By Ophelie Lawson
The reality of single mothers seeking asylum is something that I truly care about. I can but only sympathise with mothers who are raising children by themselves and in a situation that I, someone with legal documents, will never have to experience.
I have already in the past written about the life and daily struggle of single mothers living in refugee camps or stuck in our broken immigration system.
Let us not forget that mothers too are humans like anyone of us, who were forced to migrate and leave their home, and embark on a journey of seeking safety in Europe.
During my journey helping and supporting mothers, I met Laurene in Lesvos Island, when her little girl was just a couple of months old.
Lauren’s journey was not easy. She went on the perilous journey through the Mediterranean when she was only 3 months pregnant.
In Istanbul, Turkey, where she was living before coming to Greece, she was arrested 3 times for attempting to cross the sea.
Laurene is 23 years old from Cameroon (her name was changed for safety reasons).
She left for a safer future which is what she thought she would get in Europe. In her boat, while crossing, they were 43 in number. “We were really tight on the boat and being pregnant, it was really scary.” she confessed to me.
Laurene is not the first pregnant woman embarking on such a risky crossing. She is the second single mother whom I have met who was pregnant with her first child when crossing the sea.
When I met her in April 2021 after being in Lesvos for 11 months already, she was supported by an organisation called Iliaktida.
In summer 2021 she was finally moved to the Greece mainland after 1 year of waiting in the camp in the most horrible conditions, where she also gave birth to her daughter.
She was moved to a province near Athens where she was taken care of by another organisation.
In January 2022 after another rejection to her asylum claim, she was asked to leave her accommodation given to her as they could no longer help her given that she was now considered to be illegal meaning with no right to remain on the territory.
Unfortunately, this is also a harsh reality for so many people there. She reached out to the Unheard Refugee Voice, a project that I set up in 2020 to support black asylum seekers and refugees, so that we could help her in covering the rent for a bed in a room shared with other moms.
As I am writing this article, Laurene has been in detention for after attempting to leave the country with papers that were not hers after over a year of being left stranded in a system that does not have her best interests at heart, after months of struggling to feed herself and her baby.
Laurene and her 2 years old girl had been struggling to have a chance for decent shower.
They are being kept in a cell with minimum light. And her mental health is deteriorating as we speak.
Refugees in Greece face hunger and homelessness despite legal status. For those without status the reality is even harsher.
Generally, when people are caught attempting to leave Greece with forged travel documents or papers that are not theirs, they are released straight away, which was the case during her first attempts, but this time was different.
The social worker in charge of her has been in touch with her lawyer who has called the prison many times and she should have been released by now.
Unfortunately for her, there is no higher authority seeing cases such as hers and she is left neglected in a cell.
She does have access to her phone, and she is allowed out once per day. At this point neither the lawyer nor the social worker knows why she has not been released yet.
I have been in touch with her every day since she has been held captive and she is not well.
Every year, many forced migrants try to leave Greece with either documents that do not belong to them or forged travel documents.
They usually try to go to islands where many people travel to during tourist season as this give them a better chance. We do not know what is going to happen to Laurene or when she will be released.
But what we know is that when she does get released, her situation will remain the same. Cases like this happen every day.
Asylum seekers without papers who fall into the hand of a broken system and go silenced and forgotten.