In Greece, refugee women and children live in limbo

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Refugee women and children live in limbo in Greece
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Refugee women and children live in limbo in Greece
A therapist volunteer (R) from the United States reacts as Khalissa, 36, (C) from Qamishli in Syria attends the open talk at the Children and Family Protection Support Hub run by UNICEF partner Faros in Athens, Greece June 13, 2017. "Coming to the Faros centre takes people's minds off their own problems. It helps me to realise that I am not the only one to face dramatic situations... a lot of people like me have left a country that they cherish behind them," Khalissa said. "My husband has been in Germany for two years. A few days ago I had a positive response for my family reunification request, but I have no idea when I can finally leave Greece... waiting is terrible and so exhausting, I want some rest," she said. "My country was very safe and now it is completely destroyed...but if Syria becomes as before the war, I will return home. We must return home." REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Farhiya, 23, from Somalia holds her one month old daughter Raya, at the Open Solidarity Refugee Camp in Lebos, Greece, June 8, 2017. "I spend most of the day alone," said Farhiya, a 23-year-old Somali who lives in a volunteer-run camp on the nearby island of Lesbos, once the main gateway into the EU. "The other refugees don't speak English and I don't speak Arabic. It's hard to live alone," she said. Seven months ago, pregnant with her one-month-old daughter, Farhiya applied to join her husband in Austria but has not heard back since, she said. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Khalissa, 36, (C) from Qamishli in Syria sits with her three children outside of the Children and Family Protection Support Hub run by UNICEF partner Faros, in Athens, Greece, June 12, 2017. "Coming to the Faros centre takes people's minds off their own problems. It helps me to realise that I am not the only one to face dramatic situations... a lot of people like me have left a country that they cherish behind them," Khalissa said. "My husband has been in Germany for two years. A few days ago I had a positive response for my family reunification request, but I have no idea when I can finally leave Greece... waiting is terrible and so exhausting, I want some rest," she said. "My country was very safe and now it is completely destroyed...but if Syria becomes as before the war, I will return home. We must return home." REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Faten 25, (L) from Syria, sits at the edge of the beach beside her sister-in-law near their tent outside the Souda refugees camp in Chios Island, Greece, June 10, 2017. "It's taking too long. This slowness to reunite families scares me," Faten said. "We have nothing to do all day long, we just sit by the tent which I share with my sister-in-law, a friend and her daughter." REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Khawla (R), 20, from Yemen shows her German birth certificate at the Souda refugee camp in Chios Island, Greece, June 10, 2017. Khawla was born in Germany and lived there until the age of 11 when the family moved back to Yemen. The family applied for reunification, but while some of the family were successful Khawla and her sister Halima were not accepted. "In spite of my birth certificate proving that I was born in Germany, I was not accepted. It is depressing. We don� know what to do," she said. "Going back to Yemen alone is impossible because of the war, and in our culture unmarried girls cannot live far from their parents. Here in Europe, they may not not understand our traditions." she added. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Doaa, 23, a Palestinian refugee from Syria sits in the tent she shares with her sister and a friend at a beach outside the Souda refugee camp in Chios Island, Greece, June 10, 2017. Doaa� husband is in Germany and the family are hoping to be reunited, "I am not optimistic, I've met people who have been waiting for a year and half, it is depressing." REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Khalissa, 36, (C) from Qamishli in Syria sits wearing a face mask at the refugees and migrants Children and Family Protection Support Hub run by UNICEF partner Faros, in Athens, Greece, June 12, 2017. "Coming to the Faros centre takes people's minds off their own problems. It helps me to realise that I am not the only one to face dramatic situations... a lot of people like me have left a country that they cherish behind them," Khalissa said. "My husband has been in Germany for two years. A few days ago I had a positive response for my family reunification request, but I have no idea when I can finally leave Greece... waiting is terrible and so exhausting, I want some rest," she said. "My country was very safe and now it is completely destroyed...but if Syria becomes as before the war, I will return home. We must return home." REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
A life vest is pictured at the entrance of Open Solidarity Refugee Camp in Lebos, Greece, June 8, 2017. "I spend most of the day alone," said Farhiya, a 23-year-old Somali who lives in a volunteer-run camp on the nearby island of Lesbos, once the main gateway into the EU. "The other refugees don't speak English and I don't speak Arabic. It's hard to live alone," she said. Seven months ago, pregnant with her one-month-old daughter, Farhiya applied to join her husband in Austria but has not heard back since, she said. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Aanoud, 47, from Deir Ezzor in Syria sits beside her shelter at the Souda refugee camp in Chios Island, Greece, June 10, 2017. Aanoud� husband migrated two years ago to Germany. She applied for family reunifications, only herself and two of her four children were accepted. "I am still waiting for the final decision to move but I don� want to leave the rest of my family behind" Aanoud said. "Syria is in the midst of war, we have lived through difficult times, airstrikes, bombs mortars. Escaping from one place to another, we have not left a country in peace, they should understand that we cannot return to Syria at the moment. We need to stay together." she added while crying. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Khalissa, 36, (C) from Qamishli in Syria walks out the refugees and migrants Children and Family Protection Support Hub run by UNICEF partner Faros, in Athens, Greece, June 12, 2017. "Coming to the Faros centre takes people's minds off their own problems. It helps me to realise that I am not the only one to face dramatic situations... a lot of people like me have left a country that they cherish behind them," Khalissa said. "My husband has been in Germany for two years. A few days ago I had a positive response for my family reunification request, but I have no idea when I can finally leave Greece... waiting is terrible and so exhausting, I want some rest," she said. "My country was very safe and now it is completely destroyed...but if Syria becomes as before the war, I will return home. We must return home." REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
A one-year-old girl smiles as she sits with her mother, Ibtissam, 22, at the Souda Refugee Camp in Chios island, Greece, June 10, 2017. "I was one month pregnant with my daughter and my son was one year old when my husband migrated to Germany." Ibtissam, who is from Raqqa said. "I feel devastated, at the moment I can?t apply for family reunification because I have to wait until my husband gets his asylum document.... I feel depressed but I have to keep holding on for my children." REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Khalissa, 36, from Qamishli in Syria attends the open talk at the refugees and migrants Children and Family Protection Support Hub run by UNICEF partner Faros, in Athens, Greece, June 13, 2017. Khalissa was asked to fill a heart with colors to describe her past, present and future. Each color has its own meaning. Khalissa chose blue, brown and yellow, meaning sad, scared and happy. "Coming to the Faros centre takes people's minds off their own problems. It helps me to realise that I am not the only one to face dramatic situations... a lot of people like me have left a country that they cherish behind them," Khalissa said. "My husband has been in Germany for two years. A few days ago I had a positive response for my family reunification request, but I have no idea when I can finally leave Greece... waiting is terrible and so exhausting, I want some rest," she said. "My country was very safe and now it is completely destroyed...but if Syria becomes as before the war, I will return home. We must return home." REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Khalissa, 36, (C) from Qamishli in Syria sits with one of her children at her apartment in Athens, Greece, June 12, 2017. The apartment is provided by the NGO Praksis, under UNHCR� accommodation scheme for relocation candidates and vulnerable asylum seekers. "Coming to the Faros centre takes people's minds off their own problems. It helps me to realise that I am not the only one to face dramatic situations... a lot of people like me have left a country that they cherish behind them," Khalissa said. "My husband has been in Germany for two years. A few days ago I had a positive response for my family reunification request, but I have no idea when I can finally leave Greece... waiting is terrible and so exhausting, I want some rest," she said. "My country was very safe and now it is completely destroyed...but if Syria becomes as before the war, I will return home. We must return home." REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Ruba, 21, (R) and Faten, 25, from Syria sit watching children play at the beach outside the Souda refugee camp in Chios Island, Greece, June 10, 2017. Ruba's husband migrated to Germany. "I miss my husband, I feel alone. Sometimes I'm afraid. I've managed several times to protect myself from harassment." Ruba said. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
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CHIOS, Greece (Reuters) - Thousands of refugee woman and children are living in limbo in Greece, waiting for the day they will be reunited with their families in other European countries.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) says nearly 75,000 refugees and migrants stranded in Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Western Balkans are at risk of "psychological distress" caused by existing in a prolonged state of transit.

