Dr. Sandie Morgan and Dave Stachowiak are joined by a long time partner, Paraskevi Champeridou. Paraskevi, affectionately referred to as Voula, is the director of the Syrian Humanitarian Initiative, BRIDGES. She co-established a holistic restoration and integration approach for Syrian refugees passing into Greece daily. Together, they examine how refugees are vulnerable to further victimization and exploitation.
- A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence, according to UNHCR.
- Victimization on the hosting land causes the refugees to die in small doses. This occurs through political decisions, exploitation, lack of material assistance, poor legal protections, denial of their new reality compared to their expectations, long geographical restrictions to camps, distorted religion realities, lack of communication, a different legal system, and bureaucracy.
- Once a person becomes a refugee, they are likely to remain a refugee for many years. Many will be displaced for nearly two decades, causing a life in limbo.
- Voula says, “We cannot talk about integration if we shall not speak about a holistic approach. If we fail to keep Spirit, Soul, and Body united then we fail freedom, healing, restoration, new life.”
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Dave: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 194, Is the Refugee Crisis Over?
Production Credits: [00:00:09] Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential.
Dave: [00:00:30] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.
Sandie: [00:00:34] And my name is Sandie Morgan.
Dave: [00:00:38] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, yet another friend today who has been a partner for so long in this work to end human trafficking. We have a guest here in the studio who is a longtime friend of yours.
Sandie: [00:00:57] I am so, excited to have Paraskevi Champeridou from Athens, Greece. She was here speaking at Ensure Justice 2019. If you missed it, please be sure to go online and look at the links to see what you missed and plan to come next year 2020. Paraskevi Champeridou is also, known to me as Voula and I’ve known her for so, many years, I don’t want to say how many years. She’s a mother, a wife of 25 years, she has two daughters 20 and 16, she’s a social worker and a family counselor. She had been working as a private counselor for many years teaching human relationships in Athens, Greece and has been participating, speaking, and organizing many conferences on mental health, family relationships, domestic violence, and human trafficking. But in 2013 she and her husband, Elias, established the NGO humanitarian initiative, BRIDGES, as they foresaw that huge waves of Syrian refugees would pass through Greece, and that happened in 2015. Now they envision their holistic restoration and full integration. She is the legal representative of BRIDGES, working with her husband to give voice to the voiceless and victimized refugees who are daily passing from Greece. Voula welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast.
Voula: [00:02:30] Thank you, it’s a privilege to be here.
Sandie: [00:02:32] We are so, happy to have you! On Friday when you spoke about the refugees at Ensure Justice, you quoted someone as explaining their plight as “all gone”. Can you explain that for us?
Voula: [00:02:47] Yes, it’s a real quotation, it’s from someone who said that to us that when they arrived in Greece they arrived because “all gone”. And by this they meant that actually, they had lost everything, they had lost their lives, they had lost their family, they lost their counsel, they lost their habits, their schooling, their fields. They have actually lost their everyday life, their memories, their feelings, everything. So, saying this, it’s actually they lost their own soul and they were sharing their tears because they had nothing else. And when everything is gone, when all is gone, then by itself this is a motivating power because when what is left, you have to go for the next step because there is nothing else behind. So, by itself, this is a great motivation to leave everything and go for the next step. But also, there is such a big wound and then you can so, easily be victimized because you are looking for hope and whatever it is being offered to you, you are going to take it because all is gone, nothing has been left.
Sandie: [00:04:01] When I visited you two years ago I was shocked as you were talking to a young man who was desperate to at least be reunified with his family, who had made it to another European country. And he was trying to figure out how to get there. The process is difficult, the countries aren’t accepting him, but that’s where his family is. So, he told you he found someone to take him and you said, “Do you trust your smuggler?” I thought who asks that kind of question. But when people are desperate, they become vulnerable to believing lies and becoming victims of smugglers, and even of human trafficking, because somebody offers them hope, offers them a job. What is your definition of a refugee?
Voula: [00:05:00] You see, a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution of war or violence. This is a definition by UNHCR and their standard many times it’s a definition that sounds very bureaucratic and it’s very good for all of us to understand what violence means, what war means, and what persecution means. And it takes time because we sometimes we have never walked in their shoes to understand and I strongly believe that for all of us we can very easily be refugees. We are just a war away for being refugees and just to walk in their shoes. And we do not understand this; we think that they are refugees, but we are not because we are safe, but we are not.
