8 February 2016
At night, temperatures on the Greek island of Lesvos are falling to single digits. Refugee families are enduring winter temperatures in thin tents or temporary shelters, quickly constructed out of tarpaulin sheets and poles. Pregnant women and tiny babies are amongst the most vulnerable. They have survived long and dangerous journeys to get to Lesvos, but they are still struggling to keep warm this winter.
16-year-old Bana is five months pregnant. She fled from Syria with her 23-year-old husband Marwan, to save the life of their unborn baby.
“Our city back home is occupied by Da’esh (ISIS)," Bana says. "Women have to cover up, and those who are against the system are arrested. Then they tie them up and whip them with leather.
"I didn’t want to leave my mum and I am scared how I will cope with a baby without her. She also wanted me to stay with her. But we knew we had to get our baby to safety. If we stayed in Syria, he or she would die. There is only death where we live."
Freezing nights on Lesvos
Even after fleeing the horrors of civil war in Syria, Bana and her husband faced more dangers on the road. They were shot at as they tried to cross the Turkish border, and now they face bitter winter temperatures on Lesvos.
Last night I was so cold. I could not get warm. I honestly thought I was going to lose my baby due to cold. I came in to ActionAid’s mother and baby centre because it was a place where I could sit quietly on my own for a moment and be warm. I have been sitting here a while now and I feel a little bit better.
Bana's experience is shared by many other women on Lesvos. 25-year-old Faima fled Afghanistan with her baby, Tamin, and her husband, when life under the Taliban became unbearable.
She said: "We travelled across the border into Iran, then into Turkey. We walked and walked, for nine nights we walked across the mountains. The snow was so deep. It was very difficult. My baby got sick and he had a fever. There was no one there to help us. There was no food. We had so little to eat."
The family's boat crossing from Turkey was even more traumatic.
The weather was bad. On the boat we felt pure desperation. Nothing but desperation. I didn’t think we would make it alive. We don’t have sea in Afghanistan so I have never seen it. I don’t know how to swim. We had life vests thank god but the waves were very high. My baby was crying. There was not enough space, I couldn’t even feel my legs. I had to hold Tamin in the air because there was no space for him.
Faima can't even call her family to tell them that they have survived the journey, because their mobile phones got wet on the boat and don't work any more. But Faima is determined that she will build a better life for her family.
“We will go to any country that will accept us and live there. We don’t have a preference. My husband was a farmer in Afghanistan. He will do anything, any work. We don’t want to ask for things. He wants to work. We just need to be safe. He will accept any job.”
It's the hope that these young women hold for their children's futures that gives them the strength to continue.
“I am scared but my husband tells me to remember why we left," says Bana. "It was for the baby. Our dream is that our baby, whether it is a boy or a girl, will have a happy life."
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