The 42-year-old from Togo has faced many challenges in her life since she was a child. Today in Greece she must face another one; the one that derives from the new ministerial decision regarding the housing of the recognized refugees in the country. Palanga and her son are among the recognized refugees who had to leave their apartment rented by SolidarityNow in the framework of the *ESTIA program.
The single-parent family from Togo, like so many other people, had to find housing, in a market that, prefers to turn apartments into short-lived homes (airbnb), do not rent to foreigners (refugees and migrants) and, at the same time, requires advance payment of the amount of the guarantee.
Until now, in SolidarityNow 20 people have left their apartments in Athens and Thessaloniki. Palanga and her little son are among them. On the occasion of the World Refugee Day on June 20th, we met Palanga in a small but cozy house in Athens city center.
“I was looking for a house for a long time. At first I thought people were afraid of me”.
Palanga, an exuberant dynamic woman, did not wait until the end of May for a decision to be made for herself and her son; “I will do everything in my power for my life”. And she did it. Her 2.5-year-old son, whose name is Godwill plays in the house she found, rented, and takes care of all on her own. Finding a house enabled her to join the **Helios program implemented by IOM (International Organization for Migration).
But Godwill’s mother must deal not only with the difficult conditions in a foreign country, the traumas of the past, the daily frustrations, and constant efforts for a safer present and future, but especially with her child’s health problems. For the safety of this child, she left Togo pregnant to escape from an abusive family environment. She travelled to Turkey, where she was imprisoned and was victimized by traffickers. She finally managed to arrive to Greece, at Moria of Lesvos, from where she fortunately left quickly.
She gave birth to a beautiful boy in Thessaloniki and lived in an apartment that SolidarityNow rented for her for the first seven months. However, when Godwill was diagnosed with Down syndrome and a heart problem, they had to move to Athens.
Palanga in Athens learned everything about her child’s health problems. Following the recommendation by Pantelis Kontogiannis, one of SolidarityNow’s social workers, Palanga collaborated with the experts of another organization who helped little Godwill to walk and communicate better. In the meantime, she participated in Helios program workgroups and she learned everything she needed to know about the procedures for joining the program. At the same time, she worked voluntarily and offered support to other people in need, “people who are foreigners like me“.
Now she dreams of their future. She wants for Godwill to complete all the necessary medical tests and treatments, and if she cannot find a job in Greece to leave for Germany. “In Germany I have acquaintances, not friends or relatives. I have no family anymore. I speak a little German; I was learning at school. I will never stop trying for having my own home“. Pantelis Kontogiannis, the social worker supporting her through all the way, believes the same about Palanga – “She is one of the most active women I have ever met, and I admire her. Few women have the courage to leave harsh environments, especially in countries where women are not treated as equal members of the society“.
* ESTIA, the Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation programme, is implemented by UNHCR and funded by the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund of the European Union.
** HELIOS project (Hellenic Integration Support for Beneficiaries of International Protection) is implemented by International Organization for Migration (IOM) and funded by Directorate General Migration and Home Affairs of the European Commission (DG HOME).