Maryam* is a 20-something year old girl from Afghanistan who came to Greece in February of 2021. In partnership with Generation Outside Afghanistan and the Afghan M&R Community Center in Greece, Afghans Empowered connected with Maryam* and provided her with the means to afford physiotherapy to rehabilitate her broken arm. Afghans Empowered also helped provide housing assistance for Maryam*. GoA and the Community Center continue to provide tremendous support for Maryam* through their psychologist services, and English-language classes.
The story below was conducted in an interview format.
Tell us about your life before you came to Greece
I am from Afghanistan but was born in Iran and I lived there most of my life. Life in Iran was okay, I had the opportunity to go to school and study. I completed high school and my major was mathematics and physics. I didn’t study this because I loved these subjects but because the smart students in Iran do these subjects. It is free because it is difficult. Later in life I regretted this. Everything in Iran has a limitation, I wanted to be a pharmacologist but Afghans aren’t allowed to do this major.
There is no assistance for us to go to university, and it was too expensive for me. The door is open for Iranians, but for Afghans it is closed.
After high school, because I couldn’t go to university, it was in my mind to go to Europe to continue my dream. I shared my ideas with my family, and they said that we didn’t have enough money to all go together to Europe. In Iran people don’t have goals, they are just living.
When I decide to do something, 100% I want to do it, even in a very difficult situation. So I insisted to go to Europe, and I came. When I went to the border of Iran and Turkey, I felt like cold water in my face, that this was really happening, but I couldn’t go back. For Afghans in Iran, you need additional documents to travel anywhere. To move to another area in Iran, you need permission from the municipality, and state the reason that you are going there. I wanted to go back to my family, but I couldn’t trust the smugglers to take me back safely so I stayed with the families.
What was your journey to Greece like?
Until now I am suffering. From Iran to Turkey I had to walk through the mountains. We walked for many hours, without enough food and water. It was the wilderness. When I started to go, my family had packed a lot of food in my bags. I lost my bags as soon as I started the journey. After we had passed the journey to Turkey, we were living for 8 days with 20 people in one small room. Then we traveled to Istanbul where me and some families rented a house. We tried 4 times to get to Greece by boat. In Iran, I didn’t have any freedom, but my father did as much as he could to provide for us, making sure we had a nice house to rent. What I experienced in the journey to Greece, was worse than anything I experienced in Iran. It is different when you are alone, to when you are with your family. Every time I tried to come with the boat, the police arrested us. Each time I passed out from fear and I woke up in the hospital.
During the journey, people who came with me tried to bother me a lot because I was alone. I am an honest and calm but many people I was traveling with tried to bother me.
What were your thoughts and feelings when you first arrived in Greece? I thought that I had really arrived in Europe and then, after a few months I realized that I had really arrived nowhere. I thought that after getting here I could go anywhere in Europe. From the day that I broke my hand here, and nobody cared, I really felt like I had no one. I lost my phone twice, I was losing things a lot, I fell over, I really wasn’t myself. All the times when I talked with my mother, I was crying a lot and she told me if I really wanted to I could come back. But after all I had experienced I couldn’t come back. People who have never done this journey can’t understand the feelings and experiences. The other families, when they got to Turkey they started to feel happy like they were going for coffee and to see other people but me, I was just staying at home.
What has your experience of life in Greece been so far? Was your expectation of Europe different to the reality?
I thought that it would be easy living in Europe, that you can have documents and travel easily, but this is not the case it is very difficult. When I broke my elbow I felt that I had lost all of my dreams.
Is there anything specific about your experience in Greece that you would like to share?
It is really difficult, when I broke my elbow I want an appointment to apply for asylum and get an ID card and apply for asylum. They gave me an appointment for 2 months time, but when I went back after 2 months they had cancelled my appointment. There should be someone to help you with this process.
How does the Asylum System in Greece work, and how should it be changed? If you had power and influence in Greece/ Europe parliament what would you say or do?
Make the process easier for refugees and migrants. After I had been living in Athens for a few months, and applied for asylum, I applied for shelter and they told me I had to go to Nea Kavala in the North of Greece in the middle of nowhere. I went to the cash card office to apply for shelter with my broken arm, but they said that I needed a more serious illness to get housing and shelter.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future? What would you like to do with your life when you gain refugee status? Why?
My dream is to leave Greece and find somewhere else to live. I would really like to go to an English speaking country because I already speak some of that language. Most importantly I want to continue my education. If it is possible I would like to find an opportunity to be a pharmacologist. What I understand about Greece is that people are just trying to survive here and only thinking about themselves.
How did you get involved with this community? How did you hear about it?
When I broke my elbow, I don’t know if it is a mistake of the doctors or what but the operation was done in a way that I couldn’t bend my arm, so for 4 months I couldn’t move my hand. I had to do everything I needed with one hand. They said I needed to do physiotherapy, they said that I needed to pay 50 euro per session. The first time, I paid 20 euros and they just did a massage and couldn’t move my hand, the second time the doctor said sorry I don’t think that I can do anything for you I went to the hospital but they told me they couldn’t help me without AMKA (the Greek health insurance). Someone told me to come to the community and ask if they could help me find a physiotherapist. So from here, they helped me for 17 or 18 physiotherapy sessions. It didn’t help and the doctor said I needed another operation. I have a metal plate in my hand and it really bothers me. The community took me to the hospital for the second operation. The second time the doctor treated me much better, they kept me in the hospital for 15 days, where I did some physiotherapy sessions. After this the people from the community came with me to get my asylum card.
I dream that my hand will get better again.
* For safety reasons, Maryam's real name has been concealed