A Mother’s Strength


A glimpse into the life of single- mother and asylum seeker, Haila, and her sick children.

(Pseudonyms have been used for privacy reasons) 


A sticky, mosquito-filled night, mid-June. 

“Mama!”, Fere cried out into the dark tent.

“Mama!” was the sound that pierced Haila’s sleeping ears.

She grabbed her daughter, who was now in hysterics, desperately trying to hold her small, squirming body down. Both were exhausted, and Haila was unable to remember the last time that she had slept through the night.


Fere woke up and broke down into her mother’s embrace –

“Mama our house was crumbling again”, she wept. “It’s okay now, Fere, we’re safe now, it’s okay…”, whispered Haila, into her 12-year-old’s ear.

That night it was the house, other times it was her father’s body peeking out from underneath the rubble, or on really bad nights she relived the border-control shootings when they crossed from Syria into Turkey.


Haila noticed that Fere had soiled herself, so she changed her nappy, before changing her own.

It was in these moments that Haila’s heart ached for her husband. She was too weak to protect her children, even from the monsters on the inside of the camp, that lingered around the communal bathrooms at this hour of the night.

Haila lay between her children amid the airless obscurity and checked her little boy’s heart rate for the third time that night. Humming Lalo Lalo (an Afghan lullaby), whilst clutching Fere’s shaking figure tightly against her bosom, she prayed for the jinn that possessed her children to leave them in peace.

“Mama, I want to go home…”, whispered Fere.

“We will build a new one my sweet”.


“I apologize, but you’ve been rejected again”,

The camp-worker explained to Haila, as Fere hung on to the back of her mother’s Chador. Haila began to sweat, half due to the scorching heat, half due to the anger that was boiling in the depths of her being.


“I don’t understand, my daughter has clinical psychosis, the doctor told me that my daughter must immediately go to a hospital in Athens – what was the reason they rejected us this time?”, Haila pleaded as she was handed her decision file. “I can’t read”.

The camp-worker shrugged and looked at the never-ending line of people behind her. “You are Afghan – the government thinks Turkey is considered a safe country for you”, replied the worker with haste. “You can try your luck for another appeal through a private lawyer, if you have the money”.

As Haila stumbled out of the Isobox, scenes from their time in Turkey flashed before her eyes. She saw the panic they endured when the kind asylum seeker holding her son was shot down at the Turkish border.

She remembered the men trying to rape her daughter and herself in the cells they were kept in, being pulled off by fellow refugees. Fear, panic and loneliness were all she associated with her time there – she had explained this in detail in her interview all those months ago, it didn’t make any sense.

As Haila hurried back to her tent where her two other babies were sheltered from the harsh rays, Fere began to panic.

don’t look back

“Mama why were they talking about Turkey – we can’t go back”

“We are never going back there, Fere, not while I’m alive”.

When back at the tent, she grabbed her children and her savings, and took the first bus into the city of Mitilini – she was determined to gain asylum for her children, even if it left her the poorest woman on Lesbos.

Today, Haila and her sick children still live on the island, in the refugee camp of Kara Tepe, with two rejections to their file, due to misunderstanding and mismanagement from NGOs, as well as state actors – they await their third hearing in autumn. Haila and her children deserve better. 

About the Article

A look at a refugee mother and her two little children struggling to safely reach their destination and seek asylum.

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