Lens Inside a Refugee Camp: The Final Glimpse & Shameful Truth

Yesterday, the leaders of the European Union’s (EU) twenty-eight nations and Turkey’s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, announced an agreement regarding the handling of refugees. Humanitarian groups have called the deal inhumane and believe it violates international law on the treatment of refugees. Despite that vocal objection, Davutoglu smiled for the cameras and praised this “important” agreement that he called “fair and encouraging.” The reality of the agreement was as far from “fair and encouraging” as it could possibly be. It translated into a never-ending nightmare for the refugees. The reality of that nightmare played out this morning at the Moria refugee camp in Lesvos Greece.

Hundreds of refugees arrived after midnight at Camp Moria this morning. According to the EU/Turkey refugee agreement, all of these people will now be deported back to Turkey. Their timing could not have been worse. If they were Syrian and had stayed just one more night in Turkey, they could have qualified for a resettlement into another EU country as part of the 1:1 exchange program identified in the agreement. Instead, these poor souls who have traveled hundreds, and in some cases thousands of miles fleeing terrorism in their homeland, will now be sent back to a country with growing terrorism from Kurdish fighters and the Islamic State. Imagine how inhumane this is to the refugees. Think about it for a minute. The agreement calls for people who are running from terrorism to be sent back to a country where there is terrorism. Even more egregious is that as part of the EU/Turkey refugee agreement, Turkey will be given $6.8 billion to “take care of” the refugees. Let’s put this into perspective. The EU is giving billions of dollars to a country who knowingly allowed their Coast Guard to beat refugees and who is said to have taken bribe money from refugee smugglers. They now expect these people to care for the refugees. That’s like giving a child molester a shit-ton of money and asking him to babysit your kids.

As the volunteers arrived for our 9:00 am shift at the camp this morning, word quickly spread that all Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and all volunteers would be kicked out of the camp. Moreover, we heard the Greek military and police would be running the entire camp moving forward. To be clear, the only thing the Greek military and police did previously was provide security. Everything else associated with running the refugee camp was done by the volunteers — from finding formula for babies to handing out dry clothes to shivering refugees who has just crossed the sea to assigning housing to hugging a crying mother to providing food to dealing with conflicts to providing medical care to translating multiple languages to every other aspect of running a refugee camp. With all due respect to the Greek military and police, they aren’t going to pick up the ball when it comes to providing all that compassionate care. It’s simply not their job or their priority. And in some cases, like medical and translation, they don’t have the qualifications. The volunteers are a bunch of emapths who feel other people’s pain as if it were their own. Most of us traveled to Lesvos on our own dime and spent thousands of dollars for one reason — to try to help the refugees in any way we could. Empaths are motivated by kindness. Rightfully so, military personnel and police just don’t have the same motivation or objectives. They need to be focused on security, something very important at a refugee camp.

Upon hearing that we would soon be kicked out, the volunteers went into overdrive mode trying to help as many refugees as we could before our ejection from the camp actually happened. There wasn’t a smile to be found on any volunteers. We all had the same post-apocalyptic look on our faces that the refugees who traveled over the sea during an epic biblical storm had on their faces when they arrived at camp. We began giving away everything in our hut to the refugees — from blankets to food to clothing to tents to sleeping bags to travel bags to toys to everything and anything we thought the refugees could use.

I was desperately trying to find “Danny” the twenty-one year old Syrian refugee I mentioned in my post “Lens Inside a Refugee Camp: Glimpse 11.” As I stated in the post, two of Danny’s brother’s were brutally slaughtered by Daesh for doing nothing more than being beacons for humanity. I messaged Danny multiple times but had a difficult time finding him. He finally showed up at the volunteer hut. I had an Arabic translator named Masa who I adore with me so I could communicate with Danny. As I put 100 euros in his hand in spite of his refusal, I said, “Please take this money. You need it more than I do. I would give you more but it’s all I have on me. Get on the ferry to Athens as soon as you can. Know that I love you. Your mother should be proud for having raised three such honorable sons. She is a good woman. When you apply for asylum, if you need a sponsor, please give them my name and try to come to the United States. I will take care of you.” As I spoke, I cried and could barely breathe. As Masa translated, she cried too. As other volunteers listened, they cried. And as Danny listened his eyes became wet with tears.

As we emptied the volunteer hut and gave away everything we could to the refugees, I came across the big bag of dry dog food, canned soft dog food, dog bowls and dog treats I had bought. The volunteers had adopted and fed a number of island dogs who had no home and who lived on the street. I gathered up all the dog stuff and ran it outside the camp to give it to a woman running a food truck who would most likely continue to work there after the volunteers had left. Again through tears, I asked her if she would feed the dogs since we were being kicked out of camp and could no longer do so. She too cried. She was from Detroit Michigan, one of the most desperate cities in the United States, yet here she was on Lesvos providing a service to refugees. She was another empath doing what she could to bring a little comfort into the lives of these refugees who found themselves living in an unending nightmare.

As all of this played out, the refugees began to sense that something was not right. They had started to hear the rumors about being deported back to Turkey and they looked frightened, desperate and confused. They saw the crew of volunteers thinning and witnessed the ones who were left scrambling to give them everything they possibly could. As we ran around I couldn’t help but feel we were like the band of eight musicians on the titanic trying to bring comfort to a group of people whose fate was frightful. I also thought about Mr. Rogers, the American Children’s TV personality who said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Sadly, there will be no more helpers at the refugee camps.

I walked out of the refugee camp for the final time with a fellow volunteer. All the refugees saw at the time was that the normally-smiling, empathetic faces were now expressionless and were being replaced by stern looking, armed men in uniforms. Imagine their fear. While the EU and Turkey celebrate their agreement, there is no celebration for the refugees. There is only anxiety, despair, sadness and uncertainty. There is simply no end in sight to the biggest humanitarian crisis of our lives. Shame on the world for allowing this to be our truth.

Please pray for the refugees. #BeKind