Sandie: [00:05:52] When our students first go, and they visit BRIDGES, the most exceptional thing they discover is that these are families just like we are. They would walk back to our accommodations at night discussing, I met a dentist, I met at school teacher, I met an attorney, I met a judge and their children and now they are sleeping in accommodations that are sometimes condemned hotels. They’re sleeping in tents, they’re sleeping in what was supposed to be temporary circumstance, and now some of them have been there for years already. Can you give us some examples of what political and family persecution, or all of the different examples?
Voula: [00:06:44] Most of these people they are very well educated but unfortunately because of this situation they have to come into Greece and ask for asylum and sometimes because of their culture, the political and the family situation can be interwoven. So, let me give you an example. For instance, there is a lady who had her brother was politically persecuted in his country. So, this lady after the brother left, has been interrogated by the police. During one of these interrogations, the police raped here twice and videotaped the rape. Two years later, the police showed this video to her husband. In their culture, this is a stigma. So, immediately the husband divorced the wife and told her that you take the children, they belong to you, I have nothing to do with you. So, immediately this lady because of her brother became politically and family persecuted. So, now she had to take her children and come to Greece asking asylum. And she’s supposed to be a divorced woman, but also, bear the stigma that she has been raped, like as if it was her fault, but it has never been.
Sandie: [00:08:10] So, she seeks asylum and now she has to start over where she has no job opportunities. She has no family, and she just has her children.
Voula: [00:08:23] And not only this, right now she doesn’t even have accommodation because she just needs to wait. She has applied for accommodation in Greece. We help you to have us to ask for asylum, her case will be examined. But she still waits for her time to come here to be hosted. We don’t know when this is going to happen after one month, two months, three months. So, she just waits. Meanwhile, she’s been hosted by a friend. So, we had this thought that this meanwhile, who is the friend? And how safe it is to be hosted by your friend? She’s now a single woman, a single mother with two children, in this way we can understand how vulnerable these people they can be. Because they are so, much wounded with no hope, and they are looking for every single opportunity for protection in order to be safe. We don’t know by whom they are going to be hosted and when they’re going to be hosted, and if and when they’re going to have social support.
Sandie: [00:09:29] So, give me another example that’s based on religion.
Voula: [00:09:33] Religion persecution. We see this very often lately because of what has happened with the Isis, many people get them, and they’re fed up and then they flee from their religion. So, they come, and they say that they do not want any more my religion and then many times though there is also, persecution between the different groups of Islam, the Sunni and Shia. And let me give you an example. For instance, the example of the name Mohammed.
Sandie: [00:10:13] That’s a very common name.
Voula: [00:10:14] Yes. This is why I’m saying this, all the names suddenly changed here. His brother decided to turn, to be converted to Christianity, and now his girlfriend and family killed his brother because of this. When this happened, the two families they said we cannot have any more of this couple be married. The couple decided to leave their country and flee to Turkey. The lady’s family decided to persecute them in Turkey, find them there, find their house, put the fire in the house, put them in the house and threw them in the fire, and then they followed them in Greece, and they still persecute them. And all this because the brother decided to convert to Christianity, and so, they keep following them now. And of course, for instance, another example would be the case of a family that we have a lady that they were Sunni, and the husband was Shia, and they got married, but then the family of the lady decided that because the husband was Shia, they didn’t want him. And they already had children so, they persecuted him, they scared him with his life, the husband had then needed to flee. He left the country, he went to Europe, then the family literally tortured the lady. They actually, the brother has shot him two times and they kept him in their country. Then the lady had to take her two children and live in Europe looking for a safe from the country to live with their children. Having no idea where the father of the children were and when they came in Greece, she was actually looking for asylum because she said I don’t know where my husband is because all these years I was not allowed to talk to him or secretly, I was deprived for any kind of communication with the father of my children. So, she had no hope at all.
Sandie: [00:12:28] I hear the same theme over and the two years that I’ve been going, I hear the stories of the hopelessness of family separation. And at first, it’s they’ve lost their home, they’ve lost their computers, they’ve lost their cars, they’ve lost their careers, but ultimately now they lose family and they lose hope and there’s terrible despair. And I think one of the most shocking things for me was I thought each situation was temporary. And so, when I came back the second year and saw the same family and now the children are older, and they recognize me because we had our pictures and it’s in their camp home. I thought they would be now by this time in school, living in a house, having a job. But the situation in the hosting country is almost a second kind of victimization and I heard you use the words “dying in small doses”. What are some of those doses?
Voula: [00:13:37] Unfortunately, this is what happens because even if they have not been victimized in their country the whole procedure can cause exactly this because the procedure can be so, slow the asylum procedure can be so, slow and it is a life in limbo waiting for your interview, waiting to see if you will be recognized as a refugee or if you are going to be rejected as a refugee, and then you go to the second appeal.
