My name means freedom

“I’m Azade – my name means freedom.”

“I’m Azade – my name means freedom.”

Sixteen-year-old Azade welcomes me into the tent, pitched amongst scrubby trees and discarded plastic bags outside Moria refugee reception centre, on Lesbos. Wearing jeans, a denim shirt and black eyeliner, she’s a confident and engaging teenager, the self-elected spokesperson of the group.

Around her, ten Afghans, ranging in age from a four-month-old baby to an elderly man with a white moustache, sit in a semicircle on a tatty green carpet. 

Azade © Natasha Lewer ‏

They have been here for a day, enough time for their saltwater-soaked clothes to dry, but not enough to blur the details of the journey.

“It took us two months to travel through Iran, in a bad car, over mountains, crossing rivers, crossing the sea with great big waves on it,” says a young man called Majid. 

“Yes, the journey was so hard,” says Azade. “We had no water, no food, for the babies or for us. We had so many problems on the way. It was God that saved us, and now we are here.”

But here is not much better. They still have no food, and they are saving the little money they have for bottled water, having been conned out of their savings between the north of the island, where they landed, and Mytilini, where refugees go to register with the police.

“When we arrived, there was no one to help us. People took us half the way to the police station and then took all our money,” says Azade. “Then we walked a long way. Now we have no money except for water.”

Majid is travelling with his 26-year-old wife, Fatima. They come from the city of Herat, famous for its culture – before the days of the Taliban. He tells me he is a musician – he plays the tabla – and Fatima is a painter – a very good one. 

Majid and Fatima  © Natasha Lewer ‏

“They don’t like us to play music in Afghanistan,” says Majid. “And they say we must have an Islamic marriage. But we don’t like Islamic marriages. I am a free man, but in Afghanistan we don’t have the freedom to be ourselves.”

Azade is travelling with her parents, Hanou and Nabil, and her 12-year-old sister Negar. “We left Afghanistan because there we have no safety. My father has no work, we have no good life. I have no future, my sister too. I think, this life isn’t for us. So hard, so many problems, so much war. We are all so tired.” 

She’s just 16 – the age of my own son, at this moment holidaying in Europe with friends. The unfairness of it all is staggering. I’m beginning to get really angry.

I visited the Greek island of Lesbos in August with MSF UK director Vickie Hawkins. MSF had launched an emergency response a few weeks earlier as the Turkey-Greece sea crossing became the most popular route for refugees trying to reach Europe. In July alone, 50,000 refugees arrived on the Greek islands, the majority of them on Lesbos and Kos.