December 20, 2013

“At the beginning, I was very optimistic because I left Syria and Turkey. People say that if you arrive to Greece, it’s very easy to go to Europe, but that wasn’t right,” says the 21-year-old Syrian. “It’s hard to go to a European country.”

He speaks as if Greece wasn’t a member country of the European Union. After almost half a year living in Athens with no job or foreseeable future, Lawand has grown disenchanted, his youthful enthusiam and his hopes of one day writing a book about his experience nothwithstanding.

“I think Syrian refugees should stay in Turkey," he says, visibly irriated. "It’s better than coming here and trying to go to another country. In Turkey, you can find a job, and maybe the war will be over soon.”

Born in Kabane, in northeastern Syria, Lawand was always interested in traveling abroad. He soon started learning English to search for a future outside the boundaries of his country. But when the war started and the clashes erupted in Ar-Raqqah province, where he used to live, he made the decision to leave.

He crossed the border and spent most of April in Turkey, where he got in touch with people smugglers. His idea was to move to Europe, so he went to the western Turkish city of Izmir and, from there, he boarded a small boat with 24 other Syrians to the Greek island of Lesvos.

“The Greek police saw us from their ship," he says. "We were afraid that they would take us back to Turkey. But finally they helped us to reach the island.”

Once in Lesvos, he was detained for around six hourse before the police issued them with a certificate allowing them to stay in Greece for six months. Lawand and his travel companions took the first ferry to Athens.

Almost six months have passed. Lawand is living in Athens with a Syrian who offered him a room for free. He dyed his hair. He only gets money from some family members in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.

“I can’t work here because I have to speak Greek,” he complains. “I looked for a job and asked a lot of people to find me a job, but it has been impossible.”

He doesn’t have many acquaintances in the neighbourhood, so he spends a lot of time in the internet café chatting with family and friends. “My parents connect to the internet from Syria, close to the Turkish border. Normally I talk to them in the evening.”

Distracted, Lawand mechanically names his daily routines. “I go to the internet café. At home, I watch TV. Sometimes I cook,” he says, unmoved. Lawand does not hide that his dream is to go to the United Kingdom or Canada so he can study a master’s in business administration, but his current situation makes him doubt his future.

“I tried everything and everything is hard," he laments. "I failed. So I still don’t know how I will leave.”

The only thing he’s clear about is that he won’t try to get out irregularly from Greece by boat. “It’s very dangerous,” says Lawand.

The young Syrian speaks slowly, fatigue in his every word. Only occasionally does his face regain the bright happiness of that distant spring morning when he arrived by boat to Athens.

“After failing so many times to get out of here and having lost a lot of money, I’m disappointed,” he admits. “But I’ve still got some hope.”

During 2012, the Greek police detained 7,927 Syrians who had entered the country improperly. In the first nine months of 2013, the number was 5,623.

MSF is running a primary health care program in Athens and a project to assist the migrants in three detention centres located in Evros region. In 2012, the humanitarian organization also launched a response on the islands of the Aegean Sea. 

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