This site makes use of cookies to help improve our understanding of how you use the site.

Flourish Foundation Art Therapy Service at Ritsona Refugee Camp

18 March 2017

Following their art therapy pilot project at Ritsona refugee camp in 2016, the Flourish Foundation have returned to provide a longer-term art therapy service for residents...

Ritsona camp is situated north of Athens in a remote area of mainland Greece and has a predominantly Syrian population alongside a small number of individuals from Somalia, Morocco, Iraq, Sudan and Palestine.

The art therapists tell us about the art therapy sessions with children, young people, women and men at Ritsona:

‘Our return to Ritsona refugee camp was accompanied with anticipation, as we looked forward to continuing the work that we began in the 6-week pilot project, we also wondered about the community we would now see and considered changes that may have occurred within the internal structure and atmosphere of the camp.

We return as a smaller team of two art therapists to a camp that has grown by approximately 250 individuals. The population remains predominantly Syrian and it is now estimated that the community is 60% Syrian Kurdish. The Kurdish people have a history of displacement. 

Since arriving 2 weeks ago we started our outreach and have met with many new faces: children, adolescents, men and women of all ages, expectant mothers and fathers and new-born babies. We have also been welcomed back by individuals we worked with during our pilot project. We were aware of the tensions around our privilege to leave and return to the camp; also our return is a reminder of time passed and of little change for some individual’s situations. We have also heard good news! Families that we previously met with have now been moved on to permanent housing. We heard that one unaccompanied minor whom we knew, found his own way to be reunited with his older brother and is now safe, and we hear of further reunifications being granted for young adults, this is a joy and a relief. Other individuals have told us of their upcoming and/or outcomes of their interviews in their asylum application process. 

Last week we saw the arrival of our dedicated art therapy room, in the form of a large isobox. This provides us with a space that we can regularly hold our open group art therapy sessions. We were unsure as to how it would be received by the residents but it has so far been welcomed as a space with a specific purpose and as a sanctuary for the individuals within the camp.

We are working alongside other on-site clinical practitioners in order to discuss clients we are concerned for and to help each other in reaching the individuals most in need. We have been able to secure relationships with other NGO’s (non-governmental organisations) and hope to provide a service that will work in partnership with the entire community and benefit those who access our service. We have decided to continue with a schedule that targets specific age and gender groups and includes all of the residential community. 

Our sessions began with the younger age groups in the mornings. We introduced ourselves to the 6-8 and 9-11 year old groups and provided a directive asking that they introduce themselves to us in the form of a family portrait. We saw images of houses with windows, roads that ended suddenly, bombs, hearts and the simple marking of ones identity, a name, written within an image. We heard the repeated “no good” declaration at their images and we were reminded of the need for our attention to some of the children and the feeling of nothing being enough. 

On Thursday the rain fell heavy within the camp, we attempted an outreach for the 12-15 year old group. We were joined by one individual who spent the hour concentrating on an image they drew using coloured pencil. At times it felt mesmerising to watch the detail they added to their picture, and we thought about the importance of time dedicated to individuals. 

In the women only session we were joined by familiar faces. Images were created that explored the materials and the new room and we were helped in understanding some of the differences with Arabic and Kurmanji (the Syrian Kurdish) languages. 

Within the men’s only session we were reminded of the horror of war and conflict, the affect of loss and displacement alongside the search for safety and trying to make sense of a conflict that is out of one’s control. We heard of the pressure to provide and the strong feelings of responsibility to ones family whilst trying to make sense of feeling persecuted, attacked, rejected, horrified and unsafe. We offered clay to squeeze and manipulate perhaps providing a temporary relief from their frustrations and anger. We reflected on their inner strength and abilities to survive and to provide and we acknowledged the exhaustive journey and responsibilities they were taking on.

Within the 16-21 year old group we were joined by two family members, one of whom had been settled in northern Europe, the other waiting to hear for the decision to their application to be accepted into a different country. We understood the challenges faced by family members in being separated and one of their images depicted a place where they both could be. 

We have heard stories this week of the horror of war, we have witnessed images that detail these experiences and ones that appear to cover the pain and suffering sometimes too unbearable to discuss. We have heard of feeling stuck, of losing hope and of desperation and we have returned to witness the resilience that is so hugely present among this community. 

We camp, sadly approaches its one-year anniversary. However, this month will also be a time of festivities at Ritsona as we approach the Kurdish celebration of Eid Nowruz, meaning new day or new light. We will join with the community and help to prepare and understand the celebration and the complexities of looking towards a new year with hope and uncertainty'. 


To follow the Flourish Foundation's weekly reports on art therapy practice at Ritsona please click here