They often had few possessions. But by the time they reached the Greek islands, these refugees had stories to tell...
Over the last year thousands of refugees and migrants made their way across to Europe from nations like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. They travelled across the Mediterranean, reaching Europe via the shores of Greek Islands: Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos, Leros and Rhodes. Tearfund worked with some of the organisations offering help to them once they reached Europe.
They also listened to these people’s stories and often discovered needs that went much further and deeper than basic provisions. Here are just two of the stories they heard.
Salim and Karam
Before they could move forwards, they had to deal with their tragic past.
Salim and his son Karam, from Syria, were in shock when staff first met them in Kos. They had survived a shipwreck that took the lives of Salim’s wife and daughter.
The family had spent 15 months in Turkey before attempting to cross the Aegean Sea to Greece. The smugglers did not provide them with life jackets; it meant that they could fit more people into the raft.
Two simple acts of remembrance left them better prepared for whatever lay ahead.
When the boat capsized, not far from the northern shore of Kos, Salim couldn’t save the rest of his family; he heard his daughter screaming the names of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, until she went silent – in Syria, Salim’s family were members of the Chaldean Catholic Church.
A translator in the group that provided services to the survivors suggested that they should find a priest to talk to Salim and Karam along with the other traumatised survivors of the capsizing. Father and son were still overcome with grief.
Finally a Greek Orthodox priest was found along with a translator. Father Michael visited Salim and Karam to offer consolation. First, he held a memorial service, then, a few days later a funeral for the victims.
After the funeral, Salim and Karam left Kos, escorted by relatives that had come for them from Sweden. Two simple acts of remembrance left them better prepared for whatever lay ahead.
The Teebi family
The family that stays together
When workers in Samos met the Teebi family, they saw a family who were determined to stick closely together. They stood in a huddle, hugging each other near.
As the family opened up it became clear why they so keen not to let each other out of their sight. The family had fled Palestine and had reached Turkey – the first part of their journey had been completed.
Then the unthinkable happened; the two parents and young son were separated from the family’s two daughters.
The mother and father took to the streets, shouting the girls’ names. They would stop strangers, asking if they had seen their two girls – silently panicking all the time.
The girls were very afraid but they made a wise decision; they stayed at the last place where they had been with their parents. That was ultimately the key to their reunion. The mother father and son found the girls sitting quietly on a pavement.
The family were unable to adequately describe the joy they felt at being reunited. None of the five had separated since then. Having reached Samos they weren’t about to leave each other’s adoring sight.
The family were given sleeping bags, along with food and hygiene kits. Their plan is to reach Germany and start a new life – whatever they do, they will be doing it together.
- For the church groups offering support to refugee families and individuals as they first reach shore in the Greek islands.
- For projects all over Europe offering assistance to refugees as they try to start a new life.
- For the people like like Salim and Karam who are dealing with the grief of loved ones they have lost – either in the conflicts they have fled or the treacherous journeys they have just undertaken.