UNHCR — The sky is overcast and the sea is choppy, but the two asylum-seekers, Ismain and Walid, have time on their hands in the Cretan town of Heraklion. “We cook the fish and eat it or give to friends. Fish are very expensive here,” says Ismain, a 50-year-old from Damascus, where he was a cinematographer and artist.
Walid, the younger man at 37, says he occasionally fished in Iraq’s rivers, which requires different techniques from the sea. “Here, I started fishing for food, for a hobby and for company,” Walid says, hopefully casting his line under the shadow of the Venetian fort that guards the entrance to Heraklion’s ancient harbour.
Both men are beneficiaries of UNHCR’s accommodation and cash assistance programme, which has helped thousands of vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers in Greece over the past two years. “The people are very welcoming and it is very nice here,” muses Ismain.
After fleeing Syria last year, it took Ismain and his family 13 attempts to cross from Turkey to Greece because of bad weather or a police presence. “I sensed that our lives were threatened [in Syria] so I said we’d better leave,” the father-of-three explains. “After seven years of war, it gradually got dangerous for everyone.”
Physics teacher Walid faced a more immediate threat to his safety in Baghdad. “I am Christian and I was threatened by militia,” he says, adding that he was attacked and injured by men with gun and knives. He fled to Erbil and then on to Turkey and Greece, before being transferred by UNHCR from Lesvos to Heraklion.
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