About 60,000 refugees and migrants, mostly Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis, have been stuck in Greece for over a year after border closures in the Balkans halted the onward journey many planned to take to central and western Europe.

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More than a quarter are children and over half the new arrivals have been women and children, according to U.N. data. Men were the first family members to flee to Europe in previous years, leaving others to follow.

"Despair is haunting me at the moment," said Soha, a 23-year-old Syrian who lives in a tent on the island of Chios with two her two-year-old daughter and other Syrian women.

In the camp, next to the ruins of an ancient castle, overcrowded tents are pitched on the edge of the pebbled shore, and rats roam among the garbage. Women say they are too scared to leave their tents at night, fearing harassment.

Like other women, Soha declined to give her last name or be identified in photographs, fearing it could affect her application to join her husband in Germany.

Family reunification can take between 10 months and two years, UNICEF says, making life particularly hard those left behind.

The uncertainty caused "significant psychological distress and anxiety for children and their families, setting them back for years to come", UNICEF Regional Director Afshan Khan said.

"I spend most of the day alone," said Farhiya, a 23-year-old Somali who lives in a volunteer-run camp on Lesbos island.

"The other refugees don't speak English and I don't speak Arabic. It's hard to live alone," she said. Farhiya applied to join her husband in Austria seven months ago while still pregnant, but has not heard back, she said.

In Athens, 36-year-old Khalissa, who fled Syria with her three young children, spends her days in a drop-in center run by a UNICEF partner, a brief respite from her problems.

She colors in hearts representing her feelings about the past, present and future. The past is blue for sadness, the present brown for fear and the future, in which she hopes to reunite with her husband after two years, yellow for happiness.

Ultimately, she longs to go home.

"If Syria becomes as before the war, I will return home," she said. "We must return home."

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