Since I started in August 2015 to welcome refugees in Munich, 2016 in Idomeni camp and from 2017 on in Thessaloniki I have been writing texts to inform about the situation.
Sometimes also as a kind of therapy for myself.
I have been invited to read from my texts, speak about my experiences and give seminars.
In the years 2018-2020 I got € 26.603,21 donations from friends and people in solidarity from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, France, Australia, Italy, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Spain, Romania.
That's amazing! That's solidarity!! Das ist großartig! Das ist Solidarität!
2021 I got already € 503,14 donations. Thank you! Danke! Ευχαριστώ! Ευχαριστούμε!
Zwar kann ich keine Spendenquittungen ausgeben, dafür kommt jeder Cent zuverlässig bei der Hilfe für geflüchtete und bedürftige Menschen an - jeder noch so kleine Betrag ist hilfreich. DANKE dafür!!
IBAN: DE14701500000903121812 / BIC: SSKMDEMM
Ελληνικός λογαριασμός: GR8602602060000100201430994 / BIC: ERBKGRAA
He tried to explain me with his ten words English how he had to leave his supported house with the 6 weeks old baby. He cannot explain what really happened, but I could see his despair, his hope and his strong will to find a solution for his family. I am speechless also, although I have more than 10 words English.
She speaks only Arabic, but I understood and then she showed me the pictures from the war in Syria and that she lost her son and her husband there. I tried to stop her when she showed me the bodies of them on her smartphone.
He told me about the friend, a young girl who had to stay with his husband 5 years in an apartment. He abused her and she tried to flee. Her family in Turkey forced her to come to them, smugglers took her out of the house this morning.
“Since 5 months no money, no cashcard, nothing.” – “Yes, I know” it’s all I reply every time. This is the situation of hundreds and thousands. And I hear it every day so often. And no one cares.
How was your Friday?
On my way home. At 8 in the evening. Two children and some bags and boxes on the pavement. Arabic speaking I think. I hope they did not have to leave their house today - as so many who end up in the streets, in a camp, in Athens at Victoria square... I hope they just moved in and will sleep tonight in a bed - or at least under a roof.
Sometimes someone asks you for socks and you freak completely out.
It has nothing to do with the socks. It has to do with too many years with people in need, with too much work, with too many unbearable situations, with too many emotions and tension.
We figured that out the other day and it helps now to fetch back into reality when we are freaking out.
It is not about socks. It is about too long. About too much. And about too challenging.
3 women came today with whom I could speak Greek. They did not understand the irony in the situation when I commended their Greek...
The families are since 4 months (like everyone of us) at home. The offered games and toys have been taken enthusiastically... I hope the children will have some time without the smartphone...
"Which number do you need?, I ask when it comes to the pampers. I love this question these days, because at the moment we have every number and it is a better feeling to give than to say "sorry, at the moment we only have number 2 and 3"...
...Just some of my thoughts today at the distribution.
"This is the life of a refugee every time in a place where there is no stability" he wrote. Normally Google translator english is hard to understand. This was clear. He was told today to pack his stuff because next week the family (a newborn, a boy with a disability and the girl in primary school with the parents) has to move out. They have to change their apartment and will be transferred to a camp some 40 minutes from the city.
5 lifes in pieces. 5 lifes without stability. 5 lifes with a future?
A mother with 2 boys, 14,15 years. After they chose fruits and took the foodstuff, I said to one of the boys, the one who came without jacket, that we should definitely find a jacket for him. For his age we don’t have many jackets, but like a miracle the first jacket I was looking for was perfect for him. I said in Arabic the word we say also in Greek if someone got something new. Got his first (and last) smile.
It is wonderful when you can say „Yes, which number do you need?“, when the people ask for pampers. And you say it because you know you have from every number enough. It is so wonderful to have what people need. And it is so hard to say since years “No, I am sorry, we don’t have”, because it is never enough.
A guy in sandals without socks. He came for the first time to the food distribution. Before I gave him the foodstuff I ask him for his shoe number and - unbelievable - we have his number. The (new!!) shoes make a funny sound when we were going into the kitchen to take the fruits from there. I tried to imitate the sound when he left. He left with food and dignity. And warm feet.
