Mouslem with his family in their temporary home in Kavalari site in Northern Greece. Photo: Danish Refugee Council.

In search of a new beginning

For many Syrian Kurdish refugees in Greece this year’s Newroz celebrations will mark a new beginning after years of struggle during war. The Danish Refugee Council in Greece is busy helping to organize the festivities.


On 21st of March, in a day that symbolizes the end of hardship and the beginning of life, 131 Syrian Kurd refugees, currently staying in the refugee camp of Kavalari in Northern Greece, will celebrate the Kurdish New Year with mixed feelings. Most of the camp’s residents have been waiting for the finalization of their relocation procedure since last June, when the authorities hastily evacuated the makeshift refugee camp in Oidomeni at the border between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

“Normally during Newroz, there are special foods, fireworks, dancing, singing, and poetry recitations. Spring flowers (such as tulips, hyacinths, and pussy willows) are cut, new clothes are worn, and pottery is smashed for good luck. Families spend the day in the country, enjoying nature and the fresh growth of spring,” says Mouslem Aaray, 49, a former shop owner from Aleppo, Syria, now a relocation emergency scheme candidate and a resident of Kavalari site.

He and his family fled in July 2013, when the situation in their home city of Aleppo became extremely dangerous. Mouslem explains:

“Kurds in Syria are facing a struggle within a struggle. We were surrounded, completely isolated. Supplies were very few. If you didn’t want to fight, you had to leave.”

As thousands of Kurdish Syrian war refugees before them, Mouslem’s family fled Syria and finally settled in the Turkish city of Adana for three years before moving onwards towards Greece.

Hoping for a new beginning

In February 2016, their journey started in Izmir’s Basmane Square - also known as ‘Little Syria’ on account of the number of Syrians who gathered in front of the mosque as they waited to make contact with smugglers and buy life vests and waterproof containers for the sea journey.

“You walked the streets around the square and you could notice several clothes retailers who have swapped most of their stock for lifejackets, and even some kebab shops and hardware stores were selling them as a sideline,” Mouslem says.

“Luckily we made it across to the island of Chios safe and sound. Our journey continued to the Greek mainland with the intention of reaching Germany and the relatives living there, however, we got stuck on the border after the closing of the Balkan route.”

Mouslem and his family were among thousands of refugees trapped in the makeshift camp of Oidomeni, enduring squalid conditions and a great lack of supplies for over 3 months, before being transferred in June 2016 together with other Syrian Kurds to the refugee camp of Kavalari, run by the Greek authorities with support of the Danish Refugee Council.

DRC humanitarian assistance in Kavalari

With the financial support of the European Commission funding, DRC Greece has been standing by the refugees in Kavalari and has implemented several infrastructure improvement projects (partitioning of the living quarters, heating installation, etc.) in order to ensure dignified and culturally-appropriate living conditions for all of its residents. Moreover, the multi-lingual Communication with Communities team (CwC) interacts daily with the refugees in a wide range of activities (info provision, interpreting, referrals, etc.), assisting them in the long wait for the final decision of their relocation requests.

“Last Newroz we were lighting bonfires in the mud and dirt of Oidomeni refugee camp. I wish this year’s Newroz will bring hope, peace and a new beginning for all of us here waiting. I’ve lost many things along my journey, I can’t lose my hope as well,” Mouslem says.