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Support for families who lost everything, again

Aqela had no time to pack when a series of fires tore through the Moria Reception and Identification Centre on Lesvos island, Greece.

Aqela remembers the night well.

“We woke up because people were screaming and running, trying to escape,” she said.

Aqela had no time to pack when a series of fires tore through the Moria Reception and Identification Centre on Lesvos island, Greece, forcing 12,000 men, women and children out and onto the streets.

“All we could take were two backpacks.”

The disaster marked the second time Aqela, 25, had lost everything.

Fleeing conflict in Afghanistan, the young mother and her family left their home and most precious possessions in search of safety. Like many families, they attempted to cross the deceptively narrow strait from Turkey to Greece in a dinghy.

While they were lucky to survive the voyage, Aqela’s three-year-old son, Abufaz, was left anxious and distressed.

“He did not like the sea. He was afraid of drowning,” Aqela says.

After arriving on the Greek island of Lesvos in December 2019, the family spent nearly nine months in Moria. They lived in the so-called ‘jungle’ – an olive grove dotted with makeshift shelters on a hill near Moria’s heavily overcrowded Reception and Identification Centre – before being made homeless by the fires in September this year.

Aqela, her husband and son were re-homed in the family section of Kara Tepe, a temporary emergency site set up by the Greek authorities in the days following the fires, and UNHCR provided them with a tent.

Extension Mother Son Moria Refugees November
Twenty-five-year old Afghan refugee Aqela, her husband, and their three-year-old son Abufaz are sheltering at an emergency site in Kara Tepe, Lesvos, after fleeing the Moria fires. ©UNHCR/N.Prokopchuk

“I want to leave those bitter and dark memories in the past.”

But Aqela’s main concern was for Abufaz. It soon became clear that the powerful blast had profoundly affected his mental health.

“He was horrified to see the fire so close to us, destroying everything in its path,” she says.

Worried for her son’s state of mind, Aqela approached UNHCR for help. Together with the Greek authorities, UNHCR has set up a protection desk at Kara Tepe emergency site. Here, in one enormous tent, several UNHCR staff are on hand to offer legal advice and counselling on topics including requests for transfer to the Greek mainland and child protection services for children like Abufaz.

“I want my son to smile, play, go to school in a place with no war, no conflict.”

Counselling is provided to over 100 people a day, and it’s here that Aqela has been able to seek support for her son.

Abufaz still has nightmares, but with help from UNHCR he can begin to heal.

“I want my son to smile, play, go to school in a place with no war, no conflict,” Aqela says. “I want to leave those bitter and dark memories in the past.”

Extention Worker Moria Refugees November
Non-food items are unloaded at the Kara Tepe emergency site on Lesvos providing assistance to asylum-seekers and refugees left homeless by the Moria fires. ©UNHCR/ A.Zavallis

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