Two years after the world made a photo of a dead toddler into the image of mass forced migration, refugees are no longer front page news in Europe. If we want the next image to be a different one, we need to fill the insides of the newspapers with stories of our shared everyday life that bring us closer to one another. Great injustice and suffering is being inflicted every day – but the complexity of the refugee experience requires everyday stories be told as well.
As a volunteer at Solidarity Now in Thessaloniki, Greece, I am not confronted with stereotypical images of suffering. There are profound moments, when people share their extraordinary stories with me – a 14-year-old who says she always wanted to be a jet pilot, but now doesn’t really have a home to defend; a man who mentions it took him two years and eight months to get to Europe (during a Greek class on basic means of transport); a teenage girl who has just found out she will see her father after three years apart; a woman who lived in a prison with her husband and their baby boy.
Pretty much everyone can tell you something that will break your heart, and I am reminded that I’m surrounded by people whose lives have been turned upside-down. But, far more often, we talk about our everyday lives – housework, books and music, the impossible heat, and, of course, food.
Space for solidarity
Usually, I work in the Blue Refugee Centre, a space run by Solidarity Now in central Thessaloniki. There, we offer a variety of services – psychosocial support, language lessons, employment help – and create opportunities for refugees to socialise, to exchange experiences and tips on life in Greece, and to find out about the diverse programmes available to them.
There isn’t a single profile of a typical person who comes to the centre. We support people of very different ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds,…