TANYA MUSGRAVE

Mareyam | The Bias of Benevolence

Tanya Musgrave1 Comment

My time was winding down in the camp—the medical team and volunteers had vacated, leaving Kristin and Shion as my remaining travel companions. We'd come back from the weekend and the winds had changed drastically. It wasn't just the absence of the bright blue volunteer shirts, or of the purpose that some residents had found as translators—the blue shirts had taken the unseasonably warm weather with them, leaving behind a cold snap and sickness across the entire camp.

As mentioned before, it was hard for me to get stories; I realized that striking up banter about the worst days of their lives was the last thing I wanted to do, but I knew of one perspective I hadn't gotten yet: a Muslim woman.

I called on the help of Tamim to help me find someone willing to talk about their current struggles—being able to photograph her would be a plus. He leaves for a neighboring tent and comes back to direct us. "Mareyam will talk to you. She doesn't know English—I will translate for you." He leads us around the gravel walkways to another tent.

Related articles:  [Tamim | The Other Refugee Crisis][Gashin and Masoud | Peshmerga Freedom Fighters]

We exchange greetings in the shuffle to remove shoes and enter into the furnished tent while kids of various ages are gathered from various corners. Furnishings, in whatever availability, are given when a family comes into the camp, and these have their own particular flair.

 They come together for photos, both digital and Instax.

They come together for photos, both digital and Instax.

 The Instax shot is an instant novelty for the kids. There's a striking dissonance from her smile when I ask if she'd like one for herself and she declines. "I don't want to remember anything from here. It's too hard."

The Instax shot is an instant novelty for the kids. There's a striking dissonance from her smile when I ask if she'd like one for herself and she declines. "I don't want to remember anything from here. It's too hard."

 As the formality wears off, Bahzaad writes his name in my notebook and bounds on the bed. Even at his tender age of approximately 5, he remembers the 7-day trek through the jungles and the fires they'd make.

As the formality wears off, Bahzaad writes his name in my notebook and bounds on the bed. Even at his tender age of approximately 5, he remembers the 7-day trek through the jungles and the fires they'd make.

 Tamim pulls up a video for Kristin—an overloaded pump-boat carrying approximately 100 refugees. The video is from the perspective of a passing ship that sits helpless as the refugee-boat capsizes, dispersing every soul on board. They can't swim.

Tamim pulls up a video for Kristin—an overloaded pump-boat carrying approximately 100 refugees. The video is from the perspective of a passing ship that sits helpless as the refugee-boat capsizes, dispersing every soul on board. They can't swim.

She mentions nothing more of their journey to the camp—they've been here since March 2016. Her husband was helping US forces transport fuel out of Kabul in the fight against Taliban. One day he didn't come home and she's still unsure whether he's dead or alive. She had to make the decision which of her 7 children to take with her; she took the four youngest, leaving her three eldest daughters with her mother back in Afghanistan. 

Immediately going into "fix it" mode, I'm curious of what can be done, if anything. While she's stuck in Greece, it's obvious until she's granted asylum that she can't work, but what about after? What about now?

"I don't know English, I can't read maps, I don't know who to go to. I'm trying to learn English but my mind is always thinking about my daughters, about everything..."

"Do you know what's going to happen to me?" No one knows how to respond.

 The papers that residents keep close or on themselves are part of a complex process to being granted asylum. Being granted asylum means they are able to work, but what do you do in a country with a 24% unemployment rate? They will also be granted a Schengen visa where they'll be allowed to travel as refugees to other countries in the EU for under 90 days—their passport will be a different color to differentiate that they are not Greek citizens.

The papers that residents keep close or on themselves are part of a complex process to being granted asylum. Being granted asylum means they are able to work, but what do you do in a country with a 24% unemployment rate? They will also be granted a Schengen visa where they'll be allowed to travel as refugees to other countries in the EU for under 90 days—their passport will be a different color to differentiate that they are not Greek citizens.

