- Associated Press - Friday, January 13, 2017

RITSONA, Greece (AP) - The squalid conditions and subfreezing temperatures in Greece’s migrant camps this winter are taking their toll on everyone living in them.

Expectant mothers and babies especially feel the brunt, with problematic pregnancies not diagnosed in time and fragile newborns having to survive their early days in filth. Some have died.

Heavy snowfall has hit large swaths of Greece, including the eastern Aegean islands where thousands of refugees are stranded. A state of emergency has been declared in some parts of the country.

The European Commission has said that conditions for asylum-seekers on Greek islands and in other camps where they are housed in tents despite severe cold weather are “untenable.”

AP photographer Muhammed Muheisen recently interviewed a dozen mothers stranded in Greek camps. Here are the accounts of two women he spoke to who are best friends:

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ZAINA HAMMOUSH

The 24-year-old from Syria is nine-months pregnant, expecting her third child, and she is terrified about the living conditions at the Ritsona migrant camp.

“My best friend’s child died while she was in her sixth month (of pregnancy),” she said at the Ritsona camp. “We don’t have proper health care. We don’t have a clean environment and it’s so cold here in the camp.”

Hammoush is from Aleppo’s northern district of Al-Ashrafiya, and her home was destroyed in a government airstrike in January 2015. She decided to leave Syria in search for a new home and went to Iraq for nearly a year.

Her family, including her husband and two children, then decided to go to Turkey and make the dangerous journey across the Aegean Sea to Greece.

“All we want is a safe place for my family to go to, just the basic of what a human needs,” she said. “If it wasn’t for my children we would had never left our home.”

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RANIA ASKAR

Askar is Hammoush’s best friend. With tears in her eyes, the 31-year-old Syrian from Deir el-Zour embraced a volunteer at the Ritsona camp, who promised to bring her the death certificate of her child who died a few hours after being born.

“I didn’t know that there was something wrong with my pregnancy until the day I woke up bleeding. I am so sad my heart is broken,” Askar said while standing in an alley of the camp with her 4-year-old daughter Maya.

Askar couldn’t afford to go to a private hospital to have regular checkups during her pregnancy. One night, she woke up with heavy bleeding and was rushed from the camp to an Athens hospital.

She stayed there for two weeks and her child died a few hours after being born prematurely in November.

“This wouldn’t happen if I had a regular checkups and was surrounded by my sisters in Germany,” Askar said. “We are left alone here. We only have God.”

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Muhammed Muheisen is The Associated Press’ chief photographer for the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Muheisen81 and Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mmuheisen/?hl=en

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