“Living inside a camp is one of the hardest things I have ever experienced,” 22-year-old Amene from Afghanistan writes.
At this moment, 65 million men, women and children have been forcibly displaced from their homes. That’s the Australian population almost three times over.
Because of circumstances entirely outside their control, these people have fled the place where they grew up. The parks they played in. They’ve left pets and neighbours and the trees they climbed as kids. They’ve left their schools and their workplaces.
They’ve been torn away from the streets that laid the foundations for their lives, the smells that stored their memories, and the walls that offered their lives structure and security.
Their place in the world, the pocket just for them, has effectively disappeared.
How can we even begin to imagine?
CARE decided to embark on a photography project, in an effort to show rather than tell the refugee experience.
Two refugee women and two girls were taught how to use a camera and asked to document their daily lives inside Elliniko refugee camp for a week. What they captured is remarkable.
Here are their stories.
Amene – 22 years old from Afghanistan
“I used to work as a tailor in Iran and that’s where I met my husband. There, we faced many restrictions. As Afghan refugees, we were second class citizens and we couldn’t get married so we decided to flee to Europe for a better life…
Living inside a camp is one of the hardest things I have ever experienced. I used to live in Elliniko camp in Athens.
My emotions about the time I have spent there are mixed. On the one hand, it is similar to a small village. Sometimes it is very cold, sometimes it is very hot. Now that spring is here, there are beautiful flowers growing in between the tents.
Life was OK for me. I focused on the fact that I had survived and I felt safe. I had escaped war so nothing could stop me now.
These thoughts went away with time. Yes, I could manage life in the camp. But many children and mothers could not.
I am sad for all the children living in camps who want to play and who, unconsciously, keep trying to be children. They run around with ripped shoes or barefoot, they play with anything they can find.
They replace balls with stones and throw them to each other to play.
They use the big dirt hills in the camp, leftovers from unfinished construction work, as playground slides. They tie clothes on pillars or wherever they can to build swings.
I am sad for all those mothers who have to wait for more than two hours to have a hot shower and for those who can’t wash or dry their babies’ clothes.
And lastly, I am sad for all the parents who feel exhausted and depressed and have given up on their hopes and dreams.
Those who leave their children running around barefoot playing with dangerous 'toys'. I don’t blame them; they are just exhausted."
Leila – 22 years old from Afghanistan.
“Back home in Afghanistan, I was a student but when the war started we couldn’t go to school anymore, and girls had to stay inside the house all day.
We fled to Iran but there we faced new problems. Afghan refugees were not welcomed. We were not allowed to obtain official registration in the country and we lived in fear of getting deported so my family decided to continue our journey and try to reach Germany.
We had learned that in Germany the refugees are free. They can study and work, that they will not face the same problems that we faced when we first arrived in Iran.
The border closures, however, have now left us stuck in Greece.
We live in Elliniko Camp, but our life is not easy. It is not peaceful here, the men fight and there is a lot of frustration about our future. If I am lucky enough, I will make it to Germany eventually.
The living conditions are hard. I sleep with my family in a tent. Sharing one tent with five persons is difficult. You are never alone and do not have much space.
My favourite time of the day is when the sun goes down. The colors of the sky make me feel a bit blue but at the same time calm. Every evening I get this feeling. It is like a deep sadness."
Rabia – 16 years old from Afghanistan, born in Iran.
“I am Afghan, but I was born in Iran. Back there, I could not go to school but have been working in a doctor’s office since the age of 14. When the Iranian government started sending Afghan refugee men to fight in Syria, we knew we had to leave.
My brother had already been approached by them and we didn’t want him to go to the war.
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Here in Greece, I live in Elliniko camp and I can go to school every day. When I have time I teach the other girls in the camp how to draw and paint. I would like to become an artist in the future. Or a nurse.
And I am sure, when I am reunited with my brother and sister in Germany, I will be able to fulfil my dreams.
Hundreds of refugees live in this camp and we are always looking for a good excuse to get out of this place that feels like prison."
Lilly – 16 years old from Afghanistan, born in Iran.
"I love long walks by the sea when the sun goes down. A sunset pictures my life perfectly. It has a little bit of light and a little bit of darkness. Just like my life. It is a bit sweet and a bit bitter. Every sunset makes me think about my life now and how I think it will always be.
On my way back I saw a fisherman standing all by himself on the waterfront. And I was wondering if he felt as lonely as I did. Maybe he comes here when the sun goes down to feel better. Seeking solace in the sea and the colours of the sky.
There are many stories for people who feel lonely. My favorite one is “The Little Match Girl”. Every time the little girl is sad, she lights a match. In the warm glowing flame she sees lovely visions. I feel like her. Sometimes I have lovely visions for my future.
There is a lot of sadness around me but I try to have patience and hope that someday, everything will be better. That all of this will be over. I am not sure, but this is what I wish."
There seems to be two words that pervade the stories of these women and girls.
The first is loneliness.
And the second, unequivocally, is hope.
Here is what we can do to help:
You can donate to CARE Australia.
You can also write to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s office, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and your local MP, letting them know that you want to live in a compassionate nation that welcomes people who are fleeing violence and persecution.
This story is part of the Photography Project “Through Her Eyes” implemented by CARE Greece, which aimed at giving you the opportunity to view urban life for refugee women and girls in Greece through their eyes. Five women and girls provide unique and personal insights into their daily lives through their photos. Their names have been changed for protection reasons. CARE provides emergency assistance to refugees stranded in Greece including cash, protection and accommodation. The project is funded by the European Commission.