Refugees: The crisis in my home country

Theo Alexopoulos, CARE’s Deputy Security Director, in Piraeus, Greece

The graffiti on the wall at the Port of Piraeus reads: “Solidarity with Refugees”. I could not sum my wish up better, writes Theo Alexopoulos, CARE’s Deputy Security Director.

Last week, I travelled to Greece to help CARE with its upcoming support for the tens of thousands of people who currently live in the refugee camps and settlements. As you might be able to tell from my name, my origins are Greek. However, I grew up in faraway New Zealand. During the last four years, I have been working with CARE’s Syrian Response in the Middle East.

Over the past years, I have worked in different conflict areas and crises across the world. It is something new for me to return to my mother country to help those most in need. I feel very proud to be able to contribute. I was bringing my intimate understanding of the plight of refugee women, men and young children.

They have been through a lot – and their sad story never seems to have an ending.

CARE has already worked in Greece many years ago and supported people suffering from the impacts of World War II from 1946 to 1973. Now, refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries need our help – so CARE has decided to start to work in Greece again.

An elderly woman cooking for a boy in Greece, 1958
In the village of Skounda, Greece, 1958, an elderly woman cooks a meal for her orphaned grandson with ingredients from a CARE food package

The mission was very complex and demanding. We started early in the morning and finished late in the evening. At sunrise, we would meet and then break our own separate ways for inter-agency meetings, establish ties with potential Greek charity partners, and visit migrant and refugee sites and support centres. We strongly believe in “ground truth” and need to see matters with our own eyes.

On my visits, I could see the fear and frustrations of women with newborns and young girls who did not have anything from their former lives to hold on to, except for some photos of a long gone world.

I heard cherished fading memories of their past, and saw the desire for a better life in their eyes.

I also saw the Greeks trying their best to step up to the challenge.

One day, I spoke with a young Greek volunteer who absolutely blew me away with her dedication and empathy. She made me very proud of the work we do.

I also spoke with a Greek doctor volunteering her time. She was tired and heartbroken – she clearly needed help with the burden she took on herself.

Another day, I sang out a hearty “Asalam Allahikum” to a young guy in one of the reception centres – he threw back the polite, “wallaikum salam”. There was nothing special about this encounter, except the fact that he is a refugee and had to look for a new place in the world.

A European crisis

Our Team Leader made us work hard. This is an urgent crisis and thousands of people are in desperate need of assistance. CARE brings its in-depth knowledge of the needs of refugee women and girls, our expansive knowledge and skills in humanitarian response, and our deep-rooted desire to make a meaningful difference to those in need.

Worldwide, about 60 million people are fleeing from war, violence, hunger or poverty. They had to leave their family, friends and their homes behind. In countries such as Somalia, Sudan or Syria CARE supports people who are on the run within their own country, with life-saving food, cash and shelter.

I was very proud to be part of CARE’s return to Greece and to contribute my small bit to help. Nonetheless, there is still a lot to be done. Greece and the European Union need to show more solidarity.

It is as much about their own identity as it is about helping the women and young girls CARE is here to help.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.