Wow… what a ride!
Nearly six months ago, here I was… arriving on the third biggest island in Greece and center stage of one of the biggest humanitarian crises on European soil. Today, in what it feels like years later, I am ready to leave this incredible place. In my bag, I still carry the same old clothes I came with, but within me, I bring along wonderful people and experiences that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
I like to say that Lesvos is like another dimension. This “huge island”, just some kilometers away from Turkey and with a population of a little bit over 80.000 people, is housing more than 10.000 refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other countries. During the crises, in 2015 and 2016, hundreds of thousands of refugees came through tiny coastal villages, who saw their precious tourists vanish unexpectedly. For the thousands of volunteers who come here from all over the world every year (including myself), the humanitarian world sucks you in. You breathe projects, calls for applications, social media postings, numbers of boat arrivals, and crowdfunding campaigns. While things may be calm one day, the world may fall apart during the next.
Lesvos is not that far away for me, it is actually just 35 min away from Athens by plane. But for 10.000 people that live on this island, Lesvos is really far, almost too far. Since 2016, refugees are not allowed to get out of the island, which means that they need to wait until the end of their asylum process to be reallocated to the mainland, or “Europe”. Meanwhile, they live in one of the island’s three camps – Moria, KaraTepe or Pikpa. The wait can take months, often more than one year. Those in Moria are forced to live in one of the world’s most inhumane refugee camps, known for human rights violations and deplorable conditions. “Lucky” are the ones who manage to get out. Many are deported, detained or forced to go under the radar.
Six months ago, it felt right to come and help these people as much as I could with the skills I had. I am not a doctor or a nurse, a builder or a lawyer – valuable jobs in these environments – but I still decided to dive into this “world”. All this time later, I am confident that I’ve done my best and hope that I contributed somehow to these people’s lives.
Refugees and migrants are forgotten, and the world tends to treat them as numbers… invaders… terrorists. It’s up to us to see them as humans again.
What an exciting ride! Thank you, Lesvos!