“It’s so hard to wait. All of us are waiting.” Razia* looked at me with her weary brown eyes, not expecting me to do anything, but happy to speak English and share her story. She was one of many Afghans, Syrians, Iranians, and Iraqis I met this past week at refugee centres and camps in and around Athens. Most of them are waiting for their papers to move on and settle into another country.
Mustafa, his wife, and their two daughters, came to Athens some months ago from Afghanistan as well. He showed me photos and video of their journey on his phone. Afghanistan to Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and now Greece. I wondered how they were alive after seeing the cold, barren land they traveled through. “Our youngest daughter almost died from the cold on the way here, but we came so our children could have a better future.”
Ahmad and his family, from Iran, were volunteering at one of the care centres. “I have been to Canada to present at conferences. I have a PhD in meat science. Now, I’m a refugee.”
Pari*, holding nearly 2 year old Fatima, welcomed us into her small, white tent with a smiling face. She and her husband, Hassam*, had been staying there for the past seven months. I asked if they had family staying in the camp. She said they were all in Afghanistan. “Can they come visit you?” I asked. “No, it is impossible,” she replied, sadly. Then I heard why. Many marriages in Afghanistan are arranged by the parents, but they married for love. Pari comes from a rich family, and Hassam from a poor family. Hassam’s family didn’t agree with his choice, and were trying to kill him. They were still not completely safe, even in this camp thousands of miles away. When I asked if they would move on to another country, like most of the other families hope to do, Pari told me it was too expensive. What will their future be like, living in this tiny tent?
This is just a glimpse into the lives of many who have fled their homes because of political instability, terrorism, family threats, and a host of other reasons. Their lives are incredibly difficult, and their futures uncertain, but their past was enough for them to feel like they had no choice but to leave. I have no idea what that is like. I can’t wrap my mind around what they think, feel, and experience each day. I found myself wishing that I could escape. That I hadn’t even come. It was so much easier when they were ‘just’ nameless people on the news. I cried and I prayed. I asked God why. I still don’t have those answers, but I have experienced a small piece of God’s heart for the poor and oppressed.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – Psalm 46:1
Now, I’m on my way home, and although there’s a sense of relief, there’s also a twinge of guilt. I have a home. I realize the privilege I have that I can choose how much of the suffering in the world I want to see. I can turn off the news, but for Razia, Mustafa, Ahmad, Pari, and Hassam, it is their everyday life. I’m more connected now, but I fear I will easily forget them. Will you remember them with me?