here is good, it has seasons like Iraq: winter, spring, summer, autumn.


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I cry nearly every other day. I think of all that has happened to us and I feel weak. But I believe in God, and I am grateful for my children. They bring so much joy to our lives. — Umm Tareq

I have trouble sleeping, it’s insomnia. I also have nothing to wake up for. It’s not like when you wake up, go to work and come back in the evening tired so you go to bed. When you have nothing to do all day, that cycle is disrupted. It’s not like I enjoy being on my phone all night long, I am doing nothing really, checking Facebook and what my family is posting. The hours pass like that until I fall asleep. — Abu Tareq

(connection, loss)

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Amneh is a very sociable child. We will be in the park and all of a sudden we see her playing with other children. But we don’t have any friends here. It’s difficult to make friends. Once, we were struggling with the stroller and the children, and a woman who lived in our neighbourhood helped us get on the bus. We got off at the same bus stop so we invited her in for a cup of tea. Then, she showed up a week later with toys for the children.


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Having a mobile phone and internet connectivity is so crucial. My mother has a heart condition and I call her on a daily basis. They have WiFi in the refugee camp where she lives in Iraq. But my wife’s family live in a town with no internet and it’s too expensive to call the landline. She hasn’t spoken to her family in over six months. The Internet is expensive here — 5MB costs 10 Euros. There used to be an app for free access, but this has been stopped. And in Athens, you need the Internet for everything, it’s crucial for surviving here — just like food. Our upstairs neighbour gave us his password to use. I insisted on paying him but he didn’t accept. He’s a very kind man.

(communication rights, Athens)

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When the Americans came to Iraq, they built a military base close to our village and it had a KFC. We tried it once and since then, I always wanted to have it again. When we first came to Athens, we decided to treat ourselves one day and eat out, so I searched for KFC hoping there would be one. Google Maps showed one right next to us in Syntagma Square. We shared a meal and we were so happy! We don’t eat out so we’ve only been there once, and today, with you, is our second time.

(digital lives)

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My father’s farm used to have the best grapes and the best raisins. My family used to collect them and dry them ourselves. We would lay them on the blankets in the sun and select them one by one. People would come from other cities and pay more than the market price. I remember Abu Tareq’s older brother, he used to love our raisins so much. He’d always ask me for some to put in his pockets.


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Our asylum claim has already been accepted but we’ve been waiting for our papers and our ID cards for a long time. They release papers for one family per week maybe, it’s ridiculous. With at least 70,000 refugees here, it will take decades to clear through. We can’t receive the medical treatment we need here, and we can’t move on to another place. They just have us trapped. And even at the Department for Immigration you are told, ‘if you don’t like it, why are you here?’ How do you go back to your country if it’s ravaged by war? I have no house there, not anymore. My family there is in a camp because our houses were burnt down to ash. I wouldn’t have come here if I had a choice. Why would I put my family through so much danger, crossing the sea, if there was a choice?

(hostility, Athens)

Update June 2020 — You know, everything is so slow, but it's step by step. We are now living in a village in East Germany, 1.5 hours from Berlin. Our residency is for just one year and we don't know if we will stay here, but at least we have relatives in Berlin. We met and went to Neukolln to smoke shisha! Seeing this story and reading the quotations from when we were in Greece is a very mixed bag of emotions. We feel we are still in movement, so the story is not quite finished.

* Names are pseudonyms. Abu and Umm mean “father of” and “mother of” in Arabic.

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