“If someone had told me two years ago that I would be where I am today, I wouldn’t believe it. […] I was literally fished out of the inferno by METAdrasi”. Eric* from the Congo, about two and a half years ago, found himself in the “jungle” of the refugee camp in Chios. But his life changed; he was transferred to METAdrasi’s Transit Accommodation Facility for Unaccompanied Minors, where for the first time in a long time he felt safe, he found a home.
Read the article published by Kathimerini, with Eric’s story, a teenager who, like so many other refugee children, gives his own fight in order to make his dreams come true.
*The name and the origin of the boy have been changed in order to protect his privacy.
Read the full article in English, below:
From the Chios refugee camp to studying in Paris: “I was literally fished out of hell”
Eric from the Congo is studying economics in France; 2.5 years ago, at the age of 16, he had just set foot in Chios, terrified and exhausted.
By Lina Giannarou
“If someone had told me two years ago that I would be where I am today, I wouldn’t believe it. Even now I don’t believe it.” Eric from the Congo is currently studying economics in France. About two and a half years ago, at the age of 16, he had just set foot wet, exhausted, and above all terrified, in Chios. “I left my country fearing for my life. I never expected that the dangers ahead of me on that journey would be much more terrible than home.” He describes the boat trip from Turkey to Greece as a nightmare from which he could not wake up.
“The traffickers had me at 16, to swim and push the boat. In that boat there were so many people with terror in their eyes. Screaming, crying, praying in every possible language. We were like hunted animals. Turkish police on one shore, Greek police on the other. Nowhere to escape, except the sea and the waves”. Mostly, without knowing what awaits you, if you will survive, who is your friend and who is your enemy.
He found himself in the hotspot of Chios. “There you can experience what the human animal is capable of. Hundreds of people living in a few hundred square meters. They fight each other for what all of you take for granted. For food, for a blanket. Washing. Even for a cloth. You live in fear, you sleep in fear and you walk in fear that somebody can attack you to get your food or even to get your place in the line for the toilet. Or for no reason at all. People who are hopeless, become capable of the worst crimes”.
Who knows what would have happened, where he would be today, if by an unexpected maneuver of luck, Eric was not discovered by METAdrasi. “I was literally fished out of the inferno by METAdrasi”, he says. He was transferred to the organisation’s Transit Accommodation Facility for Unaccompanied Minors on the island. There he felt safe, began to sleep in a regular bed, to eat homemade food. He learned Greek and improved the English he had learned on his own in the camp. His dream was to go back to school, to get a high school diploma. Thanks to the mobilization of the people of the organisation, Eric was admitted to a very good school in Athens.
He came to Athens and became the first minor to live in the semi-autonomous living apartments for unaccompanied teenagers, that METAdrasi had just opened for the first time in Greece. “I was anxious about him!” admits to “K” the president of METAdrasi and mentor of Eric Lora Pappa. “I would text him ‘Did you eat?’ Many nights after work, I would go, pick him up and eat together”.
At school, Eric excelled. “I found school difficult in the beginning, but another kind of difficult. I would go home and Mrs. Lora would call me to encourage me, coach me all the time. She was there telling me how proud she was of me. So I tried even harder”. He graduated with honors in June. “I had people celebrating with me. I had a family to take my graduation picture”.
His grades were good enough to get him to a university in France. “I finally feel proud of myself. I am no more rootless. I know I belong to the future. Every refugee can be a part of your country’s better future, if you work with them”. This year he wants to continue for a master’s degree. When Ms. Pappa asks him what he will do next, he replies: “I will return to Greece to help this country, the Greeks, because they have been through a lot and with the economic crisis what happened to them was unfair”.
“Dozens of children have been saved”
METAdrasi is the first organization in Greece that created transit accommodation facilities for unaccompanied children on the islands. The protection of children arriving in our country from the nets of traffickers was a first priority. The people of the organisation know it well: in the vast camps the children would be “lost”. The first facility was created in Lesvos, in December of 2015 with the support of The Hellenic Initiative and in the following year in Samos; and thanks to the help of the French Embassy another accommodation facility was created in Chios.
The term “transit accommodation facility” had its meaning. The goal was for the children not to stay there for more than a month and to be safely transferred to Accommodation Centers for Unaccompanied Minors of a permanent character throughout the Greece. During this period, they receive the care of specialised psychologists, social workers, educators and nurses, while they receive psychological and social support, medical care and legal advice.
“The problems started when in 2017 the management of the Ministry of Economy created, without any prior consultation, a guide to the operation of the accommodation facilities for unaccompanied minors, based on which they would be funded by the EU,” Lora Pappa, president of METAdrasi, told “K”. This guide, which is still in force despite the recommendations and proposals of various entities, stipulates that the accommodation facilities in order to be funded must be either for male or female children, accept children of certain age groups and not be of a transitional nature. “If we decided that the accommodation facilities were only for boys, we would condemn the girls to live in the dangerous and miserable conditions of the camps. And vice versa. It is not possible, especially at the borders, for children to be at risk and not be able to find a place directly in a facility because they are of a different age or gender. So, we said “No, thank you!” and decided to follow the difficult road. For three and a half years we struggled to find supporters and Institutions to help us. There were times when we had huge problems but in the end all this effort and the undeniable need for accommodation facilities at the borders was recognized. From June 2020 the Transit Accommodation Facilities in Chios and Samos, are supported by EEA Grants in the framework of the program “Asylum and Migration” (Addressing urgent needs for the reception and screening of Asylum Seekers and for the Accommodation of Vulnerable Groups), with SOL Consulting S.A as Fund Operator in partnership with HumanRights360.
Over the years, the length of stay in the transit accommodation facilities has increased due to the lack of places in the mainland centers. “We had to adapt”, says Lora Pappa. “Many children have been there for so long that they no longer want to leave. We have developed integration activities, Greek language lessons, remedial teaching. The children go to school and those that are going to be reunited with a member of their family in another EU country, we try to teach them the language of the country”, says Yiota, manager of the accommodation facilities of Samos and Chios.
What is impressive is the participation of children in cultural and sports events; with what “thirst” they learn the history of the place where they live, the traditions. “Unaccompanied children have become friends with their classmates; and their ‘home’ as we call the accommodation facility is always open for the children’s friends and their parents.” From December 2015 to October 2021, more than 295 unaccompanied children have been hosted in METAdrasi’s Transit Accommodation Facilities in the islands. “Dozens of children who would be in the camps and who knows what would have happened to them, have been saved. And for each one we try to make their dreams come true, like our child studying in France”, concludes Ms. Pappa.
METAdrasi’s Transit Accommodation Facilities in Chios and Samos are funded since June 2020 by EEA Grants in the framework of the Asylum and Migration programme.