Micheline Mbudsen has a soft voice and kind eyes. She says she is unsure her story is worth sharing and stops every now and then to feed her baby son Dimitrios, who was born in Greece. He and his older sister, Anastasia, are the centre of Micheline and her husband Emanuel’s world.
Although life in DR Congo was hard, the couple made ends meet by selling goods and sewing clothes. But a terrible conflict destroyed everything and brought tragedy to their lives.
“The loss of my first child was the hardest of all,” she says.
“No one can be ready for this.”
The family’s hardships continued, as they fled from DR Congo to Turkey and then to Greece. Crossing the Aegean Sea was traumatising, water kept filling their dinghy, and Micheline was terrified. She did not know how to swim.
Living on the island of Samos cramped in a camp next to thousands of strangers was the next big challenge.
Since they reached the Mozas site on mainland Greece two years ago, things have started to improve. The site is a 1,800 square meters ex-Mercedes car dealership, which was turned into a hosting facility for refugees in 2016. But settling down here proved to be difficult at first.
Several improvements were needed for the site to adequately host people. DRC, as the official Site Management Support actor, also worked hard on the latest upgrade over the last six months.
The site operation team worked quickly to accommodate people in a short time, managing to renovate all 32 accommodation spaces, as well as the interior of the overall facility. The renovation included fixing and painting walls, installing a new laminating layer on the floor of each room and a total upgrade of the electric power system. Residents were excited about these changes, and some refugees helped with the painting works.
“Life here has been difficult, but things have improved after DRC provided us with, wardrobes, kitchen shelves, table and chairs,” Micheline says, referring to the rooms’ renovation.
Solar panels for hot water were installed in all communal toilets, showers, and water points. The communal kitchen was also renovated and a new one was constructed to ensure all residents’ needs are covered. Ramps were installed to all administration and to specific living areas to improve access for the disabled.
“Life here is a lot better than on the island although our living space is very small. And even more since the DRC renovations,” says Mohammad Mahmoud*, another resident at the Mozas site.
Mohammad and his family left their destroyed house in Damascus, Syria, knowing that it would be a hard trip to safety.
The family walked for 25 hours after crossing the border to Turkey. They were robbed and threatened but they continued moving until they reached the Turkish town of Izmir. After several attempts, during one of which they almost drowned, they reached the Greek island of Chios where they spend nine months and finally moved to the Volos site a year ago.
The family was granted asylum and have already started planning their next steps including getting travel documentation. Until then, Mohammad is looking for a job and actively supports communal activities on site.
Found on the main road between the cities of Volos and Larissa, refugees at the Mozas site often feel isolated.
“It is difficult living here. I personally cannot find a job being so far away and having no one to leave the kids to,” Micheline says.
Agisilaos Vlamoulis, DRC Site Operation officer on the Mozas site
To support refugees who needed a boost in their social life as well, the DRC team turned the basement into a new communal space for refugee communities.
With support from the residents, the space was painted and renovated with new furniture, bookshelves, board games, a ping-pong table, and a football table. Apart from a hangout spot, the space also serves as a hub for different activities such as the organisation of integration workshops by DRC.
“A proper living space is vital for the well-being of refugees. They need it as much as anyone else,” says Agisilaos Vlamoulis, DRC Site Operation officer on site.
*The name of the person has been changed to ensure the protection of his identity.
In Greece, DRC constantly works to support the daily needs of refugees in eight mainland accommodation sites in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration, funded by the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund of the European Union and with the support of the Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs (DG Home).