Esther’s* story is one of courage and perseverance. She embodies the determination that’s needed to overcome the challenges that people face as they try to reach safety. Courage not only for herself, but for her children.
Her mother died when Esther was a child herself. She had to leave school and start working. This was the first challenge on her journey that she faced up to. She says she still feels happy when she sees the people she used to work with at the market on social media.
Things really became tough when she was forced into marriage, “he was treating me so badly and the family supported what he was doing”.
They had a child together. But Esther had health issues and not long after telling her husband, he ran away.
When his father died, Ester’s husband inherited his property. This is when the threats from his family started. As her husband wasn’t around Esther became the target and things were starting to escalate and become dangerous.
To protect hers and her son’s lives, she had to leave.
In Accra, she met someone who told her that he could get a visa for her and her son and take them to Turkey. However, “when we arrived in Turkey, it became a different story.”
Esther was locked inside and forced to sleep with the man who’d brought her over.
She knew she had to escape when he brought another man to the house and she overheard their conversation “this is the woman I told you about”. “Maybe they were planning to do something to me…there was nobody to hold him responsible, he’ll walk free.”
Esther was determined to escape. She managed to break a window and got away with her infant son.
In Turkey, Esther and her son had nowhere to live. To add to this, she was pregnant. However, she met people who were speaking her language and explained the situation.
They told her that they were going to Greece and that, as she was with her son, they’d let her join them for free. The first of many acts of solidarity and kindness on a difficult journey.
The first attempt to cross was a disaster. In the middle of the sea they realised they were sinking. “In this time, we became a family”. They prayed together and, after freezing in the sea for hours, they were rescued by fishermen.
She was taken to a Turkish prison for a week and, after being released, they stayed in the open, lying on their clothes to try to stay warm while they waited to make another crossing. “At that time, life was very difficult for us.”
The group made a second trip and made it to Samos with the help of a rescue team that was operating in 2018.
The camp on Samos was made up of containers and tents. Life here was a challenge. Her tent was opposite the toilets. The smell became a constant presence in her life, even while eating.
Rats were a huge problem and regularly came into her tent. Esther laughs when she tells us about the time when rats ate a whole meal she’d cooked while she slept, a situation most of us can only try to imagine.
By now, Esther was heavily pregnant so she was moved to Athens.
In Athens, she was put in a hotel but it was more like a prison. Residents were only allowed to leave for a few minutes at a time and needed to be in bed by 10. She was still staying in the hotel when she had her second son.
She was in the hotel for 9 months, trying to make a life for her sons. “All the time, you are alone…you just have to try to make yourself happy.”
She then moved into a flat with four other families. She lived in the living room with her two boys. “They were full of energy” as they played with the four other children in the house.
In July, Esther started working with our Greek lawyer, Artemis, who helped her to prepare for her asylum interview. She told her about what to expect and the key points that she needed to cover. She was also a reassuring presence in the interview.
“It was very good. I’m very appreciative for what they did for me…she was there in the room when I did my interview. It was very good.”
“I have good news”
With our support, Esther eventually got good news. “I was very, very happy. I immediately called Artemis to tell her, ‘I have good news!’”
Things are still tough in Athens, but she’s able to move on with her life with typical strength. She’s working to care for an old couple and her oldest son, now 5, is at school, where he’s learning Greek and building a new life.
*names changed to protect identities.