Sandie: [00:14:05] Wait. So, just because they get there, they can be rejected?
Voula: [00:14:09] Of course because if you are a Syrian refugee you have to be rejected it’s not very common, but if you are coming to ask appeal from another country then your case will be examined because just to claim an asylum, just to ask for protection it doesn’t mean necessarily that you are what you are saying is true. So, the country that you are seeking asylum must examine what you are saying if it’s true or not. So, this can take a few years by the time that you give your interview, the time that the asylum office is going to examine your reality, and then to give you the answer, and if there is a rejection then you have the right to go to the second appeal. We understand that all of these can take even one year, two years, or three years and these three years there is a life in limbo. So, they do not have the time actually to grow roots. And then many times when they come in Greece, they didn’t come to stay in Greece because they think that Greece is a poor country so, they cannot find a job, they don’t want to be adjusted, and they leave in the face of denial. They are actually rooted in the face of denial and because of this even if they get recognized in Greece, they get the status of asylum. Then as soon as they gain their travel document, they want to travel to the next European country and then because of the Dublin law they apply for asylum, but then the next European country they will say oh you have fingerprints in Greece. So, Greece is a safe country, just go back to Greece.
Sandie: [00:15:48] Yes. So, the Dublin law made it so, that when they found a way to go to another country, they check where they started and send them back.
Voula: [00:15:59] Yes.
Sandie: [00:15:59] Yes. So, the second year that I came to Greece. When we arrived 15,000 refugees were being returned to Greece every single day. That was what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said because of the Dublin law.
Voula: [00:16:17] On 2015 the Dublin law was kind of, how can I say, they didn’t really activate this because they realize that Greece was in a very hard position. So, the European Union really took some initiative to help Greece and Italy at this time. So, they took some refugees, not enough though. Now though this Dublin law is activated. So, we see people just coming back to Greece.
Sandie: [00:16:51] Wow. And then you have to find a way to support them.
Voula: [00:16:56] That’s right. Because after they come back to Greece, they cannot apply again for accommodation and they do not have any more social support. And we need to understand that they do not have the language. So, when they will come back, the question is where are they going to stay? We don’t know. What is there social support? There is not. Do they have the language? No, they don’t.
Sandie: [00:17:19] So, that makes them very vulnerable to traffickers and exploiters. When I was there last summer I spoke to social workers who explained to me that young men who were over the age of 18, so, they didn’t qualify for child services, were being recruited and forced into commercial sexual exploitation. And they were not only being used to survive they would get very little money by the traffickers. But the despair, and the shame, and the hopelessness resulted in an extremely high suicide rate with these young men who saw themselves with no future.
Voula: [00:18:12] Unfortunately we have lots of people like this staying on the streets or at the squatters.
Sandie: [00:18:20] Explain to us, what is a squatter?
Voula: [00:18:25] A squatter is an abandoned building, it can be an old school or all the offices that no one is using. So, they have to just break in, in some cases, there is no water or no electricity but at least it is covered, so, they are not to the open air. So, they have taken big classrooms, they have separated them with their blankets or with old cardboard and they created them the kind of bedrooms. So, about two or more thousand refugees, but instead of staying on the streets they are living there right now. And this, of course, is on the mainland. I’m talking about that mainland right now, then the islands that the situation is worse there. But this happens within the mainland because there is no other opportunity. The accommodation is not enough right now. So, this is the squatter, the abandoned buildings of the place that the people are going there to stay instead of staying at the parks or squares. And of course, then we have the cases that the one is accepting the other, instead of staying homeless a friend can say, “oh okay, come and stay with me.” But the question will always remain who is the friend? How well do we know the friend? And do they accept money for taking the friend? And what are the services that they’re required from the friend? Because many times the friend is a smuggler and this smuggler many times either requires money or many times the women they have been sexually exploited by the smuggler.
Sandie: [00:20:00] Many many times.
Voula: [00:20:01] Many times the women are sexually exploited by the smugglers.
Sandie: [00:20:05] Many of the women that I spoke to last year they thought they found a safe place to stay, and then when they arrived they couldn’t leave, and they were sold day after day. And yet their hope was to eventually be able to go somewhere where they would be with family. Some of the other issues that are contributing to their vulnerability legal protection. But what happens if someone with no documents is raped?
