Mahdia Hosseini, 28, and Fatima Sedaghat, 16, are two young women from the Network for Children’s Rights youth centre in Kolonos, a working class district of Athens. The centre serves the needs of young refugees, migrants as well as low-income Greek people from morning until night.
It’s newspaper, Migratory Birds, is one of the few refugee-led initiatives in Greece and has a circulation of 13,000, and is printed in five languages: Greek, English, Arabic, Farsi and Urdu. Recent funding cuts have meant an uncertain future for the publication that has given voice to dozens of migrant and refugee communities since it got off the ground in 2017.
Each issue includes reported articles, essays and opinion pieces about life as a refugees, poems, and traditional ethnic recipes, and even advice about things such as where to find Athens’ best falafel.
The newspaper was founded by Hosseini and Sedaghat, who met at the Schisto Camp, along with 13 other Afghan girls. They named it Migratory Birds as it expressed their situation. Their mission was to tell people about the realities of life for refugees in Schisto, while they were also desperate for a way to express themselves. It sprang from their need to be heard. It also gave many of the young journalists, living in containers and makeshift shelters in camps, a sense of normalcy.
The girls worked with passion, managing to overcome all manner of barriers, including the perceptions of their own community where women do not work. “They said that women could not do this, but what they didn’t know was that each comment made us better,” she said, adding that the publication of the first issue in April 2017 also helped change the perception of Afghan men regarding Afghan women.
The newspaper empowers young people arriving in Athens. Hosseini, who is currently involved in the project as editor-in-chief, states that the newspaper experience has been transformative for her and has given her a sense of independence.
She and Sedaghat are involved in transcribing and editing Migratory Birds with staff members from the Young Journalists program funded by the UNHCR, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and UNICEF. It is offered via the Network for Children’s Rights.
Greek journalist Sotiris Sideris is one of the seven staff members involved on the project. “Our goal is for the final article to be as good as possible,” he says.
The articles are sent to Efimerida ton Sintakton for a final look before an eight-page section for Migratory Birds is printed and slipped inside.
As many charity organisations slowly leave Greece, funding has become an obstacle. Only three of the original seven full-time staff members and one cultural mediator remain on the staff of the newspaper. Production and the workload is the same as usual, however there are fewer people to do the work.
For those that remain, it is a labour of love.