Syrian parents struggle through Greek winter

Photo: Anita Dullard, IFRC

By Avra Fiala, IFRC

The snow has thawed in Greece’s Ritsona camp north of Athens, but it’s still wet and cold. The harsh conditions make it difficult for parents trying to eke out a life for their children.

Ahead of winter, people at the camp were shifted out of tents and into containers with individual bathrooms. Abbderahman, who has lived at Ritsona with his wife and five children for the past nine months, says the containers are a big improvement.

“I can’t imagine how we would have coped in the tents over winter,” he says. “We had bugs and everything come into the tents during the summer. It’s better now, but it’s still not home.”

At the same camp, Zeina, a mother of three, collects mats from the Hellenic Red Cross for her children to play on inside their container. She says the snow and sub-zero temperatures have been extremely tough for her kids.

“My children are four, seven and eight years old,” Zeina explains. “They have found it almost too cold to bear. They were stuck inside for days when it snowed and couldn’t go out to play.”

Photo: Anita Dullard, IFRC

The containers are small. For young kids, not being able to get out and run around in the fresh air is oppressive.

Shaven, also from Syria, runs the camp’s barber shop. He and his family have lived at Ritsona for five months. Just one month after arriving, his son Rubar was born and he’s been struggling in the cold weather ever since.

“After the snow, my baby and my wife became ill,” he says. “They’re almost recovered but small illnesses like colds are harder to get over when you live in a camp.”

Photo: Anita Dullard, IFRC

The Red Cross works with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) to provide health care, referrals to midwives and pediatricians, psychosocial services and cash assistance for people living at Ritsona.

“Winter makes a difficult situation that much worse,” says ECHO’s Marilena Chatziantoniou. “People with disabilities, for example, may have found walking on uneven ground during summer difficult. During winter, muddy conditions or snow make it even harder.”

Abbderahman, Zeina and Shaven say a better and safer future for their children is the most important thing to them.

“The future is for my children,” says Abbderahman. “Mine is finished. All I ask is for a safe place for my children to continue their studies.”

As for Zeina, she dreams of her family being together again: “I left my country, deeply affected by war, to reach a safe place. My husband is in Germany and I am trying to reunite with him.”

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.