Refugee parenting during transit and beyond

Although the IENE6 project is coming to an end, we have some good news to share with you. A new project (IENE8) entitled “Empowering migrant and refugee families with parenting skills” , co-ordinated by the Cyprus University of Technology (CUT) will be starting soon. The new project will expand the IENE6 Knowledge Hub by focusing on the parenting needs of refugees whilst in transit and after they have settled in refugee camps.  I have copied and slightly edited some text from the IENE8 application which provides more detail about the project:

“All children fleeing conflict, especially those travelling alone are vulnerable to abuse of different kinds: sexual and labour exploitation including trafficking, being sold and being coerced into marriage, in their homes, communities, society or in places where migrants and/or refugees reside – including reception centres, refugee camps or informal settlements at source, transit and destination countries. There is an emerging need in understanding the diverse conditions of migration, how they may influence children and what professionals and volunteers can do that effectively and positively affect the well-being of these families. Thus, there is a need to protect and prevent unwanted situations within the migrant and refugees families, focusing on children. The developmental paths for very young children in immigrant families remains poorly characterised. Ecological-developmental models generally recognise that the parents’, as well as the child’s, experiences help shape the course of social development for young children; but little is known about how key aspects of parental or child-rearing history, including immigration, affect components of social development across children from diverse national origins and ethnic groups.   Here we consider the family- cultural aspects, and its influence on parenting practice and subsequent child social development.
Understanding the impact of migration on children’s and families within their own community and host country is a multi-factorial and transnational issue. It requires considering not only the cultural origins of the parents but their own migration histories. IENE projects highlighted the need for training of health workers, volunteers on transcultural issues aiming to provide culturally competent and compassionate care and it particularly refers to psychological support. The IENE 8 project aims to provide education and training to professionals and volunteers working with migrants and refuges in regards to parenting skills, health care of the family and psychological support. It aims to enable them in providing support, knowledge and empowerment to migrant and refugee parents, which will help them to nurture, protect and educate their children under difficult circumstances. The project will expand the existing Knowledge hub (Khub) (IENE6) for nurses, other health professionals and volunteers ( Khub is a centre or focal point for exchange of knowledge, support, development, ideas and useful tools”.

My colleagues I and will continue to use this blog to discuss relevant issues and bring you news and developments. We invite  all our supporters and readers of this blog to offer feedback and blog postings by sending their contributions to me at

Wishing our new project lots of success!

Thank you all and waiting to hear from you.


Reflections from the Rohingya Refugee camps and the Postgraduate Fellowship in Refugee Health pilot training programme

I am grateful to Dr Mizan Hoque, a London GP, a friend of the IENE6 project, and frequent volunteer in refugee camps, for sharing with us this informative and very personal reflection from his recent visit to the Rohingya refugee camps. I am sure this piece will move you. Thank you Mizan. Apologies for not being able to copy the beautiful photos which accompanied this reflection. Professor Irena Papadopoulos

1.1 Introduction
Family, friends, and colleagues have enquired about my recent trip to the Rohingya Refugee camps. I have documented some reflections from this very memorable visit, and have also offered glimpses of some of the relief activities we were involved with.
This reflective piece is not intended to provide intricate details of the development of the Doctors Worldwide ‘Postgraduate Fellowship in Refugee Health’. However, for those who may be interested, the official project report (which consists of more details, the relevant references, and evaluation findings) is being produced and can be shared in due course. (Please notify me via email if you would like to get a copy of this).

1.2 Background
Many have described the Rohingya population to be the most persecuted minority in the world. This impoverished stateless community has suffered under decades of discrimination, and lack of access to basic rights and services. At present, there are over 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh who have been forcibly displaced from their homes and villages. The personal accounts of the refugees epitomises the harrowing physical and emotional trauma suffered by every man, woman and child due to this tragedy. Many had witnessed acts of appalling barbarity, including the deliberate mass burning of people within their homes, the massacre of children and adults,
indiscriminate shootings, widespread rape of women and young girls, and the burning and destruction of schools, markets and mosques.

