Aisha is 25 years old and from Syria. She did not learn the Greek language after her arrival at camp "Kofinou" in the countryside of Larnaca, Cyprus, because she had already learned English, which is an international language. She says: “I would like to leave Cyprus when the opportunity arises. Outside Cyprus, there is no Greek language.”
Aisha arrived from Turkey to Greek Cyprus by sea two years ago. Living in Turkey was expensive and her family did not have residence papers, plus Syrian refugees were no longer welcome there. She says, "I chose Cyprus because it is closest to Syria. I came by sea – I was trafficked in a small boat in acceptable condition.” She used to work as a dressmaker in Syria in the city of Idlib. However, she says that in Cyprus, "I lost my profession. There is no opportunity for this kind of work because they do not like tailored clothes but prefer off-the-peg."
Aisha wanted to find a job for herself and her husband but some people in Cyprus refused to employ refugees. She says her husband even contacted the manager of the camp but was refused employment for unclear reasons.
Aisha's husband used to work as an English teacher in Syria but today he works in an organisation that takes care of agricultural land. Aisha herself is still trying to fit in with her surroundings. She says, "I feel that I have rather a strong personality. I am confident and speak with people so I learned a little English and got to know some people from Cyprus. Some of them are good and others are not. I felt that only a few of them welcomed refugees and appreciated their status."
Aisha had the opportunity to work in a simple job at the “Kofinou We Care” organization. There she met a woman named Sana who helped her learn the language and communicate better. She says, “I worked with her in the Baby Room department. I told Sana I wanted nothing but to improve my English. I helped her at work while she was teaching me English, and we had a strong friendship. I also got to know those who came to the department to donate money.”
Aisha has two children aged 7 and 8 years old, and the family faced difficulties when they reached the camp. Later, the children went to school with Cypriot children and others. They learned the Greek language and her husband learned some of the spoken language in the classes in the camp.
Aisha’s children cried a lot, she says. She adds, “they say that they do not understand what they are told. The translator comes for one hour in the morning and does not translate anything for the children, only the parents. The children went through a very difficult time in school at first and the new language had a great effect. Later on, they were able to integrate. However, sometimes come home happy and sometimes upset because one of the students has beat them up."
Aisha wants to work on her own. She says, “sometimes I think about going back to sewing and starting a small enterprise. However, I will not start it with the Cypriots, I will start it on my own.” She says that the family would like to leave the camp but her husband is reluctant to register at the labour office because they send him to jobs that are not suitable for him.
Aisha believes that there are continuous calls to convert to different religions in Cyprus. She says that it does not affect them as Muslims, and that in the camp they do not allow organisations to proselytise. However, sometimes people stand at the door of the camp and distribute books about their religion. Aisha says that she knows her religion and knows herself. She says, “I took books from them and read them and it was normal. I felt that they wanted us to change our religion but that did not affect me." Despite this, she received assistance and aid for the needy from the church, including food, kitchenware, bed linen and clothes.
Aisha seriously seeks to integrate with Cypriot society but finds her headscarf an obstacle. She says she will take a sewing course in the future. "They will take us to Nicosia to learn sewing. I would like to go because the teacher will be from Cyprus, so I know how they think and what models they want. I will gain experience that is different from what I knew and the traditions in my country."