While Greece’s response to coronavirus was extraordinarily well managed through an early national lockdown, the easing of restrictions could not have come sooner for the 1,200 unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors living in Athens.
The mandatory stay-at-home order was tedious for most sleeping, eating and working within the same four walls, and stressful for others. However, for underaged refugees in Athens, many of whom live in group homes, often with up to 30 other children, the experience was only amplified, with lockdown posing unique challenges.
Amarely, who arrived from Congo two years ago, was grateful to see the lockdown lifted. Unlike other teenagers in Greece, she was unable to take daily walks because the state prosecutor’s office, the legal guardian of all unaccompanied minor refugees, prohibited any unnecessary risks, including going outdoors, for all children in their care. “For two months, the only place I could be outside was our small yard, which was surrounded by high buildings so only saw the sun for about an hour a day,” she says.
Amarely bears no resentment for the unfavourable situation, knowing its necessity, but says she envied her social workers who were able to come and go as they pleased. When asked what she missed most during lockdown, Amarely promptly responded that “the sun” came second only to her friends.
Education was another major obstacle for those enrolled in the Greek public school system. Wifi outages plagued the students, often preventing them from attending online classes. Those without the luxury of online classes were supplied worksheets. This, in turn, created another challenge: the worksheets were in Greek, excluding those who still have not been able to grasp the alphabet. “Most of the girls just threw them away,” says Amarely of the frustration felt by the pupils with this method.
Coronavirus combined with the summer holidays means most of the teens will go a period of five months without in-person teaching. Students will feel the greatest effect in the lack of language lessons, as learning Greek and English are essential for preparing students for life in Greece and other parts of Europe.
The children at the shelters are attempting to readjust back to normal life as much as possible. However, the aftereffects of coronavirus haunt the 18-year-olds, who have recently become independent.
Rosie, 18, also from Congo, was preparing for a summer job in a hotel before coronavirus and was going to use the money to help her leave the group home. Now, the hotel remains shut, but Rosie is optimistic that she will find work soon.
She hopes for only one thing, sharing the sentiments of many Greeks reeling from the economic effects of the pandemic: “I pray that there will not be another wave in September.”
Hazel Genieser is a high-school student currently serving a summer internship with Kathimerini English Edition.