1.3 The camps
Driving into the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, I sat recollecting the many news stories that I had heard about the Rohingya over the years. To be able to see the camps, and their occupants first hand, conjured up an overwhelming mix of emotions. My first reaction upon seeing the camps was that human beings should never have to live like this. There were ‘miles and miles’ of makeshift shelters, shaping the landscape for as far as the eyes could see. They were usually constructed with bamboo sticks and bits of fabric, it looked like it was something between a tent and a poorly constructed hut. The living conditions were intensely overcrowded, at times with several families living within one of these structures. Walking up to the camps, the smell of sewage was very
prominent, and the poor hygiene conditions contributed to the vast numbers of flies and mosquitoes in the camps.

Despite the desperate living conditions, these were among the fortunate ones. They were able to make the perilous journey to the refugee camps. Each had their own story of how they left behind their homes, their lives and many of their loved ones in a quest for survival. During our drive to one of the camps, an abandoned Rohingya boat lay wrecked on the beach side. The broken planks of the boat hid within it many stories. I wondered where the boat was made, and whether the one who made it knew that it would become a vessel for the survival of some of the Rohinga refugees. I tried to imagine the horrific journey the occupants of the boat had to make. The image of that wrecked boat still sends chills down my spine.

1.4 Their stories

The human stories behind the headlines are always intensely powerful. The stories I heard are far too many to recount in this piece, but as I write this, I see the faces of the people I met, each with their own narrative. I recall the 22 year old young man who showed us bullet wound injuries sustained at the back of his right calf while fleeing from his village. I recall the two-day old baby whose mother brought him to the antenatal clinic as he was not responsive. He was septic and blue, with little signs of life. The local hospital was some distance away, and despite resuscitation attempts, he did not make it to see the third day of his life. I remember feeling emotionally paralysed when being asked about the case of a 12 year old girl who had been raped and was now
three months pregnant.

My visits to the Rohingya refugee camps, as well as Syrian refugee camps beforehand, emphasised to me again and again how these were people were not dissimilar to us. Their aspirations were for a better tomorrow. To be safe, to be able to earn a living, to see their children grow up and be educated. To be respected as humans. They knew full well who they were, and where they were from. And to be able to spend some time with them, hear their stories, hold their hands and share in their tears was truly humbling.

2.1 Doctors Worldwide – Field assessments, Cox’s Bazar

Two field assessments were carried out in November and December 2017 by a team of medical specialists to assess the capacity of local NGO’s in meeting the health requirements for Rohingya refugees. Many of the charities responding to the crisis did not have health programme management experience, and there was a wide disparity in the quality of care that was being delivered. Medical needs in the Rohingya refugee camps were complicated by a number of factors, including alarming rates of malnutrition, low levels of health literacy and education, and historically low immunisation rates.

Suboptimal medical practices identified from some of the healthcare clinics included: formulating diagnoses and management plans prematurely based upon the presenting symptom alone, without taking an adequate history or performing relevant clinical examinations; adult drug dosages being prescribed for children; the absence of safety-netting advice when required; and poor instructions on how to take medications (dose, frequency and duration). Systemic problems were also identified, including of poor documentation; poor triage of critically unwell patients; and variable levels of surveillance and reporting of infectious diseases. Following consultations with a range of local and international partners, and focus group discussions with local doctors, it was determined that a priority area of intervention would be to support local Bangladeshi doctors and healthcare workers to be better equipped to respond to the crisis by means
of a training programme. As such, this Postgraduate Fellowship (PGF) in Refugee Health was proposed.

2.2 Postgraduate Fellowship (PGF) in Refugee Health The project emphasises sustainable capacity building of human resources for the healthcare response. It utilises the skills of volunteers, to help support the training, development, supervision, mentorship and deployment of local physicians to allow them to better respond through local
organisations to the complex needs of the Rohingya refugee population. A bespoke training course is being developed to be delivered in 2-month blocks to groups of 20-30 doctors. Relationships have been established with local Bangladeshi academics to facilitate joint ownership of training interventions. One of the key advantages of this project as opposed to the simple provision of medical supplies or supplementing clinical service by means of volunteers, is the strengthening of local capacity to continue to respond to the medical needs of this vulnerable community.

