A new newspaper called Migratory Birds is giving migrants around the world a voice, thanks to fifteen Afghan girls living in Greece. It was created by refugees for refugees, and it tells their own, sometimes unimaginable, stories of migration, sacrifice and hope for the future.
It all began in 2016, in the “Schisto” refugee camp in Athens, Greece. It was there that one Afghan girl would make a decision which would change her life and impact the lives of all refugees in Greece.
The migrant crisis in Greece was front page news for every news outlet at that time, and the Schisto camp was constantly flooded with international journalists looking for a story. However, the refugees were growing increasingly weary of speaking with them.
“The (camp) inhabitants didn’t believe that any interview they gave would ever reach the people it should,” Mahdia Hosseini, an Iranian refugee who migrated to Europe, explained in an interview with Deutsche Welle.
She explained that was the main impetus behind the creation of the paper, saying “we decided to become reporters ourselves, and be the voice of the refugees.”
A group of fourteen Afghan girls joined forces with Mahdia, who is now the paper’s editor-in-chief, and began writing about their own life stories and their hardships, as well as their dreams for the future. The young girls, most of them minors, heard a great deal of criticism and harsh comments from the boys and men in the camp.
“They did not believe in us, and said that women cannot be journalists,” Mahdia remembers. However, the girls persevered.
Things changed for the group of young Afghan girls when the Greek organization called the Network for Children’s Rights (NPO) discovered how they were trying to voice their experiences and share their stories of migration.
The NPO contacted other groups for assistance. Soon, the U.N. Agency for Refugees (UNHCR) and the European Union became involved as well, and the first issue of the Migratory Birds newspaper went to print in April, 2017.
When the newspaper first went to print, it had articles in Farsi, Greek and English; but now it is printed in five languages, including Arabic and Urdu. The publication had humble beginnings, and was never intended to be multilingual — it just happened, as 28-year-old Albanian-Greek journalist Denisa Bajraktari, who supervises the newspaper project, explained to dw.com.
“That came along the way. So many people with different languages just wanted to be a part of it, because everybody can contribute in different ways,” she explained to Deutsche Welle.
The newspaper’s editors understood that, in order to reach a more global audience and share their stories, they needed to print the articles in English. Therefore, all the articles which are printed in their original languages are also available in English online.
“Because we suffer, we are trying to speak a lot about what is happening to us, to show everyone how we are treated and how they can help us,” 18-year old Syrian author Mo Alrifai told dw.com.
As the newspaper has grown over the past year and a half, Greeks have begun participating in the project, creating a path of communication and understanding between the locals and the refugees.
Perhaps most surprising of all, boys have joined in as well, and they now contribute articles to the paper. Denisa Bajraktari spoke about one of the most important aspects of the newspaper to dw.com, stating that “What is also great for integration is what they learn about democratic rights.”
She added that “Most young authors come from countries without freedom of expression. Now they have this freedom — and know how to use it.”