Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mothers of Newborns in Greek Refugee Camps Cope and Hope

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mothers of Newborns in Greek Refugee Camps Cope and Hope

Article excerpt

RITSONA, Greece * Ahmad, Farah and Mohamad drew their first breaths in their Syrian parents' promised land of Europe or at least on the edge of it. Greece lies at the wrong end of the continent from where the families wanted to land, separated from the prosperous heartland by an array of high fences, razor wire and border checks.

So for now, while their parents wait for the slow wheels of bureaucracy to turn, the infants are learning to smile, turn over and sit up in a refugee camp 43 miles north of Athens. If they're lucky, they'll be resettled in another European Union country by the time they are walking.

Hundreds of women who were pregnant when they squeezed into flimsy smugglers' boats for the terrifying and sometimes fatal sea crossing from Turkey to the eastern Aegean Sea islands are among the 60,000 refugees and other migrants stranded in Greece. One baby, the youngest of six, even was named Ritsona, after the camp where she was born with severe disabilities on March 31.

The hastily erected Ritsona camp is the same one where Mohamad, Ahmad and Farah stay. It houses an estimated 570 people in roughly 160-square-foot canvas tents that have been reinforced against the rain and sun with improvised tarps. Rows of prefabricated homes equipped with bathrooms and kitchens stand unoccupied, awaiting final adjustments before the refugees can move in.

Meanwhile, the migrants do what they can to create homes. Women bake in makeshift mud ovens. Vegetables and sweet-scented basil grow in small gardens. Neighbors gather on the benches of improvised patios, drinking endless cups of tea or coffee. But for mothers with newborns, the need to nest and the awareness of all that's lacking are especially strong.

"This life is very difficult, but in Syria (it's) also difficult," Hanan Halawa, 39, a mother of four children ages 12 to four months, said. …

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