The Postgraduate Fellowship (PGF) in Refugee Health consists of 8 modules:
1. Introduction to Health in Humanitarian Emergencies
2. Triage and Acute care management
3. Key Communicable diseases
4. Key Non-communicable diseases
5. Mental Health
6. Reproductive Health and Gender based violence

7. Communication Skills
8. Quality Improvement in Healthcare
A core group of UK based volunteers (which consists of medical doctors of different specialities, public health experts and educationalists) began syllabus formulation and there is ongoing work on content development.

2.3 Postgraduate Fellowship in Refugee Health Pilot in March 2018, Cox’s Bazar
A PGF pilot was conducted in March 2018 to assess, logistical feasibility with partners, the use of novel medical educational approaches, the use of foreign doctors as facilitators for learning, practicalities and logistics of on-site teaching (in the health clinics) and class room based teaching.

Three local NGOs involved in delivering healthcare to the Rohingya population participated by supporting their medical workforce to partake in the teaching sessions and clinic supervision sessions. This constituted approximately 25 healthcare professionals (21 doctors and 4 paramedics).

The International Organisation for Migration kindly made their logistics hub available for the teaching sessions. There were six dedicated teaching days spaced over three weeks, within which many different sections of the PGF was delivered. Various educational modalities were utilised including simulation training with manikins, small group case discussions, and communication skills training. Local Bangladeshi doctors also delivered parts of the teaching sessions. The teaching sessions were complemented with daily clinic site visits. The faculty provided teaching and feedback in the clinic setting where the PGF pilot participants were practising. Individualised feedback was provided, and subsequent teaching sessions were informed by the faculty’s experiences from the ‘front line’.

2.4 Evaluation of Postgraduate Fellowship pilot
The formal evaluation process for the pilot is still ongoing, however the feedback data from individual sessions, in addition to the responses from the participants and the faculty strongly suggest that the intervention was well received, highly relevant, had good uptake, and has scope for expansion. The participants also found the teaching (content and methodology) to be very relevant and enjoyable. They engaged well with the teaching sessions and appreciated the ability to learn with clinicians from other NGOs. The participants felt that the clinical site supervision was highly valuable,
and they appreciated the personalised feedback. Quantitative feedback obtained from 17 participants demonstrated that over 90% of the participants ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that 15 out of the 17 teaching sessions delivered ‘increased their knowledge’, ‘was relevant to their work in the camps’, and they ‘liked the style of teaching and felt
able to participate’. Qualitative feedback was largely very positive, and demonstrated a very good response to the content and delivery of the training sessions. The majority of constructive feedback featured around logistical issues such as suitability of teaching location, and catering etc.

Some examples of verbatim comments included:
‘I worked with some local agencies (for training) but your people are on the top of the list’ 
‘This experience will help me a lot in a camp for patient management. I feel it was very well organised, enjoyable, more than any other agencies’
‘Teaching style is fabulous. Very informative and useful. Really like the way of teaching’
‘Complete agreement that the (PGF) content matched the objectives, I felt the modalities were appropriate’
A more detailed evaluation report will be produced for the PGF in the coming weeks.

3. Next steps
We came across dozens of NGOs, all playing a role, demonstrating a strong commitment to improve the lives of the refugees. Despite the very challenging situation, this response (albeit uncoordinated at times) must serve to strengthen our faith in humanity.
Undoubtedly a robust political solution is needed for the resolution of this, and other similar crises. But notwithstanding that, humanity, all of us, owe it to these people that we do not forget their plight. We must not allow ourselves to be fatigued by the number of crises that face us. Furthermore, the magnitude of the issue must not make us paralysed in our response, Rumi (the famous Persian poet) once reflected how oceans are simply small drops of water. Effective collaboration and a realisation that no one entity has all the answers, can greatly enhance our efforts and enable us to better realise shared goals. Our combined willpower can impact a very positive change, and history can attest to that many times over.