I gave her the tomato sauce and asked her to bring us the jar back, because we are running out of them... "We drink from this at home", she said. She asked me for glasses or cups. It is so difficult to find an apartment. It is almost impossible for refugees to pay it. And it is impossible for those who make it to get furniture and domestic items.
It's kind of like Europe is acting. And Greece. And many Dublin III countries: without a plan. "O... now we have thousands of refugees. We didn't see that come. We did not think about it when we saw the war in Syria, in Afghanistan, the climate change, the inequality between "us" and "them", the disregard of human rights, the fights that we sometimes even supported with our weapons...."
Today people see the snow and suddenly they think of homeless people. "Do you have an idea what is happening with them?"
I have an idea and as we tried the last days to support them, we also will do the next days. And next summer. And next winter.
Seems like that's the plan: governments - and many people - don't care, we try to give the basics and as much humanity as possible.
What about these little souls?
Fleeing their country, living in another country, crossing borders with their parents. In darkness, in fear. Living in another country, listening to the sound of another language. Standing in lines with their parents to get some food, some clothes, some something, sometimes only with the mother or the father. Sometimes with a relative because the parents decided to send one child to their longed-for country. Living without school, with fear and their experiences that don’t have any place in their daily life to be expressed. Living sometimes in the mud, in the snow, in the heat, in the streets, in camps, sometimes in cold houses, on a blanket on the ground. Sometimes organisations give them teddy bears and take pictures with their wide open eyes, happy if they can catch a smile.
These little souls.
These strong and needy children.
These little survivors at the beginning of their life.
When I say „I cannot give her something, if I do, tomorrow we will have 5 and on Friday 50 families who ask for foodstuff” – am I just like the European Union with their deterrent politics?
When I say “If she doesn’t speak English or Greek we cannot help her at the moment.” – am I only lazy instead of doing more efforts to find a solution?
When I say “Why do they get one child by the other in this situation?” – am I only ignorant and arrogant?
Maybe I am just doing deterrent politics, maybe I am lazy and maybe I am ignorant.
…but I exist also. I also have my limits. We have limits. Limits in our spare time, in donations and in energy. These days are rough. It is rough to say to someone that you cannot help him or her. To reject someone who shows you with her/his hands that she/he is hungry. To explain that you understood that she is pregnant but that she is not the first you see today with many children on the flee and that you cannot help.
But sometimes it is all we can do. All I can do.
Picture: Graffiti in the Upper Town of Thessaloniki. "The hope got lost, the desperation is coming"
"I think I am tired since 2 years", she said. We know each other from a project where she worked as an interpreter before she changed to another organisation. I feel her. It was lovely to met her and we spoke about the refugee situation in Thessaloniki and how you cannot close your eyes when you have the skills to do anything to improve the life of these people. I was glad she told me that she doesn't take the experiences, stories and needs in her weekend. And she was glad I told her that the 6 month old baby that slept today during the distribution will have now warm clothes. That it will not have shoes is something I try not to take in my further day.
There are kind people who ask nicely, and there are people who take whatever they can grab if you just turn around.
There are people who only speak a few words English or Greek but try in a loveable way to communicate that you forget that you don't have a common language, and there are people who declare when we ask them if they speak English simply "arabic". And that's it.
My favourites today: Maryam, 2 weeks old and her quiet, polite and nice parents. 2 boys for whom I was juggling with madarines and who had so much fun with it, before they ate them (and put, instructed by the mother, the peel in the bin while I was in the other room). A young woman who asked about the organisation and who was amazed to hear that we are all volunteers, organising everything by donations, and who said from the deep of her heart thank you when she left, after we had a difficult start last week.
There are difficult people, really difficult people and situations. And there are nice people. Very kind people.
I think one of our strengths is to start again and again from the beginning. Not to expect anything from the people who are coming to us. Trying to include them – at least in our community as long as it is not possible to include them in the Greek society, because they are with their minds and heads already in another European country. But we try. As if we don’t know that they will leave us. Like so many others left us. Not always for their best, but that’s not up to us to judge.
