“I've seen hell with my own eyes." A refugee's journey | ActionAid UK

Earlier this week we shared with you an inside look at life in refugee camps in Athens. Today, one of the women living in Schisto camp in the Greek capital tells us in her own words how she ended up there. Azita (real name and identity protected) travelled from Afghanistan with her two young sons and husband and arrived in Schisto in March. Azita’s words are her own, but her story has been translated into English. 

Azita, 27, is currently staying at Schisto camp with her two young sons and husband.
Azita, 27, is currently staying at Schisto camp with her two young sons and husband.

Why we left

“We lived in a small village. Our life was simple but good. Then we were attacked by the Taliban. If you don’t cooperate with them, they kill you. 

The Taliban think women are worthless. They are good for one thing only: to be raped. Only to be used in bed. Women are not allowed to leave the home. Women have to cover their face and have no freedom at all. Life with the Taliban is living hell. I have seen hell with my own eyes. 

This is why we decided to leave and try to go to Europe. For our children, for them to have an education, a better future. So, that they don’t live what we had to live.

The journey to Europe

We left Afghanistan and travelled to Iran. For seven days we were travelling through the mountains. At night we dug holes with our hands and covered ourselves with soil so that the bandits and wild animals couldn’t find us.

We lived in a small village. Our life was simple but good. Then we were attacked by the Taliban. If you don’t cooperate with them, they kill you. 

In January 2016, when the winter was heavy, we travelled to Europe. There was snow one meter high in the mountains between Turkey and Iran. The smugglers told us that we would have to walk for one or two hours but it turned out to be 12. It was so cold the children were falling. Some of us lost our nails and others were frost bitten. We saw death with our own eyes.

View of Borhaso village in Bamyan province, Afghanistan.

When we reached Turkey the smugglers put us all, about 200 people, in a stable. They wouldn’t let us go, if we didn’t pay. They only gave us food once a day. The floor was wet. After four or five days, when we paid, the smugglers gave us tickets to go to Istanbul. We stayed at one smuggler’s home for two weeks. It was February by then. 

We left Afghanistan and travelled to Iran. For seven days we were travelling through the mountains. At night we dug holes with our hands and covered ourselves with soil so that the bandits and wild animals couldn’t find us.

Then one day, they said: “Pick up your stuff, you are leaving”. They put us in a bus. So many people, about 100. When we reached the shore, they asked us to inflate the dinghies. So the men were working till dawn. When we put the boat to the sea the Turkish coastguard came and they send us back to Istanbul, where we stayed two more weeks.”

The passing to Greece

Lesvos

Then the night that I will never forget came. We were again at the beach. 100 people in one dinghy. Men, women, children all in. When we pushed the dinghy to the sea, it tore at the bottom, but we didn’t know. So, soon enough we were fighting for our lives. We said this is it. It’s the end. This is how we will die. 

My husband and a friend had a torch light. So he began flashing it. First a commercial boat came, but when they realize who we were, they left. We kept drifting in the sea. We said this is the end. 

My husband kept flashing the torch. And then a miracle happened. The Greek coastguard saw us and they came and rescued us. We were very lucky, from the 10 boats that left the coast of Turkey only two reached Greece. 

When we reached the Greek shore, the Greeks came and welcomed us. They hugged us. They gave us warm clothes and for a short while, we forgot our ordeal. We thought that the bad bit was over. 

Discarded lifejackets on the beach of Skala Sykamias on the northern shores of Lesvos, Greece: Refugee crisis Lesvos

We stayed on Lesvos for one or two days and then we came to Piraeus on mainland Greece. People gave us clothes and food and offered us rest. It was very cold at the border. On the fourth day, we were asked by the police to get on buses. This is how we came to Schisto. At first, I thought we would stay only for a few days. But it’s been months now. We have lost our hope. I know that the borders won’t open again. “

We can’t go back

They explained to us the application process. But I don’t know what will happen. We don’t want to go back. We have nothing. I feel like I am dead already. 

I just hope that what we went through is worth something. I hope that my children will be able to study and their children will be happy. I hope that they don’t have to go through what I went through. I wish for them security, peace and an education. All this we did for them. 

When we pushed the dinghy to the sea, it tore at the bottom, but we didn’t know. So, soon enough we were fighting for our lives. We said this is it. It’s the end. This is how we will die. 

My life feels like if they put a noose around your neck and kicked the chair and you are sure you will die and then they put the chair back under your feet. In Afghanistan, they kill us, they rape us, they stone us every day. But it’s not on the news here. All this because we are unlucky. We are Afghans.

We would like to thank you (ActionAid) for all you do for us. Because you are thinking about us and devote your time to us and this means a lot to us.”

What ActionAid is doing to help women like Azita

ActionAid runs activity sessions with the women at Schisto Camp

ActionAid is running women friendly centres in the camps of Schisto and Skaramanga in Athens. These are safe spaces where women can bring their children and rest. ActionAid offers psychosocial support and activities for the women in the camps. Recently we have been supporting them with knitting, English lessons and workouts to try to restore a sense of normality during a time of such uncertainty. 

I just hope that what we went through is worth something. I hope that my children will be able to study and their children will be happy. I hope that they don’t have to go through what I went through. I wish for them security, peace and an education. All this we did for them. 

But we are now at a crisis point – our funding is running out. We will have to close our refugee services in Greece unless an urgent solution is found.

Please, donate now to help us support women like Azita and their families who have lost everything. Your money will go directly to keeping our vital services open in Greece.

Donate now to support our Refugee Crisis Appeal

Photo credit:  Irene Koutoula/ActionAid, Lorenzo Tugnoli/ActionAid Karin Schermbrucker/ActionAid, George Makkas/Panos Pictures/ActionAid