A Greek Odyssey - Resilience
This has been an exceptionally tough week. Despite the harsh, windy conditions, crappy dinghies of rubber and air is all that separates thousands of desperate souls from their maker.
Little did we know that while we were mourning the passing of little Ramadan, more young souls were to die, trying to get to safety that night. The death of anyone casts a shadow, the death of so many casts a deep gloom.
Rather than buckle, the refugees show incredible courage and strength to continue their journeys. They have little choice. They are escaping far worse.
35% of all refugees landed on Lesvos so far this January are children. Many mothers are travelling on their own, with the kids, hoping to find their husband in the mire of the asylum process in Europe. Women are not faring well on this journey. Their physical safety and basic needs are at risk from the start. There have been some instances where they have been separated from their children trying to get on to boats, never to find them again. And still they go on, where others would crumble.
As a volunteer, there is little time to dwell. We are working long shifts, sometimes double, to keep the patrols manned. The weather is awful, sleep is scarce and a hot water bottle has become my new best friend. You feel guilty for complaining about cold feet, when somebody has just landed on a beach with no shoes. “First world problems” seem alien and a world away. The only thing that Davos and Lesvos have in common now is snow!
Already in deep financial crisis, the local community shows strength, humanity and grace every day. It is humbling. Dimitri, a restaurant owner in Skala, invites cold and wet women and children change by the fire in his restaurant, because the border patrol has decided (randomly)not to allow them off the harbour quay. He loses his lunch trade as a result. The local fisherman wades out in icy water to hold on to a dinghy so the kids can get off…then drives them in his rackety car to get them warm. The stories are endless. They have little official support. It doesn’t look like they are going to get any either.
The Nobel peace prize would have a good home here.
Separately, many of you were asking for an update on little Ramadan’s family. It is a mixed report. Through the power of the volunteer network on the island, Ramadan’s parents were located and a kind volunteer group got some money to them, to try to make the days ahead a little easier for them. By the coincidence of a Greek ferry strike, the family were still on the island and thus able to bury their son, with all available dignity.
Muhammed, Ramadan’s brave uncle, who tried so hard to save him is probably not going to be that lucky. The 22 year old man, who sobbed in my arms for hours on the worst day of his life, is going to be stopped at the Macedonian border because the new, hastily implemented rule is that “single men” are now not going to be given papers. He will be left behind and his parents will have to fend for themselves.
Man’s inhumanity to man.