 If you look closely, you'll see a full 4 months between registration and issue of the papers. According to UNHCR's site, the average time a refugee is uprooted and in need before they can return home is 20 years. The sticky note was for her asylum interview/application process, from which they still haven't heard back (As of September 11, 2017).

If you look closely, you'll see a full 4 months between registration and issue of the papers. According to UNHCR's site, the average time a refugee is uprooted and in need before they can return home is 20 years. The sticky note was for her asylum interview/application process, from which they still haven't heard back (As of September 11, 2017).

"Mobile, Mobile, Mobile"

Here's where it gets a little embarrassing for me. Urgent throughout the conversation, she brings up her mobile—she's been out of contact with her daughters for 10 days ever since it broke and died. "I need to talk to my daughters, my mobile...."  We juggle the ethics position we're in—we can't feasibly help everyone.  Our meager financial contributions to individuals wouldn't be long-term sustainable, and it can create issues within the camp, with some refugees (like the ones who know English) being able to buddy up with volunteers and ask for help while others aren't able to. If we help, we help them all. But she brings it up again. And again. The conversation progresses and Tamim translates, "She's asking about her mobile again..."

We eventually take leave and head back to Tamim's tent; she comes with her mobile in hand and we reenact the awkward glances and uncomfortable tension.

It reminded me of my time in Ethiopia where young rape/prostitution victims would leave their children when they reached the age of 5—but she would hardwire them with 5 years of begging experience before she left. It explains why whenever our truck stopped, we'd be swarmed by kids tapping irritatingly on the glass with their hands out. My brother was in another part of Ethiopia and recalled how the one boy who had the wherewithal to refrain from asking was the one showered with gifts. It reminds me of conversations with homeless that become awkward because I have cash and say I don't. 

When I mentioned my observation to Kristin that some seem to speak the middle-class language and appeal to volunteers, while others act more out of desperation, she points out, "But she's the one asking the hard questions." 

"Do you know what's going to happen to me?"

Truth. I'm choked by my own bias—It would be the same if I were dropped in the midst of fundraising from millionaires sporting Birkin bags and Patek Philippe watches—how to act, what connections to namedrop, how to dress, how to talk; there's a dialect, a language that I am most definitely ill-equipped to wield. My bias is no different, where I feel more drawn to give to those who "ask right" when in reality, their ignorance is out of their control or their need and desperation outweighs the propriety deeming it uncouth to ask—again, out of their control.

In either asking situation, there's a human in front of me with a need, and my ignorance is within my control. I'm still learning—media ethics was a class for photo journalism and unfortunately my film degree didn't really touch on it. An upfront disclaimer of "I can't help financially but I can tell your story if you want it told" would've made things clear from the get-go. There is still much understanding to be gained, more experience, more thought to be put into solutions to an extremely complex situation. 

 [Update as of Sept. 11, 2017] - Chatted briefly with Lisa (Manages the camp through Do Your Part) Mareyam got word in March that one of her daughters left behind in Afghanistan was killed.  She has not heard back from the asylum office about her application, however a lawyer has been assigned to her case and they are optimistic about the outcome. In the meantime,  Do Your Part  is teaching her how to make books in the Oinofyta Wares shop, so she can hopefully begin to support her family in Greece.

[Update as of Sept. 11, 2017] - Chatted briefly with Lisa (Manages the camp through Do Your Part) Mareyam got word in March that one of her daughters left behind in Afghanistan was killed.  She has not heard back from the asylum office about her application, however a lawyer has been assigned to her case and they are optimistic about the outcome. In the meantime, Do Your Part is teaching her how to make books in the Oinofyta Wares shop, so she can hopefully begin to support her family in Greece.

Links:

Oinofyta Wares

Items made by residents of the Oinofyta refugee camp

Runs the camp under the Greek Air Force— donations in the form of funding is most economical and practical. Scroll down for Donation page.

The UN Refugee Agency

For more information on the refugee crisis around the world.