Helping a Syrian Family in Greece
Last week, I called American Express for assistance in finding lodging for a refugee family from Syria. Gwynith from American Express Travel Services took my call. Afterwards, she sent me an email asking about the family and how things were going. This was my response…
My wife and I are now raising funds to help house the ***** family in Greece for a month. We’ve partnered with an NGO in Spain to assist them with medical and legal assistance as Gillian and I are now back home in London.
If you would like to donate and/or share the donation link with your colleagues at American Express, it would be greatly appreciated:
Your assistance last week meant so much to us. I didn’t mention it while we were on the call, but while I was standing outside talking with you, Gillian was inside a restaurant eating pizza with the ********s. We had just bought them lunch and were doing our best to communicate with them via the iTranslate app on my iPhone.
I had used Amex travel services earlier in the week to find lodging for my wife and I as well as for a friend who came with us to volunteer…I knew that I would receive stellar service…little did I know how awesome you would be. I’m so glad that I was your first call last Thursday morning.
How did you meet this family?
To answer your questions, we met the family at a refugee camp run by the Greek military in the village of Nea Kavala. We had been trying to help another family with another issue (we ended up purchasing 2 portable oxygen tanks to assist a 3 month old baby who had difficulty breathing..but that’s another story).
My wife and I had self-financed our trip as well as collected about £2,800 in relief funds for supplies and special circumstances assistance. We had been in another camp down the road for a couple of days and had been distributing food, clothes, sunscreen, and other useful items.
The Greek military are very strict about letting non-NGO volunteers enter the refugee camp at Nea Kavala, so we were in talks with some officers when the ******** family walked up to the gate with all of their possessions (backpacks, blankets, and a few bags). The entire family was crying. This was definitely not a normal thing.
While I saw a lot of sad refugees during our week in Greece, I never saw anyone, let alone an entire family crying like that. The family walked out of the gate of the camp while my wife and I finished up our conversation with the camp officials. We got in our car and saw the family walking along the side of the road (super rural location in northern Greece). My wife, being the most generous person I know, pulled over and asked the family what had happened. Fortunately, there were a couple of young men walking with them who spoke just enough English to share with us that the family had been threatened with violence in the camp and that they were so deflated/defeated/down that they just wanted to go back to Syria…as in, it’s bad in Syria, but it’s worse at this refugee camp.
How did you decide to put them up?
Fortunately, the camp at Nea Kavala has a steady stream of Greek taxis bringing people to the camp, so we flagged one down and paid for the family to be driven into the nearby town. That’s when we decided to get them lunch and try to find accommodation for them. We later found out that two of their daughters had been killed in the war and that the mother and the youngest surviving daughter had been kidnapped at one point by ISIS. They had been through so many tragedies and Gillian and I knew we had to help them.
What was their reaction?
They were a bit stunned when we told them that we had secured hotel rooms for them in the city of Thessaloniki (about an hour away from where we were). We paid for another taxi to drive them to the hotel while we lead the way in our car. They were so happy to be in a safe place. We visited them the next day and they said that this was the first time in 5 years that they had been happy and relaxed. Knowing that the asylum process is complicated, I asked the hotel to extend the reservation until this coming Friday. Thank goodness I had my Amex with me! The hotel that you found for us was just perfect.
Will you keep in touch with them?
We will definitely remain in contact with them. I can’t imagine not seeing them again.
Gillian and I have been chatting daily with their oldest daughter, Iman, and have also been working (as mentioned above) with a Spanish NGO (Gillian connected with them randomly on Facebook!) to help them with legal assistance and medical care.
This is surely a “platinum lining” story of hope, help, and humanity.
Please know that you have helped a family of five get out of a dangerous situation and put them back on a journey to reclaiming their lives.
All the best,
Eric Stoller and Gillian Seely