After years of being moved around Greece, Karima’s family has finally found a place to call home in Athens and a chance to build a brighter future
Karima* is a woman from Iraq, living alone with her four children in an independent living apartment in Athens, Greece.
24 May 2023
The family’s journey began in 2018 in Iraq, where Karima’s husband was facing threats and persecution. She knows that he’s still alive, but tragically has not had any contact with him since they left the country.
Seeking a better life for her children, Karima set off alone with her two sons and two daughters ranging from ages 5 to 17. They travelled to Turkey, but left the country after a week.
We stayed one week in Turkey. This may not look like much time, but we barely made it through the week there, we were afraid and not protected.
Desperately seeking a place where her family would be safe, Karima arrived soon after on the Greek island of Chios. The family stayed for two months before being transferred to the mainland city of Lamia. They were placed in a camp alongside other people seeking asylum in Greece, mostly families. They stayed here for over a year before being transferred three times more - first to a tiny apartment in nearby Livadia without internet, far from the city centre and without access to services, then to a refugee camp in Elaionas, and then to another camp, this time in Tripoli.
The family found the constant change and lack of structure very challenging. Being endlessly moved around the country made it almost impossible to start thinking about finding a job, getting the children back into school, or settling into their local communities. Finally, the family was relieved to stay in Tripoli for almost a year.
It was here that the family received a referral from an organisation supporting asylum seekers in Greece to live in one of the IRC’s Women Independent Living (WIL) apartments in the Greek capital of Athens. The facilities offer semi-independent living for single parent families seeking asylum and are designed to support the protection, empowerment, and integration of vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers.
The family found the WIL apartment a welcome change following the previous four months of being moved around, and living in poor conditions - disconnected from the world around them.
Here, we feel comfortable. We feel a lot safer than before and there is no real danger here for us. In Athens we have activities every day - going to church, the children going to class, going to the supermarket.
Living in the WIL apartment, Karima and her children also receive support from the IRC including a social worker, a lawyer and caregiver as they continue their application for refugee status in Greece. The process is long and difficult, resulting in more uncertainty for a family that has already been through a lot of stress and trauma.
“We haven’t received our papers so we are not sure about anything. We received a rejection this summer, but we made an appeal in August 2022. If we receive a status here and we have the necessary documents, we can build our future.”
With help from the IRC, Karima is looking for a job, while at the same time taking Greek and English lessons. She didn’t work in Iraq, so Karima is re-inventing herself and trying to build her skills here and become more independent.
I would like to learn the language first, Greek but also English, as I want to be independent in every situation. I want to be able to communicate with other people alone and stand on my feet. I know I need to find a job, ideally a job that has to do with sewing clothes or related to children.
One of Karima's children works on a drawing beside one of the independent living apartment coordinators.
The family likes their life in Athens. The children attend school and already Karima has visions of a university education for them someday.
Nadira* is Karima’s 14 year-old daughter. She loves going to school, something she couldn’t do in Tripoli, and has already made good friends in her class.
Nadira is learning Greek and loves painting and poetry - skills she’s taught herself by watching videos online. One day Nadira hopes to become an engineer and start a business of her own.
“Nadira has developed her skills to be able to express her feelings and cope with the difficult experiences of the past. Her poems express pain but also a ray of optimism for a better future,” says Peggy Arsenikou, a WIL Unit Coordinator who has come to know Nadira well.
About the FUTURA project and independent living apartments
Through the FUTURA project, the IRC provides accommodation for unaccompanied children and single parent families awaiting asylum application decisions in Athens, Greece.
The FUTURA project - Fostering the Transition of Unaccompanied Children to Adulthood, is implemented by the IRC under the programme “Asylum and Migration” of EEA Grants. The Fund Operator for the programme “Asylum and Migration” is SOL Crowe in partnership with HumanRights360. The project provides accommodation for children aged between 16 and 18, in five Supported Independent Living (SIL) apartments across Athens.
Considering the accommodation needs of vulnerable asylum-seeking women and their children (single-parent families with children up to 18 years old), provides four more apartments, part of the already existing accommodation program for semi-independent living, which aims at their protection, empowerment and integration.