During my time in Greece, I met a woman and her children who will remain in my heart forever. After one month of seeing her every day and swapping casual greeting and smiles, she came up to me and asked if I wanted to hear her story. Little did I know that her story would change my entire life. As soon as she first told me, I felt this sense of connection.
Fereshteh was a Politics student in Afghanistan and worked for a political party who advocated for women’s rights. She was married off at the age of 15 and pregnant with twins by the age of 17. This was the start to a 15 year-long battle, one she is now fighting for her and her children’s lives.
This is the story of Fereshteh. One that I hope you will never forget.
Seventeen months ago, Fereshteh left Afghanistan, where she lived with her husband, her son and daughters. Shortly after their marriage, her husband began to beat her, leaving her unconscious with broken bones. No matter how badly he treated her, she knew that she couldn’t leave him. Under Afghan law her children would be taken away from her. On many occasions, her husband threatened to kill her. She still speaks of the fear of her husband killing her and the prospect of having to leave her children alone to fend for themselves.
When Fereshteh heard that other members of her village were leaving to Europe, she persuaded her husband to go too. He had been unemployed for some time and she told him that he may find work there. But she had no intention of living with her husband in Europe. She knew that divorce and full custody of her children was a possibility in Europe.
Fereshteh left Afghanistan, travelled through Iran, and then into Turkey. Her husband said they would move on to Europe, but he began taking heavy drugs whilst in Turkey and beat Fereshteh even more heavily. Several times she ended up in hospital which left her children alone at home. After seven months of trying to persuade him, finally Fereshteh managed to convince her husband to move to Greece. Together they travelled in a rubber dingy, packed with 75 other refugees, and travelled to Lesbos.
In Lesbos, Fereshteh’s husband fell into a crowd of drug-dealers. He began to carry a knife with him and became increasingly violent. After yet another assault, this time one with an iron bar, Fereshteh spent 2 weeks in hospital. She was eventually transferred into UNHCR vulnerable housing. This didn’t deter her husband; he tracked her down and waited outside her accommodation every night brandishing a knife. The only nights that he didn’t appear outside her house was when he was arrested and in prison for selling drugs.
Fereshteh and her children now have asylum and have been transferred to Athens. However, now there are only two months remaining during which she can receive benefits. Thereafter she is expected to work and earn her own money. She speaks no Greek and only a little English learned in the camp. How can she look after her children (the youngest being 6-years-old) and where is she is going to live without an income? Her greatest fear is that she and her children, like countless of other refugees, will end up homeless, living on the streets of Athens.
Fereshteh’s dream of escaping her husband in Europe has so far proved fruitless. It has been 17 months since her arrival, yet she has still not divorced from her violent husband nor does she have custody of her children.
This campaign is for Fereshteh: so, she can live in a home with her children and afford to pay a Greek family lawyer to speed up her custody battle.
Hit simultaneously by the Global Financial Crisis, Greece received an influx of refugee’s due to its close proximity to Turkey. Greece’s welfare system cannot be compared to any other Western countries in Europe, the United States, or Australia.
Fereshteh’s fears that she will end up on the streets in a couple of months are well-founded. This is becoming increasingly common within Greece particularly for refugee women. Last Friday, we had a scare. Fereshteh’s husband had found her in Athens while she was studying at an English class. She quickly ran home and gathered her children and locked herself in her apartment for the weekend until she could contact the United Nations on the following Monday. This is her reality if nothing is done to stop it.
The reality is that should Fereshteh's husband get access to her alone, he will kill her. He has made this clear and has killed before. This in turn will result in him returning to Afghanistan with the children, where the girls will be sold into marriage to much older men. This was what she was fighting against before she fled Afghanistan.
Every donation helps, small donations will together accumulate into a fund that can guarantee the safety of a family and their welfare as together they endeavour to build a life without the constant fear of violence or separation. I can assure you that these funds will go directly towards providing Fereshteh legal aid through assigning a family law to her case in order to gain full custody of her children.
Unfortunately, no images can be provided of her and her children due to the fact that she must remain anonymous.