E.16, her brother M.14, sister L.13 and brother H.8 were referred to the MELLON UAMs Unit in July 2016. When they arrived at MELLON, more immediate concerns shadowed the dream of reaching Germany to meet their father. The four children have fled Syria with their mother. Upon arriving on the Greek island of Chios, the mother got seriously ill and was transferred to a big Athenian hospital. So, the four children were left alone to deal with settling in, adjusting to communal living and its rules, replacing their parents’ authority with this of staff members, finding their place in a group of 60 Unaccompanied Children and 14 single mothers and their children. Most of all, they had to deal with their fears and anxiety over their mother’s struggle for her life, already in the hospital for three months at the time of their arrival at MELLON. Taking all this into account our Psycho-Social Service developed a plan that could offer practical support in the everyday needs of the family, respond separately to the age and personal needs of each child in terms of psycho-social support and also empower them in order to realize, accept and deal with the current situation without losing hope nor sight of their future prospects. The whole intervention was subject to our assessment of the children’s best interest: besides the immediate protection measures, we set as a goal to foster the bond of the children with their mother, not to cut off existing links nor further uproot them.
This was a delicate mission. It took the cooperation of our multidisciplinary team and close monitoring of the step by step process we organized. Pscyco-social service, pedagogists and medical service of the Shelter worked closely together and in line to the plan, so that the children would have a settled and securing everyday routine, including regular visits to their mother and participation in group educational and recreational activities. We took special care to give to each sibling the opportunity to acquire life skills and at the same time to make sure that the older ones were not burdened by parental tasks beyond their age and responsibility. Legal service monitored the re-unification case for the whole family and psycho-social service provided individual psycho-social support to each child according to his/her age and needs, respecting each child’s own expression of them. It also took reflective balancing of seemingly conflicting needs, flexibility, coordination and quick reactions to sudden and urgent challenges. This is better illustrated on E., the oldest child of the family, a beautiful young woman. To explore her personal identity would be considered her right and only obligation had she happened to be born in a western country. Instead, she had to manage conflicting emotions, try out the boundaries of her independence in connection to the sentimental and practical constraints the family situation imposed on her. Her case is exemplar in that it illustrates the challenges and hopes, the expectations and restraints that a teenage refugee experiences when in Europe. Even more so when she finds herself in between child- and womanhood, her own will for independence and her siblings’ needs. All this while culture, the compass of life, is blurred for her: which one to follow, the one where she comes from or the one that is dominant in Europe for girls of her age? She managed and we managed, together. Not always happily, but rather as tough love has it. Gradually, as the mother’s condition stabilized, our social service connected with her and in cooperation with the hospital social service and doctors we organized her transfer in a Shelter for families, under the condition that the mother’s day treatment would be supported.Besides our team, there are many actors that we are grateful to for their response and cooperation, among whom doctors and social service of the Evangelismos Hospital, as well as the colleagues of the Shelter were the re-united family was hosted until the day that they left for Germany. On our side of the story, that is the side of support and protection services, this is the happy ending. We hope that the same goes for the family too, that they live happily ever after!