Voula: [00:20:46] Okay, they can always go to the police and report the fact. There are NGOs that they can offer a kind of legal protection for free. Though the NGO says that exist right now in Greece, they mainly do not support criminal cases, but they support subjects that are affiliated with refugees in their issues and not that many criminal issues. The ones though that they do not have any documents, they’re so, much scared to go to the police because they’re scared that they’re going to be arrested and then the smugglers, of course, they know this and they’re using this. So, when there is a rape they will always scare them, and they tell them just go no one is going to believe you and of course they’re going to arrest you. So, they are going to use it against them. So, of course, they have the right to go and report this to the police, but the fear is so, much that they’re going to be arrested because they have not applied for asylum yet, that they will never go because they are scared that their voice is not going to be high enough to be heard.
Sandie: [00:21:56] And that is another kind of death.
Voula: [00:22:00] Yes, it is. So, they get victimized one more time.
Sandie: [00:22:06] There’s so, much to talk about here. The bureaucracy, the fact that people come into a different legal system, they don’t know how to navigate. And there is a bit of shame involved when you’re a professional from your country and you’re reduced to being unable to communicate, you don’t know the language you don’t know the process. And what I loved about BRIDGES, as we’re kind of winding up here in our last few minutes. What I loved about BRIDGES is when refugees came to BRIDGES they were greeted with dignity tables, tea was ready. Tea and cookies, it was always the same and everyone was treated the same. And if you needed material things clothing or food you were given a number like you’re at a supermarket waiting your turn. You don’t stand in a line, you get your shopping number and when it’s your turn you go to the shopping area below and get the things that you need in a reasonable and respectful way. And then you also, wait there in the tea area until someone can help you with understanding the legal and the social services. And what I loved when I was there was hearing someone say to me, they wanted to talk to me, they wanted people outside Greece to know what BRIDGES was doing. And so, they found an interpreter and they said, “when no one else will help us BRIDGES will help, everyone knows if you have reached every closed door go to BRIDGES and they will not give up.” And I think that’s an important thing for us to know about how to serve in the refugee crisis that is far from over, is that we cannot give up. Tell us in a closing remark what your hope is to end your job serving refugees. How can you do that?
Voula: [00:24:16] What I dream actually, is it to see these people stand back on their feet. And what they take right now to be able to give it to others because what they take, this will be able to serve some other people because yes, the refugee crisis we hope that it’s going to finish but certainly some other crises they are going to appear to this world. But the principles that they get now, the way that they are served now, the hope that they get now, the spirit that they get now at least they will be able to pass it to somebody else. This is what I hope, that the flame that they take, the thoughts that they take, the discipleship that they take, to pass it to somebody else. This is my hope, to see this to go further and further and further just to pass the discipleship, to pass the torch, to pass the flame.
Sandie: [00:25:11] Oh I love the idea of a torch because it means lighting the way forward, and there is hope, there is a future. Their families are together or they’re coming together. Their children are getting an education sometimes it’s very slow and difficult, but there are lots of people who care. And we who are far removed, we need to remember the refugee crisis is not over. And these are the most vulnerable people. If we want to end human trafficking then we need to think of all of the ways that traffickers find, recruit, and exploit their victims. So, Voula, thank you so, much. I want to end with a quote from Friday night at Ensure Justice that I wrote down. You said, “We cannot talk about integration if we do not speak about a holistic approach. If we fail to keep spirit, soul, and body united then we fail freedom, healing, restoration, and new life.” Thank you so, much for being with us today.
Voula: [00:26:27] Thank you for having me.
Dave: [00:26:29] Sandie and Voula, thank you for such an incredible perspective. Voula, thank you so, much for your work. Sandie, I just am humbled and struck every time we talk with a friend and partner like Voula, just how many not only how much challenge there is in this, but also, how many wonderful voices and helping hands there are out there as well too. And we are grateful for you too listening and being one of those helping hands. And we’re inviting you to also, take the step the first step perhaps along with us. I hope that you’ll hop online if you haven’t already and download a copy of Sandie’s book, The Five Things You Must Know, a quick start guide to ending human trafficking. It’s free you can get access to it right now. The guide is going to teach you the five critical things that Sandie and the Global Center for Women and Justice have identified that all of us should know before we join the fight against human trafficking. You can get access to it just by going over to endinghumantrafficking.org. You’ll also find all the show notes for this episode and every episode we’ve aired since 2011. Can you imagine that, Sandie? We’ve been at this a while and we’re not stopping anytime soon. So, lots more to come, again join us at endinghumantrafficking.org. And Sandie, I will see you in two weeks.
Sandie: [00:27:54] Thank you, Dave.
Dave: [00:27:55] Take care, everybody.