It is very difficult to envisage any one intervention or action that is without limitations. I remain very optimistic by these preliminary experiences and results, that perhaps, one day, the PGF can develop into an established training intervention , which is transferable to different settings and can improve healthcare provisions for refugees across the globe.

4. Acknowledgements
The entire Doctors Worldwide (DWW) with special thanks to Dr Najeeb Rahman, Dr Owais Rahman,  and Ms Georgia Venner ; Charity Number: 1122671
Teaching Faculty and Bangladesh Field Team: Dr Hafiz Uddin, Dr Abid Shoaib, Dr Mir Ahmad, Dr Sayyada Khaki, Dr Mohammed Khaki, Dr Jobayer Chisti, Dr Vikarunnessa Begum, Mr Sayeed Ahmad
DWW volunteers and content developers
Photography – Dr Hafiz Uddin
Logistical Support – Dr Razwan Ashiq, and Dr Imran Siddiq
Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP for East Ham
Rt Hon Shelim Uddin Member of Bangladeshi Parliament
Mrs Jayada Begum
Lime Tree and Sinnott Healthcare; Wordsworth Health Centre and UCLPartners; for kindly facilitating leave arrangement to make this trip possible


I dedicate this blog to the Edinburgh Declaration in order to raise awareness of its content and its importance in terms of policy and practice. Please read it and share by passing on either the link to this page 

or the link to the World Congress website


Edinburgh Declaration 19th May 2018 on Migration, Ethnicity, Race and Health

 The 1st World Congress on Migration, Ethnicity, Race and Health with over 700 participants from over 50 countries, is a landmark in the field of Health, bringing together different disciplines across the globe with the aim of fostering unity and cross fertilisation of ideas through an integrated dialogue on issues related to migration, ethnicity, race, indigenous and Roma populations.  

We, the participants of the 1st World Congress on Migration, Ethnicity and Race and Health from over 50 countries, gathered in Edinburgh from 17th to 19th May 2018 DECLARE:

Movement of people within and across countries is, has been, and always will be an essential ingredient of human survival, success and prosperity

Migration and diversity offer many benefits globally and within countries, when the associated and often momentous challenges are overcome

Health and wellbeing are influenced enormously by the historical and political context, the composition and changing nature of the population and the organization of services in a society

Integrated dialogue on issues related to migration, ethnicity, race, indigenous and Roma populations is vital

The way people are defined and categorized by themselves and others is often a power struggle with implications for civic society, research, policy and practice and requires continuing debate

Racism, xenophobia and prejudice, discrimination, exclusion and exploitation damages the mental and physical health of individuals and groups, both minorities and majorities alike

Attention is required to meet the needs of the most vulnerable groups including survivors of torture, trafficked people, migrants in irregular situations, refugees and asylum seekers, and to prevent violence against women and girls.

The study of variations and differences in disease patterns and distributions provides essential scientific knowledge and important lessons for health policy and practice

An interdisciplinary approach is essential for understanding and tackling ethnic and racial inequities and ensuring sound ethical foundations for actions and subsequent policies

Investment in migrant and ethnic minority health and health care provides many benefits, including those going beyond health itself, and exceeds the costs incurred


  • Eliminating barriers to access to healthcare and promoting protection of health of all people on the move, including those in an irregular situation, needs to be prioritised
  • The full participation of migrants, ethnic minorities, indigenous populations and Roma in policy development, service planning, health care delivery, and research & evaluation is vital
  • Relevant and appropriate data are required urgently for policy makers and service providers to tackle inequities
  • Harmonization of, and agreement on, definitions and concepts should be sought by building on the consensus achieved at MERH 2018
  • Strengthening collaboration between institutions, organizations and countries aimed improving the health of migrants and ethnic minorities
  • A Global Society should integrate academic, professional and community work on health and health care in this field

I am not a poet !

