We wish ASB was able to “step in” earlier

ASB team had an honor to be invited for lunch in a temporary home of a Syrian family, few days before they continued their journey to Germany and 10 months after knowing them and spending every day in Diavata refugee camp with them, working on a project funded by European Commission and implemented by ASB Office Greece. We have got the permission to share their impressions and thoughts with you, because, as father said: “There are some truths that should be shared”.

“No, you understood wrong, I am Mohamed, and my father is Abu Mohamed, which means >The Father of Mohamed<, given to fathers when they get the first son, out of respect”, said the 18 year old soon chef-to-be, who was making our lunch in front of the container in the refugee camp in Diavata, and I called him Abu Mohamed by mistake. His father continued: “My name is Nihad, but everyone calls me Abu Mohamed”.

I must say I liked the tradition, seemed like children were given respect as soon as they were born. But something was not clear to me: “And if father has more sons?”

Nisad: “He will still have the name of the oldest one. I have 7 daughters and two sons. Seven daughters were born first, so when the first son came, Mohamed, friends and family immediately started calling me by his name”.

Mohamed served us “shawirma”, Syrian specialty – Arabic pie with tasty stuffing made of tahini, garlic, roasted chicken filet and spices. Majida added homemade yoghurt and ariani. We continued our conversation over lunch.

Jelena: “Tell me more about your escape from Syria”.

Abu Mohamed: “We escaped from Idlib in Syria. Beautiful city, but normal life became impossible during  war. So we crossed the Turkish mountains, walking, and came to the sea. Although only 4 miles, that part of the trip was the most difficult. Imagine the situation where your only way of transportation is an inflammable boat that can carry 30 people maximum, and that in order to get on it you must pay 800 EURO per person. The smuggler told us it is a discounted price, but he didn’t tell us why. We gave money and got on boat, watching other people getting in. At the end, there were 60 of us in that small boat-that’s why the price was reduced from 1000 to 800 EURO per person. The smuggler trained one of the refugees for 10 min, explaining him how the boat works and how he will drive us all to the Greek waters. That man never sailed before, it was his first time on a boat, and he was supposed to get us safely across the sea. But we had no choice, if Turkish police found us, they would send us back to Syria, and we simply couldn’t go back. Every wave that lifted the boat was like a death coming for us”.

Jelena: “And what was the situation like when you finally arrived to Greece?”

Abu Mohamed: “We came to Greece on February 18th, 2016. This camp has been our home for more than a year now and we have seen the worst. At the beginning, Diavata camp had a population of few thousand people and the only shelters were tents. Two or three families were sleeping in the same tent, the conditions were unbearable. But we were told it was just a transitional period and families that came just two weeks before us had left the camp and proceeded to Europe within a week”.

Majida: “We were expecting to get the good news every day, so we felt we can bear any conditions for few more days, even sleeping under the open sky, and months were passing like that. I can’t tell what season was the worst. At winter we were freezing in tents without electricity or heating, humidity was cruel. In summer we had no shelter from the heat. In tent we were suffocating without fresh air and the temperatures were much higher than outside. But if we stayed out for 3h, we were like roasted chickens, red and dizzy”.

Jelena: “I suppose you are not planning to come back to Greece for holidays in the future?” ?

Majida: “I will come for sure. Regardless of the cruel conditions we faced in the camp, I liked the climate and the people. I will come for visit, without a doubt”.

Abu Mohamed: “In these difficult times, we made good friends. We are aware of the situation in the country, we know that Greek people struggle to make the ends meet, but still they found the strength and the will to help us as much as they could. We appreciate that. The history remembers, who knows what the future can bring. One day, Greek people may need our help and Syrians will never forget what Greece did for us”.

Jelena: “Have living conditions been improved with the entrance of ASB in the camp?”

Majida: “Significantly. We were saying between us that all we needed was for ASB to step in earlier”.

Abu Mohamed: “We also joke that we live in a 5 star hotel now. We heard that funds were given to different organizations, to help us live with more dignity, but we didn’t see many changes in our everyday living. Then, ASB brought the electricity to each tent, the heating after that. Kids continued attending school classes in the camp even during winter. Together with UNHCR, ASB brought containers to the camp. We still don’t have toilet and the kitchen of our own, but only the fact that we can close the door of our container and that we will not wake up swimming in the water when it rains makes the significant difference. We see that you are preparing other side of the camp to bring better containers, with toilet and kitchen. We wish we were able to have lived in that kind of container, but we are happy we will go to Germany”.

Jelena: “Where will you go? What are your plans for the future?”

Abu Mohamed: “We will go to Frankfurt. Our daughter is there with her family and our younger son, we will join them. We will be in the foreign country, but we do have plans for the future. Our sons will get a good education. Our daughters have already finished school, they are married and have their own lives. Our oldest daughter is in Syria, she is a doctor and she chose to stay and help as much as she can, doctors are needed there now. We will do our best to work and contribute, we are not so old also, I am 53 now. I owned the supermarket and taxi company in Syria, I am used to hard work. Syrians don’t trust the loans and we don’t like depending on social help. We believe in hard work and sweat until the success”.

Jelena: “I see the sewing machine here. Majida, your dress is beautiful”

Majida: “I made it myself. I don’t have access to good fabrics now, but I am trying my best with what I can found. Because of my body structure and because I got used to wearing skirts, I can’t wear the clothes we are getting from different organizations, so I make my own clothes. All the pillows that you sit on, I made, curtains as well. I am also helping other women in the camp, free of charge of course. I have taught my daughter this skill when we were in Syria, maybe it is something we will be able to do in Germany together”.

Abu Mohamed: “My wife is probably the only woman in the camp that never took any of the clothes that different organizations distributed. Majida was making her clothes in Syria and she continued doing that here. I was always supportive of the idea of my wife working, I believe women who want that – should have their own occupation, apart from family obligations”.

Jelena: “If situation in Syria was different, would you go back to live there?’

Abu Mohamed: “This very moment we would, we wouldn’t go to Germany. There is no place like home”.


“This document covers humanitarian aid activities implemented with the financial assistance of the European Union. The views expressed herein should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of the European Union, and the European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.”