Women of all ages, from African and Asian countries, together with their children and friends, gathered on Monday 20/06, at the Women’s Info Point (WIP) of the Diotima Center, in Mytilene, as part of the activities for World Refugee Day. The event was organized by the Diotima Center and Caritas Hellas, in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The women had the opportunity to meet each other, exchange experiences, and sing and dance to the sounds of the RAD band.
The kitchen was literally on fire and the warm summer atmosphere was filled with smells, tastes, love, smiles, songs, hugs, and children’s voices.
RAD, with their special repertoire, wowed the women who danced to the rhythms of African and Asian music, while many took the microphone and sang songs from their hearts.
Both a woman and a refugee
In the welcoming space of the Women’s Info Point, we met young refugees from Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in Africa. We asked them what being a refugee means to them.
Jennifer speaks very good English: “I’m 21 years old and I don’t have anyone in the world,” she says. She explains that at a young age she lost her parents to Ebola. She decided to make this long journey for a better life. “I have been in Lesbos for about two months. I don’t have any friends yet. I like it here, I feel calm and safe. I don’t want to leave the island, where should I go?’
It’s not the same for everyone. Amidst the happy shouts and smiles, Fatmata takes off her hat and her eyes tear up. Back in Sierra Leone, she has left her son, and she knows it is very difficult to see him again. The young woman, only 21 years old, is suffering. She tells us about the impasse she feels: “If I go back to my homeland, I will die,” she says.
Fatma is 19 years old and has been in Lesbos for three months. “At first I felt lost in the RIS, but as time goes by and with the help of the Diotima Center, I have adapted, and now I feel more confident”, she says. As she tells us with a smile, she is waiting for the opportunity to live a more beautiful life, leaving behind the unpleasant memories of the past.
A little further, another group, different, more lively, and colorful, are the women from the Congo. As they explain to us, they have been in Lesbos for a long time, some more than 1.5 years. The women sing and dance along with RAD, their laughter and melodious voices, are showing women determined to move forward and build new lives based on safety, calm, and respect.
Support for survivors in Lesvos
As stated by Viviana Koukou, coordinator of the Center in Lesbos, “On the occasion of Refugee Day, we co-organized the event with Caritas Hellas, with the main goal to create a space different from the usual ones, for the women who live in RIS, to come into contact both with each other and with us, within a different condition, outside of everyday life”.
“The Diotima Center,” Viviana tells us, “has been in Lesbos since 2018 and provides psychosocial and legal support to refugee women, survivors of various forms of gender-based violence. At the same time, it carries out prevention actions, through empowerment and information meetings, with the aim of women receiving important information regarding their rights and protecting themselves in the hope that their traumatic experiences will become a thing of the past.”
Referring to this year’s World Refugee Day celebration, UNHCR’s communications officer for Lesvos, Theodoros Alexellis, noted that “on this day we honor the strength of people who have often been displaced from their homes, their courage to start a new life in another country, on another continent, through many difficulties and problems”.