Wednesday World : Uday: The life of a refugee by Eleanor Battie

At LawyersLife we love meeting and hearing from lawyers who do interesting things outside the law as well as great things within the profession.

Barrister Eleanor Battie from 1 Crown Office Row chambers certainly fits the bill in both respects. She has recently returned from a week in Greece where she spent time with some of the many refugees waiting in camps there. In the article below she tells the story of just one of the people she met.


Uday; The Life of a Refugee

Uday is a beautiful, bright 19 year old. He has a stunning smile and exquisite thick black curly hair. He is young and has a veneer of youthful optimism about him.

Uday has spent the afternoon preparing dinner for us and spent his rations on ingredients. It is my first day with the volunteers and on my first evening l am being welcomed with enthusiasm by Uday and his friends, who have created an unforgettable feast for us. The irony is, with sadness, not lost on me.

By 9pm our dinner is ready. The blanket is laid on the floor and the multiple, colourful dishes presented to us. It is important for Uday and his friends that we feel welcome. That, as his guest, we feel comfortable and enjoy the feast. I ask Uday where he learnt to cook and he told me that his mother taught him when he was around 12 years old. His father liked to cook too. That was 5 years before he was compelled to escape Syria, alone, leaving them behind.

I talk to Uday about his life here in Greece. I begin to see cracks in the veneer. He has been here for over a year. He spoke no English on arrival but told me, in unbroken prose, that he had volunteered for the Red Cross since the day he arrived. I am proudly shown the reference they had given him just that day. It’s impressive. He has been a leader in managing hygiene on the camp. He has also been a clown and a puppeteer, providing entertainment for the refugee children. He tells me he doesn’t take days off. He doesn’t want to. He has his father’s work ethic.

Uday tells me that he may have to leave camp any day. I ask him how he feels about that. He tells me that he wants to move on as most of his friends have now been sent away. But he’s nervous as he still has some friends left on camp and he has no idea where he will be sent to. He might be sent to a hotel in Athens to be held for a further indefinite period of time (in which case he’d prefer to stay in a container alongside his friends). Or he may be moved straight to a different country. He doesn’t know which. He arrived alone and so he will leave alone. He changes the subject and tells me how he used to enjoy being a puppeteer. He learnt how to do it from YouTube.

The details of Uday’s journey to Greece are known to me only through piecing information together. I was nervous to ask direct questions for risk of raising memories he wasn’t ready to recall. I do know that he left home, his family and friends, at 18. They encouraged him to escape, to save himself and try and achieve a better life. They knew the situation in Syria was dire and heard rumours of chemical weapons being used. He took his first ever flight, one-way, from East to West where he was to cross the border illegally. He tried 9 times to cross to Turkey. He was shot at many times. He was chased. At all times, he was alone, meeting fellow refugees along the way but always being separated at some stage. Eventually, in March 2016, he made it to mainland Greece where he was processed on to the camp.

During the heatwave of the summer and the freezing cold winter Uday has waited to discover his fate. He has continued to volunteer and has, somehow, maintained a cheerful disposition. I don’t doubt it is part of his survival as relationships and community are vital for him. By January 2017 his friends started to be sent away in droves. Although, with Spring brings warmer climes and a new generation of refugees are born to the islands of Greece.

There is still no official number of camps in Greece, let alone official number of refugees. There is still money being misspent on an epic scale and refugees living in unthinkable conditions, barely adequate for animals let alone humans. And those are the physical demands. The psychological impact is deeply worrying. Save the Children have raised concern about children as young as 9 years old self-harming and an increase in suicide amongst the teenagers in camp. They have also found that more than 5,000 minors are living in “appalling conditions” that are driving a mounting mental health crisis.

I grow fond of Uday during my week here. On any account, he is an impressive individual with huge potential. Anyone who gave him just 5 minutes of their time would see this. Those who take time to recall their own teenage years will consider his inconceivable. But I am fearful for him, that his experiences to date are being perpetuated by having to live with such insecurity for so many months. I sincerely hope he can rise above his experiences and find peace and happiness wherever he may find his home. And I sincerely hope that those around him will support him in doing so.

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