By Aliki Kraterou
The world’s oldest refugee is pleading authorities to reunite her with her grandchildren – after fleeing Syria and journeying to Greece aged 111.
Laila Saleh, was born in Kobani, Syria in 1907 – but in fear for her life, she fled her homeland with her family in October 2017- where her son literally carried her on his back as the family got on a boat in order to get to Greece.
She has been granted asylum by the Greek government, but she is desperate to be reunited with her two granddaughters, Nesrin and Brivan, who have been granted asylum in Germany.
Usually the process of documenting and examining the refugees’ applications for asylum, can take up to a year- in the case of Laila the process was sped up due to her age and special circumstances. But it did not occur the same for the rest of her family, who are in Greece with her.
As a result, Laila has been ‘stuck’ in Greece, as her old age does not allow her to travel on her own and none of her family members can travel legally.
Laila arrived to the island of Lesvos, through Turkey, along with thousands of refugees, on November 2017.
Her age did not allow her to walk this long distance, so her son actually carried her on his back.
She stayed for a while on a refugee camp in Moria, Lesvos under poor living conditions.
Then she was transferred to Athens and accommodated by ‘Solidarity now’, an NGO dedicated to assist the refugees and generally people in need. arriving to Greece.
She has been staying in an apartment in Athens since December 2017, with her family, her son Ahmad Ahmad, 66, his wife Amsha Ali, 59, their son Khalil Ahmad, 31, his wife Sawsan Ahmad, 26 and their twin boys of four years old, Ari και Azar.
Laila’s two granddaughters have been granted asylum and have their own family in Germany at the moment. Unfortunately none of them is able to travel to Greece to meet their grandmother.
In spite of her age, Laila is physically healthy, and aid workers say she seems to be remembering things from her past-it’s like her mind is determined to get hang up on all her good memories and erase the bad ones.
Speaking through an interpreter, Laila said: “We had a good, quiet, normal life in Syria for many years.
“I was happy living in the country with my family – I had five kids.
“People had their jobs and they cared about their homes.
“Children were playing in the street, there was not any danger anywhere.
“The war destroyed everything”.
Valia Savvidou, from refugee charity, the NGO Solidarity Now, said: “Even though she’s confused, at times she remembers things about the country she left behind.
“Laila speaks a rare Kurdish dialect, comprehensive only by her grandson Khalil. She communicates with me through Khalil and every time she sees me, she says that the polite thing to do is to get up and offer me something to drink.
“What is important now is for her family to get asylum as well so they can all travel to Germany, something that the Asylum services are already working on.
“We have sped up the process because of Laila’s special case.
“She will be getting a passport and an ID in about two months and she, theoretically, will be able to travel.
“We are trying to find a solution as soon as possible so at least one of her family members can travel with her to Germany”.
The NGO SolidarityNow offers support to refugees in Greece through ESTIA, the Emergency Support to Integration & Accommodation programme, implemented by the UN and funded by ECHO.
Apart from housing and medical assistance the organisation also provides psychological support (through social workers and psychologists), English and Greek language courses, as well as participation in educational and recreational activities.