I am not a poet but this morning I got this urge to write a poem. The trigger for this urge was the bad weather the whole of Europe is having at the moment.

My poem does not rhyme and it may not comply to any poetic styles you may know. It is the expression of my thoughts and feeling that have been going around my mind this morning. It took me 10 minutes to write and I have not attempted to polish in any way after I wrote it. My urge to write it was to share my sentiments with you.

Hope you appreciate the simplicity of the writing and the sincerity of thoughts and wishes.

Snowstorm musings

By Irena Papadopoulos 

I feel so cold today

We feel so cold today

It’s snowing, it’s raining

The wind is chilling

I wish my family

‘Keep warm and safe’

We wish our families

‘Keep warm and safe’

We say

‘Don’t venture out unless you have to’

‘Don’t drive unless you must’

More advice

From radio and TV

From warm and comfy studios

‘Have hot drinks, eat well’

But spare a thought for the refugees

In tents or on the go

Freezing, hungry, trying to survive

Their warm homes miles behind

Searching for safety

Trying to survive

I cannot get the children

Out of my mind

How are they coping

What are they hoping

Is hypothermia creeping in

Is hunger weakening

So much suffering

So much sadness

When will the powerful

Stop playing the power games

When will the greedy

Stop wanting more

When will the fanatics

Start being reasonable

When will all of them and us

Appreciate humanity

When will all of them and us

Stop the death and destruction

When will we all

Learn we are all one

I count my blessings

My warm home

The plentiful food

The choices I have

To stay in or go out

I tell myself ‘stop complaining about the cold’

I have safety

I have a good life

When will they have the same too?



1st March 2018

Dedicated to all the refugees and displaced people who are trying to survive not only this winter but in the long term

I will build a house with a pool

Last Sunday was my oldest grandson’s birthday. He is now eight years old!

To celebrate the occasion, his mum and dad organised a pool party for his friends. It was a lovely occasion. To see all the children jumping into the pool, diving under the water, climbing over the inflatable structure in the pool, swimming, splashing, throwing balls, shouting, and having fun, was a heartwarming delight. I was having such a good time watching the level of activity in the pool and listening to the happy excited sounds and their echos!

I wondered how a boy of similar age would be celebrating his birthday in a refugee camp. I was hoping that his parents along with his siblings and possibly some friends would be sitting in their tent singing the songs children sang in their homeland. I imagined that perhaps a volunteer in the camp knew it was the little boy’s birthday and as by magic delivered a birthday present and maybe a small cake for them to share. It is a happy occasion and so the father is commemorating it by taking a few photos on his mobile phone. But it is also a sad occasion for the parents who remember how they used to celebrate birthdays before being forced to leave their homes.

But children are more resilient than we give them credit for. Suddenly the little boy stands up and speaks: ‘ I am so happy it is my birthday today and so excited that we are all together and having fun. When I grow up I want to build a big house so we can all live together. I know I can do this because I have been watching the builders who are building a wall in the camp. I also want to build a big pool in the garden so that we can all have fun together in the water. And when is my birthday I will invite all my friends and family to my house and to my pool‘.  Simple words describing a big dream. Mother sheds a tear, father smiles proudly. They are both so proud of the little boy who is mature beyond his years. They know he will grow into a good human being and they hope he will achieve all his dreams.

Being a parent, being a refugee….

Read my latest blog, send me your comments!

IENE 6 Project: Migrant and Refugee Blog

Imagine being a parent of a son of 2years, a daughter of 6years and a daughter of 13years in age. Now imagine your home being rained down with bombs and bullets, seeing fighting all around you, very little food to feed the family, scared to venture out, scared to sleep at night, knowing that many members of your family and many friends are dead as a result of a vicious war that seems to have been going on for ever, worrying it will never end.

What would you do? Stay or run for your life and that of your family’s? I know what I would do (and have done). Runnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn, to a safe place where my family would have a chance for a better life, a future!

