Moments of Dignity

Syrian mother Ayaat and father Thaen and their one and a half year old daughter Hasar wait for a train north to the Serbian border. They have spent 10 days traveling through Turkey and Greece. John Engedal Nissen/IFRC

Syrian mother Ayaat and father Thaen and their one and a half year old daughter Hasar wait for a train north to the Serbian border. They have spent 10 days traveling through Turkey and Greece. John Engedal Nissen/IFRC

Story by John Engedal Nissen, IFRC

The water runs down little one-year old Hasar’s body. Her mother, Ayaat, holds her while her father, Thaen, pours the water from a plastic bottle onto her curly hair to rinse away the shampoo. The bath, a normal activity in her homeland of Syria, is considered a luxurious moment of dignity in her life today as a vulnerable migrant.

Hasar and her family spent 10 days travelling through Turkey and Greece to cross the border into the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, where the Red Cross has provided them with water, food, diapers and a hygiene kit. Sitting in a tent, her sister, four-year old Faten, plays with toys spread all over a tarpaulin on the ground.

“We feel respected here as human beings. The aid makes a big difference. Our daughters can sleep and rest,” says Thaen and emphasizes that this hasn’t been the case on the journey so far.

People have exploited their situation selling them overpriced water and food. They slept on the street. Police have forced them to give their daughters sleeping pills to make them stop crying.

“They’ve been very frightened and have cried very much,” Thaen says.

One and a half year old Hasar from Syria have just been washed by her mother Ayaat. They are assisted with food, water and medical attention by Red Cross of the FYR of Macedonia. John Engedal Nissen/IFRC

One and a half year old Hasar from Syria have just been washed by her mother Ayaat. They are assisted with food, water and medical attention by Red Cross of the FYR of Macedonia. John Engedal Nissen/IFRC

The worst experience for the family was crossing the sea from Turkey to Greece. They had to pay $1,500 for each of them to travel in a small and overloaded inflatable boat at 3:00am in the morning.

“We prayed to Allah the whole time fearing we would drown,” says Thaen.

Upon approaching the first Greek island, the boat was punctured after hitting rocks under water. Chaos ensued and the boat tilted over. Thaen tried to swim with his oldest daughter on his shoulders. He was tossed into the rocks by the waves, he explains, while showing the scars on his arms.

“We have faced death. The journey has been very difficult.”

Migrant child waiting for a train north to the Serbian border. Thousands of migrants have crossed through Macedonia since the beginning of June, 2015. John Engedal Nissen/IFRC

Migrant child waiting for a train north to the Serbian border. Thousands of migrants have crossed through Macedonia since the beginning of June, 2015. John Engedal Nissen/IFRC

Thaen and his family lived a comfortable life in Aleppo, Syria. Ayaat worked as a nurse. Thaen had his own shop selling mobile phones. But the conflict made it impossible to stay. Prices were soaring, bombs were falling. Their two daughters saw so much fighting that they began to play war with each other.

“We didn’t want to raise our daughters in that environment, so we left Syria for their sake. We just need peace to live a safe life, but there is no such place in Syria.”

They sold everything, or “lost everything,” as Thaen puts it, to have money for the journey. Their ultimate destination is Germany where a lot of Syrians have moved, and where Ayaat’s brother currently lives.

For now, Thaen, Ayaat, Hasaar and Faten rest for a little while as they wait to catch a train to the Serbian border on their long journey.

Slobodan Mitrovic from Red Cross of the FYR of Macedonia assists a migrant with first aid. John Engedal Nissen/IFRC

Slobodan Mitrovic from Red Cross of the FYR of Macedonia assists a migrant with first aid. John Engedal Nissen/IFRC

The Red Cross of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been responding to the migrant crisis throughout the country since the start of June 2015 and now has seven mobile response teams working every day 24/7.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has released 193,218 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to help meet emergency needs and reduce the vulnerabilities of 10,000 people.

For more information on the work of the IFRC, please click here. For more information on the work of the Red Cross Movement to assist migrants and refugees, please click here.