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Nonprofit Helps Unaccompanied Migrant Children Arriving In Greece


From Syria to Pakistan to Somalia, thousands of families have made an excruciating decision. They send their children on the road alone to seek refuge abroad. Lucky ones commonly reach Turkey and then crowd onto boats for Greece. And if the boat doesn't sink, some meet Alexandra Apostolou, whose job is to help them.

ALEXANDRA APOSTOLOU: Really, the families, they don't have a picture of the dangers that their children may encounter. They're willing to risk it.

INSKEEP: Apostolou works for a Greek nonprofit. She is appointed legal guardian to refugee minors. She looks after several young people who live in a youth hostel in Athens. It's a way station as they try to reach family members farther into Europe. One of her charges was a 14-year-old Iraqi boy.

APOSTOLOU: He belongs to the ethnic and religious minority group of Yazidis, who are hunted by ISIS. And he has seen some quite brutal scenes. Many members of his family have been executed. So at the beginning, when I first met him, he was quite broken. He could not sleep, and he had nightmares. And all he could talk about was the things that he had seen.

INSKEEP: How was he not killed?

APOSTOLOU: He was actually quite lucky I believe because he told me that he was covered, at some point, by many dead bodies, really. So he managed to escape. Within the last two months, I have been watching him coming back to life. He sleeps now. He goes to school, which he enjoys very much. And he's actually a really talented artist. He likes to draw. He likes to paint and make things with his hands. And he has a camera now. And he's exploring how much he loves taking pictures. And he likes very much the sea, so he's really soaking in the colors of the sunset sky as we stroll along the seaside. And it's really rewarding.

INSKEEP: You're there at the gateway of Europe, in effect, for a great many young people. And you send them on their way, hopefully in a safe and legal way, if you can. Do you feel that you're opening the door to a welcoming continent?

APOSTOLOU: I would like to hope so. I would really like to hope so. I think there's still many issues that the people of Europe need to change their minds to. I mean, people are moving. The world map is changing. So fortunately, people who have any sort of xenophobic ideas will be left behind.

INSKEEP: Why was it important for you to do this job?

APOSTOLOU: This is the moment in time where they're most vulnerable, after they have been dehumanized and having to flee their country. And nobody took care of them anymore. The guardian is someone who finally knows their name and treats them not like another Syrian or another Iraqi, but like a three-dimensional person for the first time in months. And actually, every day is an invaluable lesson coming from them. They teach me so many things. For example, I get to appreciate more what I have. I tend to think that oh, I live in this - in Greece with the economic crisis at the moment and everything. And then the girl from Syria comes to me and tells me, actually, you live in heaven. Life in Syria is like hell.

INSKEEP: Alexandra Apostolous in Athens, thanks very much.

APOSTOLOU: Thank You. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.