“I really like going to the playground, I love the swings. I have met many children from the neighborhood and we have become friends”. Eight-year-old Alisar, speaks with enthusiasm about the new city she lives in with her parents and her four sisters. The family of eight arrived in Heraklion on the Greek island of Crete a few months ago.
Originally from Palestine, the parents, Malek and Abed Maiyada Bakri, were born and raised in Syria. Malek traded in clothing and worked as a builder. The family was forced to leave the country when their home was destroyed by a bomb. At the same time, Malek also lost his job.
“We had a normal life in Syria, we were neither poor nor rich. However, the war destroyed our country and our lives. We decided to leave, to escape the bombs and give our children a better future,” says Malek.
After a long journey with many difficulties the family crossed to Greece seeking protection. For the past months they have been living in a house in Heraklion rented through the ESTIA program by the Heraklion Development Agency, a partner of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Here, they feel they can start a new chapter in their life while their asylum request is being processed. The five girls got their own children’s room and soon they returned to classes. Their mother, Abed, can now cook in a normal kitchen. Abed loves preparing Syrian food and sweets, not only for her family but also for their neighbors who welcomed them from the very first moment.
“We have a home, a neighborhood. People respect us and help us as much as they can. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. My girls go to school. That’s all I care about. I want to see my children moving forward and have a good life,” the 40-year-old mother says.
Mrs. Evdokia (Kitsa) Vassiliadou, an 85-year-old lady from Greece, helps Malek Bakri, a 41-year-old Palestinian asylum seeker from Syria, to take his children to school in Heraklion city in Crete.
The Bakri family at their home in Heraklion city in Crete. © UNHCR/Socrates Baltagiannis
Mrs. Evdokia (Kitsa) Vassiliadou, an 85-year-old lady from Greece, helps Malek Bakri, a 41-year-old Palestinian asylum seeker from Syria, to take his children to school in Heraklion city in Crete. © UNHCR/Socrates Baltagiannis
Every afternoon, Malek accompanies his five daughters to the park. Evdokia Vassiliadou, “Mrs Kitsa”, often joins them. The 85-year-old neighbor of the family, who lives one floor over the Bakri’s house, has come close with the young girls, who now call her “grandmother”.
“They are good people and they keep me company. I feel sorry for what they have been through and I try to help them. I feel it is our duty to support anyone in need. You never know how things will turn out. Τhis family could never imagine that one day they would had to leave their homeland. Tomorrow, we may be in their place and we may have to leave our home”, Kitsa explains.
Malek Bakri describes Heraklion as a “second home” and tries to find a stable job.
“Dignity and education for us and for our children, this is what I ask for. I need to find a job, to be able to raise my daughters. People have embraced us here, which is why we want to stay on the island. In Crete, I feel that we can rebuild our lives”.
More than 900 asylum seekers lived as of the end of August 2020 in Crete, in apartments rented under the Emergency Support To Integration and Accommodation – ESTIA programme, implemented on Crete by the Heraklion Development Company if the city of Heraklion in cooperation with UNHCR and co-funding by the European Union. Since 2015, UNHCR in cooperation with the Greek Government, local authorities and NGOs have provided urban accommodation for more than 69,000 refugees and asylum-seekers in Greece.