Imagine hiding in the woods for days until your smuggler tells you that it is the right time to board your boat to make your escape to Greece. Then, imagine that shortly after your boat leaves the shore, the smuggler jumps off the boat and heads back to the beach.
Imagine hiding in the woods for days until your smuggler tells you that it is the right time to board your boat to make your escape to Greece. Then, imagine that shortly after your boat leaves the shore, the smuggler jumps off the boat and heads back to the beach. And not long after, the engine on the boat stops working.
That’s what happened last night to 12 refugees who were trying to make it from Turkey to Lesvos. They were picked up by the Greek Coast Guard at around 3:00 am after drifting in the water – in the pitch black - for over an hour. On the boat, eight people from Syria, including an 8-year-old boy and two-year-old twins (one with cerebral palsy) and four people from Iraq.
Ellen and I met this group of refugees when we turned up for our shift at the Molyvos harbour this morning. We arrived at the Captain’s Table restaurant, the headquarters for Starfish Foundation, just before 7:00 am and found twelve people asleep on the ground outside the restaurant. They had been brought in by the Coast Guard in the middle of the night and given sleeping bags and camping pads. It was our job to register them and set up transportation to one of the UN camps.
When refugees are picked up by the Coast Guard, they are considered to be almost under arrest. They are not allowed to separate from the group and they must be supervised by either a Coast Guard officer or a representative from the Starfish Foundation at all times. They are then transferred by bus directly to one of the two UN registration camps without passing through a transit camp.
This morning, we provided the group with some warm clothing, dry socks, food, juice, tea and coffee. We got them to complete the required Coast Guard forms and then we waited for word that there was a bus to transport them to Moria or Kara Tepe, the two UN camps 90 minutes away.
It took about three hours to arrange for the bus. During that time, the refugees sat at the café tables on the edge of the harbour as the sun rose and the fisherman started their motors. It was an incongruous image – these travel weary people who have come so far and have even further to go sitting in the sunshine sipping their tea. I like to think that it was a few minutes of peace and tranquility in the midst of a harrowing experience.
When it was time to leave, I asked if I could drive the women and three children rather than have them walk the hilly 25 minutes to the bus departure point. We piled everyone into my rental car and made our way to the parking lot with the windows down and the radio playing. Again, I thought about how it was perhaps a few minutes of normalcy for these people who have had such a difficult time.
At the bus stop, we found a cardboard glider kit for the little boy in the group. Immediately the men gathered around to figure out how to put it together while the woman watched and laughed. I chatted a little bit with one of the men. He told me he was a Kurdish journalist. He had to leave Syria and he knew that he would probably never be able to go back. He was travelling with his brother’s wife and his cousin and his family. His brother and uncle are already in Germany.
By 10:30, our group was on the bus and we returned to the harbour. No more refugees were brought in by the Coast Guard, so we spent the rest of the morning making sandwiches to be handed out to people arriving at the OXY transit camp. It seems like a rather trivial thing to do, but it is an important job too. We finished filling up the three refrigerators in the Starfish kitchen, so by the end of the morning there were 2,475 sandwiches ready to go. (I don’t mean to brag, but the volunteer we were working with said I was the fastest sandwich maker she had ever seen!)
It goes from the dramatic to the mundane. From shuttling refugees to making cheese sandwiches. All in the day’s work here on Lesvos.