Holding tight to her two-year old child with one hand and the two long-desired plane tickets with the other, Jade* arrives at the departure gate of Athens airport. She hopes that once she walks through it, she will leave the traumas of her past behind and start a new life in France, where she will relocate with her son.
Born in Cameroon, Jade’s parents treated her as if she was their property. Her father made all the important life decisions for her, including who would be her future husband – a man 22 years her senior. When she got married, Jade became her husband’s property.
The first years of marriage were calm and Jade got the opportunity to begin studying Business Administration, a field she loved very much at university. However, when her husband decided that they would move to a more conservative area of Cameroon, his behaviour changed dramatically. Jade’s voice cracks when she describes that period of their life.
He forced her to undergo genital mutilation and wear a burqa. He made her drop out of university, and beat her when she resisted, even during her pregnancy. He threatened to kill her parents when they raised concerns about her health. Jade saw no other option but to escape with their five-year old son.
After the first failed attempt, her husband beat her brutally. Seeing her bleeding, her housekeeper put her in touch with a man issuing passports, who also provided her with the relevant travel documents. However, the man convinced her that in order for her to escape, she would have to go to Tunisia without her son who would join her sometime later.
Jade fled to Tunisia eventually, but she did not know that it would be the last time she would ever see her son. She has not been able to see or contact him ever since, she says, sobbing.
When she arrived to Greece by plane in August 2019, Jade was unaware that she was already pregnant with her second son. Right after landing, she was arrested for false documentation but she was released as soon as her pregnancy was verified and she was taken to an accommodation shelter.
A few months later, Jade gave birth to her second son.
“If I had to pack a memory from my life in Greece in my suitcase, it would be the birth of my child. I felt so happy when I saw him”, she says, and for the first time her face lights up with a smile.
Unfortunately, Jade’s integration efforts in Greece were challenging. Despite her efforts, she did not manage to find a job and after she received her refugee status, she had no place to stay. She also recalls how loneliness dominated her everyday life.
Recently, Jade and her two-year old son were accepted to be relocated to France.
“When I was accepted to go to France, I felt very happy”, Jade says, hoping that her integration there would be smoother, thanks to her fluency in French.
Despite her concerns, Jade is already planning her future with her child in France. She dreams that her son will go to school, have friends and continue to play with the puzzles he loves so much. However, her happiness is tainted by the fact that she is still far from her older child.
The voluntary relocation scheme is funded by the European Union and coordinated by the Commission. The scheme is implemented by the Greek authorities and the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, with the support of UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), UNICEF and the European Union Asylum Agency (EUAA). The twin objectives of the programme are to support vulnerable asylum-seekers and refugees and, at the same time, enhance solidarity and responsibility sharing among European Union member states and associated countries.
As of 7 July, almost 5,000 people have been relocated from Greece to fourteen European countries as a tangible expression of European solidarity. Among them, 1,251 unaccompanied children, 1,804 asylum-seekers and 1,896 recognized refugees. The voluntary relocation scheme first focused on unaccompanied children, but was later broadened to include also other vulnerable asylum seekers, including children with medical conditions and families, as well as beneficiaries of international protection.
The relocation process begins with the identification of the beneficiaries, while IOM prepares them for their proper integration in the country of destination and ensures their safe travel. Until their departure they are hosted in transit accommodation and receive the necessary medical, psychological support and legal assistance. On the day of their travel, they are accompanied to the airport and throughout the flight, until they arrive at their final destination. Moreover, they attend dedicated information sessions where they learn about life in the country of destination.
During the information session, Jade asked many questions about her new life in France – how soon could her child attend school and whether she would be able to study and work. Jade says that she feels anxious about this new chapter in her life.
“I don’t know how life will go for me”, she says. “I want to teach my child that he is able to do anything he sets his mind to, just not become a xenophobe”, Jade says, triggered by a behavior that she experienced strongly.
As for her own plans in the future, Jade wants to become a nurse “so that I can help others in return”, she explains.
Just before her departure to France, Jade sends her own message to all the women facing difficulties.
“Never give up”, Jade says and walks through the boarding gate.
*Name has been changed for protection reasons