From Syria and Iraq to Greece: Refugee women in Koutsochero site stay strong

Refugee and migrant women often face particularly difficult obstacles but continue to amaze the world with their strength as the primary caregivers to their children. While often being a single parent or the only parent on the move with the children, they hold major responsibilities in providing for their families and are the lifeblood of their communities.


Approximately 23,5% of those who arrived in Greece in 2018 up to now are women. Many of them survived extraordinary hardships, fleeing war and persecution. Displaced women, more often than men, encounter discrimination, infringement of their rights, and sexual violence during their difficult journeys.


With support of the European Commission's department for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), the Danish Refugee Council in Greece runs safe spaces for women (WSS) in mainland hosting sites, where they can spend their time together in creative ways. Seven women who participate at the WSS in the Koutsochero site, recently took part in a photography contest where they cooked and took photographs. In one of the WSS meetings they agreed to meet all together again and share valuable fragments of their past and present experiences.  


Roula lives in Koutsochero with her son, her husband is in Germany but supports her a lot. She was the winner of the photography cooking contest the women took part in. “Winning felt very good,” she says, “and it was all thanks to my mother who taught me how to cook, and I could take photos of that, of cooking with love!” she explains. Roula did not expect to win, and at the beginning she wasn’t sure whether she would participate. “DRC staff encouraged me to take part, thank you for that. I miss having opportunities to learn and try out new things.” She believes it is important for women to gain their strength from within and be themselves. “Women are better to explore and find out what they can don on their own,” she says.  


Anaita also believes that the best way to move on is to find her inner strength. Sozan strongly believes that her inner strength is the greatest of all and she owes it to her loved husband and children. She encourages all women “to follow their own wishes and not what others expect from them.” They have both been through traumatizing experiences in the past. For them, the WSS is more than a place to meet, it is a refuge, and the future can be hopeful. Anaita wishes for a happy life with her husband and children. Sozan wants the same for her family and would also like to go back to work. She was a tailor in Iraq, and used to make wedding dresses, she would like an opportunity to work again.

Greecephotostory5Midia is Kurdish. She used to live in Syria with her husband and daughter, but they had to flee because of the catastrophic war. Midia enjoys the WSS activities such as sewing, knitting, jewellery making, cooking or taking part in the recent cooking photography contest. But she is also eager to move on. “It is important to speed up the asylum procedures in Greece,” she says. “We want to pursue our future, to build a better life! Sometimes, it is easy to lose hope staying in a site but at least there are some initiatives about women,” she points out. Midia wants to work as a hairdresser again, a job that she loves. “I would like to start my own place here and improve my skills,” she says.


Berivan is also Kurdish and left Syria due to the war. Her four daughters, two of them are one year old and twins, are her greatest concern. “A refugee hosting site is not the best place to raise children as you can imagine. I often feel I cannot give them what they need. It is out of my hands and that is my greatest challenge,” she explains. “But my children keep me going. I want to see them joining school and to catch up [with classes], this is what gives me hope and I can feel I have become more resilient because of them,” she adds.


Almaz shares Berivan’s concerns. “I feel that my role as a mother is affected being a refugee“ she says, “my sons used to be university students in Syria but they are out of the educational system now. They need my support, but it can be difficult because there are times, I also need support myself,” she adds. Almaz takes part in many activities at the WSS and believes that “psychological support is very important, it comes before material or economic support. For those who have been through persecution and discrimination, a place like this is important.” She speaks from experience due to her religion but despite the difficulties she has faced, she is one of the most active women at the WSS. “The contest was also a great opportunity for us to learn about photography and leave this bubble we live in and stop being closed to ourselves. It was something to look forward to. I am thankful for that and I hope to learn more because I like to photograph landscapes,” she says.  


Aslem left Kobani, in Syria with her husband and three daughters before they had the chance to open their electrical shop. While they were crossing the Aegean Sea in a cold night she was terrified that her daughters would fall in the water. Living in Koutsochero can be difficult for the family but she has grown stronger from the hardships and appreciates everything new around her. “Coming here allowed me to see the world. I discovered new things, I discovered what I wanted myself. Now I want a better life for me and for my children and this will take time. I want to learn Greek and English, I want to drive a car and I want the same for my daughters,” she says.