“Where are my children?” Tragic losses for refugee mums | ActionAid UK

As I was eating lunch with my three-year-old over the weekend, I heard a radio interview with Jamal, who had lost 13 members of his family as they fled the conflict in Syria. They had drowned trying to reach the safety of Europe. My son, oblivious to the tragedy unfolding on air, chatted happily to me as he ate his sandwiches, excited about visiting his granny in the afternoon. As a child growing up in the UK with friends and family within walking distance of his home, his life is full of certainty and security.

A mother comforts her young son as they arrive on Lesvos. Many refugee mothers have lost their children or other family members on their journey
A mother comforts her young son as they arrive on Lesvos. Many refugee mothers have lost their children or other family members on their journey

I looked at my son and wondered how it would feel to pack just a few of our belongings before leaving our home, our friends and family, and starting out on a journey I knew to be incredibly dangerous. I thought about how cold and frightened we would be getting into a boat to make a crossing that had taken so many lives already. And I wondered how I would find the strength to go on should anything happen to my son while trying to get him to a place of safety.

Hopefully, I will never have to experience being forced to flee my home with my son but the mothers ActionAid supports in Lesvos, Greece have had no other choice, often with tragic consequences.

“I lost them. I lost my sons. Where are my children?”

Rojin was separated from her young sons and brother when traffickers were herding them into boats. Now in Lesvos, with only her three-year-old daughter, Rojin is desperately trying to find them. 

28-year-old Rojin was already grieving for her husband, and youngest son, who both died in Syria during the war. And now, unfairly, she blames herself for what has happened:

“It was my fault because I was too slow getting on the first boat because I was carrying Falaq, my daughter. We trusted the traffickers because they told us we would all meet on the other side. But they lied to us.

A mother kisses her baby with relief and joy that they're arrived safely together. Traffickers often split families up on the boats

“It was okay at first because it was calm and sunny. But then the weather changed and one of our boats went down. I saw in front of me children drowning. A lot of people drowned. I saw death with my eyes.

“I lost them. I lost my sons. My brother and his wife and me and all our kids we were all together. But I lost them because the traffickers put my brother and my boys on a different boat. We didn’t want to be separated but they forced us.  Where are my children?”

The boat that Rojin and her daughter were travelling in was pulled ashore by the Greek police, but she lost track of where the boat carrying the rest of her family went.

Rojin waits for news of her two sons who are missing after traffickers put them on a separate boat

“Now I don’t know what happened to my sons. I can’t find them. I’ve already lost my husband and one son already. I can’t lose my other kids now. I can’t lose them.”

Afraid and frantic, Rojin cannot leave Lesvos until she has been reunited with her children.  All her money was destroyed on the boat crossing.

Karima’s children have lost their father

Karima, 35, her two-year-old son Matin, and daughter Anilla, 15, are from war-torn Afghanistan. The family trekked by foot across mountains to reach Turkey before taking a boat to Lesvos. They travelled as a group with five other families.

Karima and her young song waiting in Lesvos

“It was snowing and the walking over the mountains was so hard. We had to carry Matin because the snow reached even the adults' knees. He cried all the time because of the cold and fear. But we had to keep going.”

During their journey, Iranian border guards shot at and caught some of the group, including Karima’s husband.

“My husband told me to run with the children. We hid behind some rocks but they caught my husband and some of the others. But we couldn’t go back for him because it was dangerous and too late by then. So I had to keep walking with three other families.”

After a month of travelling, Karima has reached Lesvos with Matin and Anilla. There is no news of their father. "I don’t know what to do. I am all alone and confused.”

Rojin and Karima have lost everything trying to keep their families safe. Traumatised and homeless, they can only wait to hear news of their missing family members.

Meanwhile, they have nothing to keep them warm and safe during the freezing cold conditions.

Many children have nothing to keep them warm and safe during the freezing winter months on Lesvos

Please support our appeal and help us give clothing to homeless mothers and children like Rojin's and Karima's on Lesvos. A monthly gift could buy socks, jumpers and coats for some of the most vulnerable people.

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Photos: Anna Pantelia, Karin Schermbrucker/ActionAid.