Like thousands of children fleeing war and conflict, Nadia arrived in Greece from Syria completely alone.
At just 13 years old, she and her family fled the conflict in their country that has killed hundreds of thousands of people. They were in search of safety in Europe when tragedy struck – the ship they were travelling in sunk off the coast of Greece, and her parents and her brother lost their lives.
Nadia survived the shipwreck. She found herself on the island of Chios, in a state of shock, feeling completely lost. With nowhere to go, she was placed in the island’s Reception and Identification Centre along with other people who had arrived in Greece. The camp is severely overcrowded.
When she was in the camp, and dealing with the recent loss of her family, Nadia couldn’t sleep at night and wouldn’t trust anyone. She often refused to eat. She was in a foreign country, completely alone, grieving the loss of her parents and brother, and didn’t speak the language. On top of all this, she needed to urgently decide what to do next.
Nadia desperately needed advice and support, and she didn’t know where to start. She needed to sort out her legal status in Europe, to find proper care in a safe and caring environment, and to access urgent medical treatment for psychosomatic symptoms. She also needed help to contact her uncle, who was living in Germany, and was her best hope for finding a loving home for the future. All of these needs would be complicated for even an adult to solve, and Nadia was just a child.
A helping hand
Help came in the form of Irini and her team, local people who are part of the Family for Every Child alliance in Greece. We work day-to-day with unaccompanied minors in Greece, just like Nadia, who desperately need help. Because our team is made up of local people who are dedicated to working with unaccompanied minors, we have the specialist knowledge, resources and links to make a positive impact, fast.
Irini first met Nadia at a local detention centre, and immediately took action. She sought to process Nadia’s Guardianship through written authorisation of the competent Public Prosecutor for Minors. With the help of an interpreter, she learnt about Nadia’s needs and gave her reassurance that she and her team would do their best to support her. Not long after that, Nadia moved into a special Transit Accommodation Facility for Unaccompanied Minors on the island, where she found a safe, friendly and caring temporary place to stay.
Irini supported Nadia throughout her time on Chios. She located Nadia’s uncle in Germany and helped to start the process of resolving her legal situation so she could be reunited with him and his family. She helped Nadia to access psychological and medical treatment.
Slowly but surely, Nadia began to socialise with other children and participate in activities organised by Irini’s colleagues. Staff discovered that she enjoyed cooking, and the recognition she got for the cookies she baked brought a smile back to her face. Nadia also demonstrated artistic talent, and shelter staff provided materials for painting and 3D creations. In preparation for going back to school, Nadia also attended afternoon support classes.
Starting to heal
Although Nadia’s immediate needs had been addressed, it would take time for Nadia’s legal situation to be resolved so she could join her uncle in Germany. Our team decided that the best way to support her in the meantime would be with the care of a foster family in Greece, who could give her a nurturing and supportive temporary home.
We then found a foster family in Athens to take care of Nadia. Irini accompanied her to the city, where she introduced her to Maria, her local colleague and Guardian, and Dimitra, her foster mother. Dimitra was living alone and worked as a teacher. Dimitra was a loving person, and her patience and understanding helped Nadia to start to heal. With the help of our professional team (a Guardian, psychologist and social worker), Nadia started to dream again of her future. In September she started school, and in the afternoons she attended our remedial education classes. Dimitra was also a valuable teacher for her, not only in Greek and Mathematics, but also in building a positive attitude towards the world.
A future with her uncle’s family
Although very difficult, all parts of the process went well, because they were handled by our experienced, specialised professionals – including interpreters – who cooperated with each other at all times.
Although Greece is burdened with complicated bureaucracy, over a number of years Irini’s colleagues have built a trusting and cooperative relationship with the public authorities and services in Greece. This cooperation – with Public Prosecutors for Minors, the Asylum Service, school headmasters and teachers, hospitals and local healthcare centres – led to a brighter future for Nadia.
Six months after moving in with Dimitra in Athens, Nadia’s application for family reunification was approved and she could finally travel to Germany to join her relatives. It was a difficult farewell to her foster mother, Dimitra, and the team, who had been her support for all that time. Today she is a happy student and still keeps in touch with Irini and her colleagues in Greece.