‘No one chooses to be a refugee’: pictures from a Greek crisis

A young photojournalist shares the stories behind her encounters with refugee children

Last year, 22-year-old Alice Aedy decided to board a plane to Greece. She arrived in the north and signed up as a volunteer for Help Refugees, Europes largest grassroots distributor of aid. A self-taught documentary photographer, she quietly produced a moving body of work over the course of a year.

I have captured moments of grief and suffering, but mostly I found dignity and often joy, she says of the experience.

We spoke to Aedy about her journey across Greece, supporting some of the 60,000 refugees stranded in harsh, often unimaginable, conditions. Meeting the innocent victims of this crisis has reminded me of our extraordinary capacity to turn a blind eye. To ignore our responsibility to help those caught up in a war fought at their expense, she reflects. They didnt choose to be refugees. No one wants to be a refugee.

Here, Aedy shares some of the stories behind her portraits.

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Reem with her child in the Idomeni refugee camp.

Reem carries her child over the train tracks in the Idomeni refugee camp, where she lived for four months after leaving Deir ez-Zor in Syria. She left a good life, she told me. She was an English teacher and her husband was a university professor.

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Maesa, Milaf and Zayneb Omar in the camp.

I met sisters Maesa, Milaf and Zayneb Omar on my second day volunteering in the Idomeni refugee camp. A Kurdish family of six from al-Qamishli, Syria, they lived in a two-man tent for four months.

With absolutely nothing to do, our days were structured around meal times. A common misconception about refugees is that they dont have smartphones. In fact, their phones are a crucial way to stay in touch with family and one of the only forms of entertainment in camps where there is nothing to do.

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Seven year-old Zayneb plays dress-up with her mother.

This is Zayneb, a seven-year-old Kurdish girl from from al-Qamishli, Syria. This photo shows her playing dress-up with her mother. Zayneb suffers from severe night terrors and her mother regularly loses consciousness.

One evening, her mother fell unconscious for about five minutes. When I called for medical assistance I was told it was the result of stress and there was nothing we could do. After this, they became classified as a vulnerable case and were recently moved to a one-bedroom apartment. While living outside of camp is undeniably a better option, it is in some ways a double-edged sword. As more families move off-site, the crisis becomes less visible and its a greater challenge for NGOs to keep track of the families, give them access to education, medical care and food.

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Three-month-old Zuheira.

I took this photo of three-month-old Zuheira following a few days of snow in northern Greece. Many of the camps in Greece are inadequately prepared for winter: in warehouses without insulation, heating or flooring. While a child might be born in hospital, the mother has to return to the camp immediately, despite the shocking conditions.

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Milaf, seven, picks flowers in the fields along the Macedonian border.

I grew very close to Milaf during my time working in the camp and have returned several times to Greece to visit her and her family. I have followed her on the different stages of her journey: from Idomeni to a military camp, and now to an apartment. A day would rarely go by where she didnt mention how she missed Syria. I often think about how she will look back at this time in her life when she is older. I wonder how the trauma of the whole experience will affect her long-term.

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Batul Matlaq, four, lies on her father, Abdulrazzaq.

This is Abdulrazzaq Matlaq with Batul, his four-year-old daughter, in Oreokastro military camp in northern Greece. Its hard to believe they have been in the same tent for eight months.

We often talk about children as the ultimate victims of this crisis, but for parents who feel they have failed their children, the grief can be tangible. He was a mini-bus driver and fled Syria last winter with his daughters and wife. I have remained very close with Yamamah, his 11-year-old daughter whom I often speak with and message via WhatsApp. In Arabic, her name means dove. When I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up she said: A journalist, so I can be like you.

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A mother holds her child in a military camp.

This photo was taken in a military camp called Softex, widely regarded as the worst military camp in northern Greece. The heat was overwhelming and this woman complained about the inadequate portions of food provided by the military. I will never forget her eyes. Of the 60,000 refugees in Greece, approximately 9,000 are pregnant women. Their babies will be born stateless, without citizenship. Reports from this camp of self-harm, drug and sexual abuse, human trafficking, theft and child prostitution are all too frequent.

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Refugees in Thessaloniki.

I came across this urban square by accident as I drove through Thessaloniki. An Afghan family lived there that was entirely reliant on grassroots organisations for food and water. They told me that because they were Afghan and not Syrian, they werent allowed into a camp. We seem to have created an illegitimate dichotomy and hierarchy between legitimate and illegitimate migrants, in which children arent considered as the innocent victims of conflict that they are.

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A boy carries his belongings across railway tracks. Photograph: Alice Aedy

I photographed this boy on the day the Greek military began evicting people from the Idomeni refugee camp. Thousands had to pack their belongings and prepare to move to an unknown destination. The uncertainty felt paralysing to them and initially many residents of the camp refused to leave until they were physically forced.

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Three-year-old Maesa Omar.

This is three-year-old Maesa Omar in the Idomeni refugee camp. She is pictured here hiding from the rain under one of the few covered areas in the camp, which regularly became badly flooded. Forty percent of the camps residents were children under the age of 12.

<a href=”https://guardian.charitiestrust.org/guardianappeal.aspx?utm_source=guardian&utm_medium=editorial” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>Click here to donate to our appeal for child refugees

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/dec/22/no-one-chooses-to-be-a-refugee-pictures-from-a-greek-crisis

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