A Mother’s Love

A Mother’s Love

 Anna Pantelia / Save the Children

Since January 2015 more than 1 million people have arrived in Greece. 90% are from the world’s top-10 refugee producing countries.

Save the Children is on the ground in Europe helping children and families of the refugee crisis by distributing aid items like cooked meals, emergency shelters, and hygiene kits as well as providing child-friendly spaces where children can play, release stress and talk about their experience with trained emergency staff. Learn more about our response.

Many mothers — no matter where they are in the world — will do almost anything to give their children the best chance at life. Meet three incredibly strong mothers who have sold all their worldly possessions, crossed continents and risked their lives to find safety and security for their children in Europe, only to find themselves stranded in Greece with little hope for the future:

Esfir with her twin daughters as Elleniko Stadium in Athens, Greece. Photo: Anna Pantelia/Save the Children

Esfir* holds her back and sways a little, shifting her weight from foot-to-foot. Her belly looms out in front of her: she is eight months pregnant. She has been living with her four children in an abandoned stadium in Athens for the past two months. The family sleep in the halls of the stadium with other families wedged beside them. They have nothing but a blanket between their bodies and the hard floor. Outside the sun beats down on a sea of concrete rimmed with barbed wire fences. Giant tents have been erected to cater for the overflow of people who cannot fit in the stadium.

More than 54,000 refugees and migrants are currently stranded in Greece. Since the borders with the Balkan countries shut in early March 2016, many families have been languishing in deplorable conditions in official and unofficial camps across the country with very little information about what will become of them.

Esfir and her family’s story is harrowing. She used to be a teacher in Afghanistan until her family was attacked. “I ran a group for women making and selling fabrics and textiles in Afghanistan. But my husband was killed by an armed group four months ago,” she explains sadly.

“Then they started approaching me to collaborate with them to serve their interests in the future. I didn’t want that, I rejected the offer. I have four children, so I decided to leave. We had already lost my husband. I couldn’t risk losing more of my family.”

Salma with her daughter Laila* at Kara Tepe camp in Lesvos. Photo: Sacha Myers/Save the Children

Salma* also fled her home country to save her three children. Their town in Syria was divided between two warring forces. They couldn’t get enough food to eat and her oldest son was being forced to become a fighter. They sold their house for USD $6,000 — a tenth of its actual value — and made the journey to Europe. They are now living in a camp on the Greek island of Lesvos.

“The boat trip was the worst experience of my life,” Salma says. “After one and a half hours the engine stopped. I thought that was it, that it was the end. I took my daughter and rocked her to sleep — because I didn’t want her to know that death was coming, and to see the situation she was going to die in.”

They managed to survive, paddling the last few hundred meters to the beach with their hands. “It was like a dream when we saw the beach,” Salma says with a small smile. “My son said to me, ‘I think we are safe now.’ He put his hand in the sea just to make sure he was alive.

“The most important thing for me is that we are safe here. We can sleep in the night and not worry about the bombs.”

Haya* washes her clothes outside her tent in Nea Kavala in northern Greece. Photo: Anna Pantelia/Save the Children

Unlike Salma and Esfir, Haya* made the journey to Greece all on her own — she’s desperately trying to reach her son in Germany. Haya is staying at a camp in northern Greece where people are still hoping the borders will open. People have been living in a quagmire of mud for months in basic tents or out in the open. Some mothers stay awake for days as there is not enough space in the tent for the whole family to sleep. Families try to cook what they can on small fires while children play in the mounting piles of rubbish.

Before she arrived in Greece, Haya was a journalist covering the atrocities of armed groups in Iraq. “It was my dream to become a journalist. My family supported my decision. There are many female journalists in Iraq but it’s not easy to be one,” she says. But one day she got a letter threatening her family. “I told my 17-year-old son to leave Iraq the moment I received the letter but I tried to stay. I stayed until they burnt my house. I didn’t have any choice but to leave.” Haya hopes she can go to Germany soon so she can find her son and give him the best chance to re-start his life. “I would do any job to support my son but I would really like to continue being a journalist. This was my dream since I was a little girl,” she says.

Haya* shows photos of her destroyed house that was set on fire by an armed group in Iraq. Photo: Anna Pantelia/Save the Children

Out of all the refugees and migrants currently stranded in Greece, women and children traveling alone are the most at risk. Daily life — eating, sleeping accessing toilets and showers and keeping their children safe — can be a constant struggle and many are vulnerable to exploitation, violence and abuse.

Save the Children is working across Greece providing vital protection and support for these women and children.
We run Child-Friendly Spaces where children can learn, play and access psycho-social support if needed, and mother and baby areas where mothers can breastfeed in private, wash their babies, and access information about nutrition and complimentary feeding. For mothers who cannot breastfeed, we provide a detailed assessment of the mother and baby and then supply infant formula in a safe and clean environment. We also support shelters for children traveling alone to ensure they have a safe place to live, receive psycho-social support and access education. If generous people like you support our relief efforts, then we can protect and provide for more children and families