Black single mothers, asylum seekers, in Lesvos, greece : a neglected harsh reality

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Some of the most vulnerable and neglected asylum seekers on the Island of Lesvos, Greece, home of the biggest refugee camp of Europe, are black single mothers and women. Here, Blackness seemed to be tied to the idea of something meaningless, and people, the authority, many locals, volunteers and humanitarian workers, seem to be unable to recognise the humanity in Black communities as in the same way that they do with other communities.  

According to the UNHCR, women represent 23% of the population on the island. They are exposed to a multitude of dangers; from gender based violence to police sexual harassment, whilst often being subject to neglect by the authorities and NGOs.

For years many NGOs have  denounced and condemned the dangers of the Greek refugee camp for women and girls. They have asked the Greek Government to take immediate action to ensure their security and provide humane conditions, initiatives such as the Human Rights Watch. However, things continue to worsen and those at the worst end of the spectrum are Black women. 

Black women are exposed not only to the dangers of being women and/or single mothers in these camps, but also to anti-black racism.

In simple terms, Anti-Black racism includes attitudes, behaviours, beliefs, stereotypes and prejudices or discrimination that is directed at people of African descent. It is rooted in Western history and a direct result of enslavement and colonisation of African people by white Europeans. It is deeply embedded in Western institutions, policies, and practices. It is quite simply part of the system.

The impact and consequences of White Supremacy in Africa and western history of colonisation has created systemic barriers and discriminative social constructs. These have been put in place to prevent black people from fully integrating and participating in all parts of society. 

To hear directly from those at the receiving end of this reality I spoke with Christine, a single mother from Congo RDC.

Christine arrived in Lesvos on the 18th December 2019, she arrived already 9 months pregnant;

“I was supposed to give birth on the 26 of Dcember but when I went  inside the camp it just didn’t happen. I had high blood pressure. I gave birth on the 4th of January instead. I spent one day inside the camp before social workers took me to a house.” 

Christine’s story reflect the struggles of many Black single mothers. Her story is a heartbreaking one. After fleeing her country to seek safety in Europe, she came to Lesvos only to experience severe neglect and hardship. 

Crossing on a boat across the Meditteranean to come to Europe she was pregnant  and in distress. 

“I came here expecting something else but the reality was otherwise” says Christine “The life in the camp while pregnant was so hard I couldn’t manage. My anxiety and high blood pressure were very high.” 

“The day I gave birth, when I started feeling the contractions, I went to the police inside the camp. After a while they called an ambulance. There were about 5 pregnant women inside the ambulance. I had to stand up while having contractions. When we arrived at the hospital they told me to go wait outside. I was the last to be seen.” 

Christine has had her asylum claims rejected leaving her and her son receiving no financial support. Every week, she struggles to find a way to feed her family. She’s been relying on other friends, who are themselves asylum seekers, and donations from various organisations present on the ground. 

On the island and in Greece, there are no measures or systems put in place to protect single mothers, especially young ones. Instead, some NGOs fill the gaps in the support t that’s lacking. However, in many cases, Black women come last when it comes to support available. 

“If I’d known that being a refugee in Europe would be like this, I would have never come” says Christine. “I really came here because I thought I would be safer.” 

Christine lives in Mytilini, 15 minutes from the camp. She was taken to the town by social workers the day after she gave birth. 

“When they came to take me, I thought life would be easier there but I was wrong. I was just left on my own with no help and my asylum claim is going nowhere. I am just on my own.” 

Despite many humanitarian organisations involved in this crisis no one group seems to be focused on solutions. Human rights violations are still happening daily. The thin veil of humanitarian aid is cloaking a darker reality of disaster capitalism where organisations continue to turn a profit, maintain power and ignore certain communities.

This neglect by the Greek government is unforgivable because without financial support these already vulnerable women are being made to rely on other refugees and charities.

A study published by the Refugee Rights Data Project said that a quarter of residents in refugee camps across Greece did not know where to access services if they got pregnant. Having to look after a new born baby is already challenging enough without also having to do it in a camp with inadequate services. 

For these women trapped in those conditions, there’s a quadruple burden: being single, a woman,  a mother, and a refugee. 

Black women face high rates of neglect while also experiencing institutionalised racism; they are disproportionately receiving rejections to their asylum claim, disproportionately subjected to racial profiling and police brutality. 

The problems of the ‘refugee crisis’ that should in fact be called a political crisis devoid of empathy means the situation in Greek refugee camps continue to worsen and there isn’t an end in sight. 

Black communities in Lesvos, Greece, find themselves with a continued lack of resources and any solutions to their situation. These groups are stuck in amongst this political crisis with no rights to move further into Europe nor allowances to return home. They are fighting flooding, daily acts of racism, lack of access to food and are forced to survive in the worst living conditions. Why do we allow this to continue?