Life as a refugee: Finding hope and community in Greece

Ayse had built a comfortable life with her husband and children in her native Turkey. A college-educated woman who worked as a teacher while taking care of her family, she has always been a source of strength and support for her family and friends, just as they likewise have been for her. Thanks to the hard work of Ayse and her husband, their family had a home, a car, and all of their basic needs taken care of.

Perhaps you can see yourself in Ayse’s story. Imagine, then, what it would be like to lose it all – overnight. To become isolated, fearful, to lose your support system. To lose hope.

“Everything changed,” she says. “I was in hiding for 5 years. I couldn’t see my family.”

Because of her political and moral beliefs and associations, Ayse was caught up in a wave of persecution by the government. Neither she nor her husband could go out in public without risking harassment or arrest. She had to ask her neighbor to pick up and drop off her son from school each day. When her daughter underwent a medical procedure, Ayse couldn’t sit next to her in the hospital.

After five years of life in the shadows, Ayse and her husband decided that their only remaining option was to leave behind all they had built. They would flee Turkey in the hopes of rebuilding their life elsewhere. He would go to the United Kingdom. She, along with their children, would go to Greece.

From the moment the government began to arrest people like her, Ayse could only trust her closest family members for support. Now, as she crossed the border from Turkey to Greece, an unfamiliar country where she knew no one and could not speak the language, this was even more true. For refugees escaping desperate circumstances, the health and safety of oneself and one’s children come first; everything else, including forming community bonds, is secondary. It can be a lonely existence.

When I came here, I had nothing except for me and my children,” she says. “We lost everything.” 

But after arriving, Ayse soon discovered that there are people and organizations whose mission is to help people like her. And she discovered the community and support network that had been absent in her life for more than five years.

Ayse and her children are some of the thousands of people who have been helped by Embrace Relief’s Refugee Relief program in Greece over the past several years. Thanks to the generous support of our donors, refugees in our program have been provided with emergency housing and rent assistance, food, clothing, education, and other necessities. Taken together, Embrace Relief’s greatest gift has been the gift of hope, as our program has lifted thousands of people out of dire circumstances and given them the time, safety, and stability they need to restart their lives.

“Living in Greece is hard, you need money to do everything – to pay rent, pay bills, buy clothes for your children,” Ayse says. “And these organizations [like Embrace Relief] are helping us in every way. Thanks to them, we can pay our rent and bills, and they also send food packages which are really important for us. Even small chocolates are not hard to buy, but it means so much to us and gives us so much happiness, especially our children. I would like to thank all of the people who support [us].”

Ayse was one of the nearly two dozen refugees we met during Embrace Relief’s most recent journey to Greece. Speaking with us, they described the hardships they endured in their old lives, the risks they took in escaping those hardships, and the love, hope and faith that guided them through their journeys. Their powerful, emotional stories are reminders that we are all human. And their stories deserve to be told.

Support from ‘a global village’

The refugees who benefit from Embrace Relief’s program come from different walks of life, different geographical areas, different socioeconomic backgrounds. Some are children, some are older; some are men, others women. But they share some key values and experiences: they are all well-meaning, hard-working people who had known success in their lives. And they all decided independently to seek their freedom elsewhere. Even though most refugees in our program are only in Greece temporarily on their way to a permanent home, these shared experiences foster a strong sense of community – and hope.

“Being with my friends [that I’ve met in Greece] gives me hope,” Ayse says. “It is like when a freshman goes to university, sophomores support them because they already know how to handle things. Like this, we have friends who have gone before us, and they help and support us. Their support, it makes things easier.

Ayse is very candid about the struggles of everyday life as a refugee in Greece. Her children ask her when they can go back home to visit their grandparents, and they miss their classmates back in Turkey. She struggles with being separated from her husband, who remains in the UK awaiting the completion of paperwork that will allow the family to be together again. Her unfamiliarity with Greek, her need as a single mother to take care of her children, and high unemployment rates in the country have made it difficult to find work and generate income.

But she and her children are safer in Greece than they were before. And Ayse is coming to appreciate the new community she finds herself in – one that, thanks to organizations like Embrace Relief, transcends national boundaries.

“I am from a city that borders Greece, but I never had the opportunity to come and see Greece,” Ayse says. “Now, the world is like a global village. I have friends in countries all around the world, friends in Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, and even you!”

“I wish for a new world like this, a peaceful and kind one where everyone has a good life in a good world.”