So, you pick whatever you can carry which is obviously your children and some clothes if you can. In the darkness of the…

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Being a parent, being a refugee….

Imagine being a parent of a son of 2years, a daughter of 6years and a daughter of 13years in age. Now imagine your home being rained down with bombs and bullets, seeing fighting all around you, very little food to feed the family, scared to venture out, scared to sleep at night, knowing that many members of your family and many friends are dead as a result of a vicious war that seems to have been going on for ever, worrying it will never end.

What would you do? Stay or run for your life and that of your family’s? I know what I would do (and have done). Runnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn, to a safe place where my family would have a chance for a better life, a future!

So, you pick whatever you can carry which is obviously your children and some clothes if you can. In the darkness of the night you leave your beloved home where your children had been born…good memories of happy times.

And now you are on a road which you are hoping will lead you to the safe place. On the way you join hundreds of others who are also running to the safe place. You and the family walk, run, hide, cry quietly… you are all hungry and cold. You are worried about the children. Yesterday, your 6year old daughter was separated from the family. You felt guilty. Why did you not prevent that from happening? Thankfully she is found and you sit her down to explain the dangers of wondering away. But she is falling asleep…hungry again this evening. A few days pass and your 2year old son steps on something sharp and cuts his foot. You wash it with some water, but what if it gets infected. They tell you the refugee camp is almost three days away. You pray…and pray some more. Your 13year old daughter helps you to carry him and watches the wound for signs of redness, swelling, pus. She remembers what she learnt at school in a first aid class.

You have been on the road for two weeks. You and the family are feeling weak. When will this nightmare stop? When will my children enjoy what they had before. School, toys, playing with their friends away from dangers, the love of their grandparents, reading books….You are so weak and distressed you cannot even tell them a story at night or sing them a lullaby. You are so proud of your older daughter who tries to do some of the things you cannot do. You know it is your duty to be a good parent. But you tell yourself that you are now a bad parent. Your reasoning: ‘I cannot provide enough food for them, I cannot make them happy, I cannot keep them safe….’. But your love for them shouts: ‘Don’t give up your hope for a better life, help will come to you, being a parent is a challenge at the best of times and in these bad times the challenge is even bigger’.

The message of my blog is that refugee parents face enormous challenges both during their escape, and during their stay in refugee camps. There is plenty of evidence that children suffer physical and emotional trauma. Some are the victims of sexual abuse, and exploitation of many kinds. Some die. Undoubtedly the challenges continue even when they arrive in the host country of their choice.  But many survive and grow up to be healthy, resilient and model citizens. All they need from society is compassion, which means not only empathy and sympathy but also practical help and relevant action from us.

Robots and Us….

I watched the first episode of ‘Six Robots and Us’ on BBC2 last night. The programme is a unique experiment exploring the latest innovations in robotics. With science fiction fast becoming a reality, how useful can these robots be in enhancing the lives of ordinary families?

We cannot stop progress and the desire of the human mind to push the boundaries of the possible. I have to admit to a large amount of excitement as I watched the programme. I have always been fascinated with technology since I watched the first man landing on the moon. But this was a sharp contrast of my early years.

I grew up in Cyprus, and as a child we did not even have a radio in my house and only very few -and rich- people had a telephone. In my teenage years a television arrived in our  house; what a triumph of technology, I must have thought! As a young person, I was struck by how intelligent our species is, and wondered how far the technological developments will take humans by the time I was old. I must note here that at the time my understanding of ‘old’ was reaching the grand age of 50, after which, one should wait for death to arrive.

Well, I have long passed the age of fifty, I am still alive, and to my amazement, I am now involved in a pioneering research project involving the development of robots that will be culturally competent and will – we hope – help to care of older people. You can now understand my excitement whilst watching the TV programme on robots.

At the same time, I reflected on the irony which exist in the world today. Here we are with amazing technology and the science which can have no bounds in all aspects of life as we go forwards, yet in other ways, our species are going backwards. I will not talk about the catastrophic backward actions and policies concerning the environment even though I strongly believe in the absolute connectivity of humans to the environment.  In this blog, I want to reflect on the plight of the 65.5 million (and growing)  refugees and displaced people in the world.

