Helping women migrants regain their sense of dignity

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In response to freezing winter conditions in Greece, Oxfam and our partners have moved hundreds of people from inadequate sites to safe and dignified accommodation.

Entering one of the hotels, I was not sure what I would encounter. Sadia* was the first person I met at the entrance but I didn’t immediately recognize her. I was on leave from Oxfam’s team only for some days but this is not an excuse to forget people - specifically, people with whom you are so connected with, after so many months of everyday contact.

In response to the heavy winter conditions in Epirus, Greece, Oxfam helped move over 300 people from inadequate sites to dignified accommodation, including hotels, with the support of the Greek Government and the funding of the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO). Sadia was among them.

Overcoming a horrific journey

Though she approached me with such a big smile and ease about her, it was only after some minutes that I realized who she was.

The same woman who I had met some days earlier struggling to keep calm in the dark and rain in the refugee camp, where she spent more than eight difficult months in precarious conditions.

The same woman who looked on helplessly while the men in the camp were arguing over the relocation of tents and containers, trying to force her and her children to move towards the back of the “Afghan block”, in one of the less lighted areas, away from the bathrooms.

Oxfam moved hundreds of people from inadequate sites to safe and dignified accommodation, Epirus, Greece. Photo: Angelos Sioulas/Oxfam

Oxfam moved hundreds of people from inadequate sites to safe and dignified accommodation, Epirus, Greece. Photo: Angelos Sioulas/Oxfam

When we met at the hotel where Sadia had been hosted over the last several weeks, she didn’t need to tell me how she was doing. I could tell just by looking at her face that she had regained her sense of dignity by living in better conditions. It had brought back some of her youthfulness that she had lost over the last several months.

I know that the last year of her life had been full of so many horrifying events: her journey from her country of origin Afghanistan through Iran and Turkey, mainly on foot and then across the Mediterranean Sea on a plastic life raft, nearly drowning along the way; the cold and wet winter nights living in a tent with her family; the tensions in the camp due to the poor living conditions and the frustration of others around her as they wait month after month for the results of their asylum cases.

Hope for the future

Although I am certain that Sadia is still anxious about her future and that of her family’s as they continue to wait on their asylum case, I am certain - by the way she carries herself now -  that she is in a better place both physically and emotionally. It is incredible the difference that can be seen in her: she looks years younger, all from having access to the most basic things: a warm bed, a toilet, a shower, and a lock on her door.

These small things that we take for granted in our everyday lives have completely altered Sadia's outlook and encourage her to be strong for the next steps in her life.

Note: Oxfam in Greece advocates for out-of-site accommodation. We welcome the achievement of the Government of Greece to improve living conditions by supporting the move to hotels during the winter months and we applaud ECHO’s support for funding out-of-site accommodation. In parallel, we call on them to pursue this further, permanently and for all migrants, including refugees, irrespective of nationality.

Since January 2015 more than one million women and men fleeing war, persecution, natural disasters and poverty entered or passed through Greece in search of safety and a better life in Europe. We started our operations in Greece in October 2015 as the humanitarian situation for people arriving irregularly from Turkey rapidly worsened, providing clean water, sanitation, food and non-food items. Working with partners, we are currently providing humanitarian assistance in Athens, Lesbos and the Epirus region of North-West Greece.

*Name changed to protect identity.

What you can do now

Mitra JalaliThe entry posted by Mitra Jalali, Community Engagement Officer/Protection Focal Point, Oxfam in Greece, on 27 January 2017.

Photos by Angelos Sioulas/Oxfam:

(Top) Women feel safe and are happy to cooperate with the community engagement team in Greece.