Immediate assistance and refuge for vulnerable women and children in Greece.

In downtown Athens, Danish registered charity ‘Team Humanity’ provides emergency assistance for vulnerable women refugees and their children by renting a home where at least 8 women and their children can be housed. Since February 2017 the ‘House of Peace’ shelter has been providing: rooms, food, safety and psychosocial support. The women who live there have more in common than just their refugee status; they are also women fleeing alone, without any relatives, only with their children. They have established a real community, they live, work, and tackle problems together, committing themselves to creating a non-violent space, and running the centre.

Why special shelters? Aren’t refugee centres enough?

The short answer is no, refugee centres are not providing safe spaces for what are described as ‘single women’ fleeing: some of these women are separated from their husbands and families, some have no family left, some have children, others do not, but they are all alone, with no one looking out for them. The reality is that in searching for a safe place for themselves and their children, they are travelling hundreds of kilometres alone, only to find violence, sexual assault, fear, and desperation. This is the exhausting and terrifying experience that thousands of women fleeing alone, pregnant, or with small children, are living. The dangers of the journey, the uncertainty of their futures once on European soil, are terrible enough, and there they are confronted with a refugee system unable to meet their needs, putting them constantly at risk.

 

Fatima – 25 years old, Fled Afghanistan with her two children across the Aegean Sea. She was being sexually harassed at an UNHCR-Camp, her tent was lit on fire as she and her children slept.

 

So far in 2017 an estimated 9,000 women and 12,000 children have landed on Greek shores seeking safety from brutal conflicts. Instead they were greeted at reception centres and camps that are not meeting their basic needs. Small issues like not having separate toilets, showers or sleeping areas, puts these women at risk of violence, sexual assault, transactional sex and exploitation from men. Many women have reported forgoing food and water in order to avoid using the toilets; the risk of assault is too high. Others choose to sleep rough, on the beach, the violence of the centres keeping them from a roof over their heads.

 

Being forced at transit centres to sleep next to hundreds of single men, share shower facilities, and having no family help or support, these vulnerable women are constantly harassed and at risk.

 Huwaida – 27 years old, from Aleppo, 3 children. 6, 8 and 9 years old, fled the civil war in Syria. In  search for safety, Huwaida alone with her children braved the life-threatening journey to Lesvos. In the Thessaloniki camp, Huweida was sexually harassed and had to contend with threats. The camp was no longer safe for her and her children.

 

Violence is not only perpetrated by men, but also by women. Many of these women fleeing alone are from religious or ethnic minorities, and as such, are prime targets for vicious bullying by in the camps and centres. These bleak conditions and the exhaustion of living every moment in constant danger mean that hundreds of these vulnerable women refugees leave the camps and centres, feeling that they have no other option but the streets of Athens and other Greek cities. On the street, they are prime targets for sex work, forced begging, and acts of violence from right-wingers and anti-refugee people.

 

If the situation is so bad, why has nothing been done?

The situation has been critical since at least 2016, yet no one seems to care, or have any will to change it. In January 2016 Amnesty International released a shocking report, detailing the abuses, lack of adequate facilities, and overall desperation of the situation of single women refugees and their children. The report holds European policy directly responsible for the unacceptable conditions that these women are in. The findings were amplified by The European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), the European Women’s Lobby (EWL). These calls have had NO effect. No additional funds, or directives have been given, instead funding and support has been cut.

 

Refugee camps are not a good solution. These women need independent shelters to protect them from gender violence, especially those with minority status.

Leyla -31 years old, Yezidi from Sinjar in Iraq. Fled with 3 children. Leyla was discriminated against because of her faith in the camp and she had no choice but to leave the camp because they were not offered protection.

 

Although this project may seem like a drop in the bucket, it is a vital step in the right direction, and already has helped many women. These mothers with their children each have a room now, food and most important of all: safety. They cook and clean together and run the place, while waiting for being accepted as Asylum seekers of getting documents allowing them unification with their families in Europe. 

 

Today the future of the »House of Peace« is at stake and the women it houses face an uncertain future.

 

Funding is only available till end of June 2017, after that, the women face an uncertain future. The costs are not high, but the impact is real and immediate. The shelter costs €2,500 per month to run. To survive 2017 a total of €15,000 is needed. With that small sum, women are housed, clothed, cared for, and given a safe space to recover from the horrors of their journey.

 

Wadi and the Greek charity “Stand by Me Lesvos” have decided to work together to help the “House of Peace” stay open. Stand By Me Lesvos is a Non Profit Social Enterprise addressing the economic hardship and deprivation faced by the refugees stranded on the Island of Lesbos, by providing work and community programs. Wadi has been committed to working with refugees and women refugees in Northern Iraq for decades, now we bring our philosophy of self-ownership, community, and long-term engagement to Greece.   25 years of experience with starting and operating women’s shelters, café’s and educational centres in Northern Iraq, give Wadi a unique perspective and expertise in providing the tools necessary for women to organize themselves, to work on long-term educational and economic empowerment.

The ‘House of Peace’ is an incredible pilot project that demonstrates how cheap and effective a response to a crisis can be. In the short term and with your help ‘House of Peace’ can stay open. In the medium to long term our goal is to look for sustainable funding from larger donors, not to rely on emergency assistance. We hope that ‘House of Peace’ will begin a campaign for more shelters, more non-violence initiatives, more innovative and refugee involved responses to problems. The truth is, these problems won’t be solved tomorrow, or even next year, only a long-term vision can work.

Working together we can make a real positive difference.

 

We are asking you to help us keep the doors of »House of Peace« open.

Please donate here

Wadi
IBAN: DE43500100600612305602; BIC: PBNKDEFF
Postbank Frankfurt

 Or via Paypal

 Please mention: “House of Peace” in the Subject-Line of your donation

The time to act is now. We can do better. We can help. You can help.

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