We start again with the next ones. Stay in touch with the others, lose them, start again. And so on.
The children are never asked.
The have to go with their parents. From their home. To camps. To situations. To different countries. How many children do we see every day, every week. How many refugee children did I see the last years in Germany and Greece.
Tomorrow he will leave Greece. He speaks Greek now. He will start to learn another language. Going to a new country, a new school, hopefully to a future (which is uncertain).
"You managed that situation already 3 times", I remembered him, referring to the school changes the last couple of years.
We spoke a bit.
We had cake to celebrate the birthday of a friend, but it was a bit also a goodbye-cake for us. Last time sitting and eating together sweets.
We spoke about football. Well, he did.
We spoke about emotions, about fear. I said I start to tremble when I am afraid. I am reacting like this when I am very happy, he said. Look, now I am trembling.
We took his T-shirt that he wore when we were painting together out of the drawer. I drew him a firework on it and cut it out.
He let us some pictures and words on the Whiteboard.
Yesterday we wrote a list about the solidarity activities we do to support refugees, migrants and locals. People in houses as well as homeless people. I got dizzy only while reading it. When I consider then how few people we are, I understand why I don't have the patience towards the people that I would like to have...
„How can we know if they are refugees or economic migrants?” he asked me during the distribution of clothes. We don’t know. And we don’t care. And I never will use these terms. Never. People are people and needs are needs. And solidarity is solidarity that doesn’t stop at the papers who define your status.
We got the vegetables for the distribution and one guy helped to carry. He had his appointment for the distribution 15 minutes later. I thanked him for his help and what he replied meant so much to me:
"You help us, and of course I also help you then. You try to help so many people, try to help everyone. I thank you so much and I am glad that I could do something at least a bit."
This time I feel kind of overwhelmed with all the needs in front of me. This man gave me some hope.
Well, no one said that it's always fun...
Today it was a f***ing exhausting, terrible, unpleasant distribution. I am thinking to make a poem or a song from the way I try on the phone to tell at what time a family should come (important in times of a pandemic). I am sure after today that it is impossible to register more people who don't know more than 2 words in English or Greek. I am sick of these women who are so unpolite, these men who have a gender problem.
...and first of all I feel bad that I feel and think that way. That I don't have the time and the patience to listen to gesticulating Arabic. That it looks at the clothes like a battlefield after each person. That "5 (3,4,9...) children" seems to be the excuse for everything.
We had so wonderful things to offer today. 3 of the 16 families said thank you...
"Tomorrow is another day" we say in Greek.
Since so many years... and it is not getting better... organising foodstuff, pampers, clothes... bringing them from here to there... getting them from other people and other organisations... giving them to people in need... since so many years... and there is no light at the end of the tunnel...
...and even though we decided to do these distributions during the lockdown, there is no time nor space due to the measures to hang around together to share the tiredness and the questioning why and how much longer and...
The difficult thing with distributions in the middle of a pandemic is that you need 4 hours for only 12 families.
The good thing is that you are alone with them and have the time really to be with them. When you give them the foodstuff, when they decide which fruits and vegetables they want and when they choose the clothes they need.
Everyone needs things. But everyone also needs care, attention and personal devotion.
In English, Greek and French I could give this attention today to the men, women and children who came to take food, clothes, pampers together with dignity, love and respect.
I have been so happy. And the guys who helped also could feel it.
After a huge financial donation I ordered on Monday foodstuff. And today the shop delivered: rice, pasta, lentils, beans, chickpeas and sugar, but also "luxury articles" as tea, chocolate, cookies, shampoo, toothpaste, evaporated milk, salt and pepper.
We were smiling under our masks.
We were laughing out loud when we saw on one pallet two boxes vodka. "Did you order alcohol?" I have been asked. For a second I was wondering, but of course it turned out that the shop only used these boxes to fill them with the small things.
Today I realised again that we don't do the work we are doing for our egos. I realised how much we really want to support people in need. And how happy we are if we have beautiful things to give.
Priceless the faces of the people when I offered them some chocolate today!
I see the pictures, I read the articles from Lipa camp in Bosnia...