I ask myself many questions: If humans have the desire to challenge what seemed to be unchallengeable, if they have the intelligence to solve problems which seemed unsolvable, if they have the ability to reach what seemed unreachable, why do they cause so many atrocities, why do they tolerate so many atrocities and why are they so indifferent to so many atrocities?

I know that many of you will tell me that there are complex reasons why these atrocities happen, and I am not so naive as to think that they are not. But my answer to you is, that landing a man on the moon, creating intelligent autonomous robots that will be able to understand and undertake a myriad of tasks, is also complex. But they have happened because we wanted them to happen! And because we wanted them to happen, we made sure our education systems provided the encouragement, the opportunities and the nurturing of humans to make them happen. They happened because humans collaborated with each other, and governments provided the resources and the policies to make these collaborations happen. They happened because the powerful of this planet saw these developments as desirable for them and their allies.

And I dare to think of the unthinkable and abhorrent: Do the powerful people on our planet view these atrocities as beneficial to them and their allies? Because if they didn’t , why would they not work towards bringing a stop to them? Why are we not having an educational revolution? Why are we not revolting against inequalities, poverty, the destruction of our environment, and the suffering and deaths of so many babies and children from starvation and war?

So my wish for the New Year 2018 is that, to start with,  humans re-discover their humanity and work towards bringing an end to the suffering of the displaced and refugee people of the world.

What is your wish? Share it with us in the comments section.



It was around this time of the year, 43 years ago that my husband and I along with our 4 month old baby, arrived in England from Cyprus. We had no luggage (apart from some baby clothes), and no money. What we did have, was HOPE. We had left our country – Cyprus – which had been invaded by Turkey in 1974,  a consequence of which was to abandon our home and everything else we had and run to safety. Just like the refugees which we see on our TV screens today. 

before leaving Cyprus, we lived rough for a few months surviving on donations and UN/Red Cross support and when the first opportunity came our way we boarded a small, old, overcrowded ship sailing to Greece.  Just like the refugees which we see on our TV screens today. 

When we arrived in England we joined my brother’s and sisters’ families and lived with them for a while. We were denied refugee status, instead we were issued with a temporary visitors’ visa. England did not want us. Just like the refugees which we see on our TV screens today. 

But we were much luckier than the refugees we see on our TV screens today.  We did not have to stay in overcrowded detention centres or refugee camps for month or years. We could speak the language of the host country and we had family support. Our HOPE did not leave us. We tried and tried (just like the refugees which we see on our TV screens today) and eventually we were granted leave to remain which allowed us to work, study, and so on.

Just like the refugees which we see on our TV screens today, all we wanted was to be treated like human beings, to have our human rights recognised, to be given a chance! Once we have the chance, we worked hard, paid our taxes, became good citizens of the country which eventually accepted us as its own.

As we approach Christmas, the time of year which celebrates the birth of Jesus, the embodiment of compassion for all Christians, my message to the citizens of Europe, is to open their hearts and give compassion to those people, who, for no fault of their own find themselves in situations that most of us would not wish to ever find ourselves in. The world is big enough for all of us! The world belongs to all of us! Donating money to refugee appeals is not enough. We need to give a bit of our heart and advocate for justice. Nobody should be suffering they way they are.

My message to any refugees who may be reading this is: Never give up HOPE! I know this is easier said than done but don’t let the problems you face now determine your destiny; let your dreams and HOPE drive you to your destiny.  AND THIS IS THE REASON WHY I SHARED MY STORY IN THIS BLOG. I, and almost a quarter of a million of other people in my country, are still waiting to return home. I HOPE that one day this will happen. But I have not stopped living my life and striving towards achieving my dreams!

Sending you all my love and best wishes,

Professor Irena Papadopoulos… yes little refugee me, made it to ‘professor’!!