...how many people told me the last years that they will try to make it to Europe and got stuck somewhere... in Bosnia. Lost years of their life, their money, their dignity, some of them literally their life.
It is not enough to evacuate Lipa camp! It is not enough to discuss the taking of these people in this desperate situation to European countries.
It is time to discuss finally the abolishment of the Dublin III law! That is what brought these people in that camp, in that situation.
You get donations with tons of pasta or flour, tomato sauce, toothbrushes or shavers... and you think "How can we storage it?" or "This will last for years."
How many years am I doing that?
How many times have I been fooled?
...and then I stand some weeks or months later in front of empty shelves and cannot believe how many people need our help.
Imagine you are living in a country with an incredible number of refugees and migrants. Imagine they don't have support and due to the economic situation they cannot find jobs to built a future for themselves and their kids and are living in very poor conditions, even in the streets. Imagine many locals in the same situation.
Imagine a pandemic making everything more difficult and giving the "conservative" government the opportunity to make their fascist laws.
Imagine you try to support people, to live in solidarity every day. Imagine you are also afraid of the virus due to your own health condition, and tired from all the years, and are working every day to get items. Food. Bread. Pampers. Shoes. Heaters. Medication. Money for the rent.
And imagine there are friends and a small organisation who are doing themselves unbelievable great work, who helped and saved you already so many times and who ask you one day before Christmas if you want them to transfer a lot of money for the solidarity activities.
...then a lonely pandemicish Christmas is brighten up
…the young girl/woman, 17 years old from Afghanistan. When I asked her how she is, she said… “well…” She has 3 younger siblings, has to translate everything for her parents, her Greek lessons just started before the lockdown and are now online which is not the same. “well”, she said, “everywhere in the world people are infected and are dying of this virus. And I am so sad that I cannot help.” She did not complain about her difficult life. She cares for others.
I brought a scarf today that I am not wearing anymore. She was so happy when I asked her if she want to have it (of course after she was looking for clothes for her siblings…). Her love made me so deeply happy.
… the Syrian father of 7. Seven children! I felt stupid when I asked him for the ages to get the boxes with the clothes ready. He started to answer “One is 2, the other 4, 5, 6, 7…” I stopped him and brought him the boxes “Boys 2-4”, “Boys 4-7” and the same for girls. I always like it when father try to figure out which clothes the children could have. I mean… in his case, someone will wear it… But I told him that he can bring everything back that doesn’t fit, that we will need it for other families. That was the moment when he showed me the bags that we are giving usually and ask the people to bring them back the next time. Not many people are doing. He did.
…the mother of 3 children (10,12 and 7 months). She didn’t speak very well English and her only Greek word was “thank you”, but this she said several times. She hold her baby when she was checking what to take from the foodstuff, the toys and games and the clothes. She really hold the baby. I don’t see that very often, that closeness between mother and baby in a good way. Obviously the baby felt loved and I loved it how it looked around and how it loved the Christmas tree. “I am the first time here”, she said, because the last times her husband came. He waited outside, they understood that too many people at one place is dangerous. I had to pack her more oranges and apples, because she took for 2 persons and not for 5. When she left, she said “ah, and… how.. hmm… aaa… Merry Christmas.”
I say „It have been only 8 families”
But when I am counting, these are 48 people.
Men, women and children. From Afghanistan, Irak, Syria.
Refugees with or without asylum. With or without a future. Without support, without money, with a lot of needs in the middle of a pandemic.
Today they came to take foodstuff, vegetables, fruits, toys, clothes.
We would like to thank everyone who brings us clothes, foodstuff or toys and who helps us at the solidarity activities at Oikopolis in any way.
And I would like to thank the refugees who came today and who showed us again that every little piece you and we are doing has a value.
I mean, I am glad that some people, organisations and media care about the new camp in Lesvos. But what about the other Greek islands? Refugees without support in Athens, in Thessaloniki? What about the situation in Italy, inhumanity in refugee camps and towards refugees in Denmark, Sweden, Germany? The eviction of the camps in Paris? In Dunkerque? Nightmarish situations in Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia? Europe is full of these stories.
Please, people, organisations and media: care about it! Time is running for many individuals. People are suffering, dying, too many people in Europe are forgotten.
There is that woman. She is deaf since her 2nd year of life after an accident. Once she came from Russia to Greece. I don't know how, I don't know when nor why.
We support her and her family with foodstuff, clothes and what she needs, I guess for a deaf migrant there is no work in a country in a deep economic crisis. Whenever we have something for her in a distribution, we send her an sms and then she comes. Always with blown kisses, always with some sweets. She never leaves without putting a cent or 2 in our donation box. We understand each other without voice and even with our masks in front of our mouths.
When she came today with this wonderful gift for us we made a little pantomime: "from my heart to yours" - and that's how I feel with her every time.
It was beautiful. And it was so sad.
The first time after 5 weeks we wanted to call a few refugees from our list of those 60-70 families we are supporting usually. We decided to call those with whom we can easily communicate, in order to tell them that we only can allow a few people to come. We don't have many items, only one person from us can be present, for the people it is difficult up to illegal to come during the lockdown and we cannot have many people the same time at the place.
In 3 languages we had that opening "Hello, I am Verena from Oikopolis. You remember? How are you in that difficult time?", followed by a brave "Oh, yes, thank you, everything is fine."
In the following chat and when they came later in the afternoon it turned out that they are struggling a lot: without money, without distributions, with the children the whole day at home without school and friends...
It was beautiful that we could give them some food, pampers, some toys, things for the children's recreation. And first of all some conversations.
Even though these families are not so close to us, we support them since a while and know about their families: The mother in Irak who got Covid19, the son with autism, the little girl who has to stay alone when the mother leaves, the health issues...
It was sad to realise that we could not do this support the last weeks and that the period ahead will not allow us to see them often.
This pandemic requires a lot from everyone.
We are not all equal... These days in Greece we are only allowed to leave our houses for a few reasons and have to send an sms or have a paper with us. Police is checking. Police stands in every corner where they know that refugees are coming along. And they check them. Ask them to pay a fine. Make them problems. I can walk along and they don't even look at me. I don't look greek, but I don't look like a refugee. That makes me different. That's why they don't check me... We are not all equal.
In the facebook memories I saw that we celebrated some years ago that day with some friends they met during their first years in Germany: people who helped as volunteers in camps, as I did. We became friends. My syrian friends in Germany. One moved away from Munich. One is studying at the university, the other at a school. Both are speaking excellent German.
Asked what has been the most difficult the last 5 years, they answered both independently that they did not expect that everything will take so much time until they can finally start to study. And that they did not expect that life in Germany is so difficult with expensive apartments, difficulty to find a place to study and to work for a little money compared to the high living costs.
But they made it both! 5 years after they arrived, after a long time in camps, they now have their lives. They still miss their families, whenever fights are going on in Syria, they are afraid for them. The young brother grows up without the one, the sister misses the other... seperated families. „One day we will go together to your city“ I say. And I mean it.
Happy anniversary Nader and Muhannad! I am glad you made it 5 years ago!
Photo credits: Anna Alboth, July 2020
A friend from Adelaide/Australia asked me to write a text for her sermon about 1. Thessalonians: "I remembered that you are living in Thessaloniki and that you are working with refugees."
I heard her sermon a few days later on their church's podcast.
The same day she told me that a member of the church wanted to donate us 800 AUD for our work.
One week later we had 460€ for our work.
When I wrote a thank you-email, with pictures from last day before the second lockdown in Thessaloniki, I told her that even if I would know her, I would not have words for that. But a completely stranger, from whom I only know the name, who gets so involved in our work, sending us money and solidarity really overwhelmed me.
Sandy, who preached that Sunday morning and used my words, send me the money and I love it that her PayPal account has this signature:
"I acknowledge that the land on which I live and work is the traditional country of the Kaurna people. I respect their spiritual relationship with their country and honour their elders both past and present for they hold the memories, traditions, culture and hopes of the living Kaurna today. I commit myself to work alongside Aboriginal people for justice and reconciliation in this land."
That's the world I want to live in!