Wednesday’s Tragedy

I don’t know how widely this has been reported in the press, but perhaps you will already know that on Wednesday there was a great loss of lives in the Aegean sea when a large boat carrying almost 300 people sank suddenly in a matter of seconds. Survivors I spoke to explained to me that there was an upper deck loaded with people, which suddenly collapsed. A photographer has photos of the boat sailing, and just 20 seconds later, sinking. The boats the traffickers are piling people into are rotten, old, unseaworthy. Dangerous. When they are closed, the people in them go straight down with them if something happens. The use of these big, wooden, closed boats in on the increase and people pay more to sail in them than the rubber dinghies, thinking they are safer when they are indisputably more dangerous.

We watched the rescue operation from the shore. Little orange dots, bobbing about on the sea, waiting to be rescued. In the harbour at Molyvos volunteers and Greek authorities worked tirelessly to look after survivors and save lives. 248 people were rescued. Some bodies were taken from the water yesterday. 20 bodies were washed up along the shore today. An 11 year old Afghan girl lost all the family she was travelling with and now finds herself alone in a chaotic refugee system in an entirely alien country. She has become very attached to a Norwegian volunteer who has been working hard to look out for her and her rights and make sure she is not lost or forgotten about in a chaotic immigration system in an entirely alien country. Please take five minutes to watch this video which I hope will take you one step closer to feeling the reality of this humanitarian crisis.

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The Human Faces Behind the Statistics

Syrian father we transported with his family from beach to bus stop.
Syrian father we transported with his family from beach to bus stop.

This good man from Homs, Syria was travelling with his entire family. We squeezed them all into the nine-seater van and he enjoyed chatting with us in excellent English as we bounced along the road. A man of great dignity he spoke with pride of his grown-up children, their university education and their hopes of a new life in Germany, free from the terrors of the war in Syria.

It is people like this family that you are helping us to help with your generous donations. I thank you on their behalf: they are full of gratitude for everything Europe and its people are doing for them.

Spotted this boat heading for us, pitching from side to side in the sea and unsure of where to land perhaps, or how to sail, they were changing from one direction to the other. It was really tense, I was terrified for them. They were all inside the boat and so had anything happened would surely have drowned. Watch the landing below. An Iraqi man I spoke to had paid 2000 euros for him, 2000 for his wife and 1000 for each of his four children. That’s 8000 euros. For a very dangerous and short crossing to the safety they hope Europe will offer them.

Today in Eftalou, Lesvos.

Rescuer and rescued.
Rescuer and rescued.

This is Javeed, a Hazara from Kunduz City, Afghanistan, and the boy he rescued from drowning. They were only 15 metres from Lesvos in stormy weather when the boat began to fill with water. Then it was “felling under the sea”. There were 65 people on board. Most made it to safety. Javeed rescued 17 people from the water. But he couldn’t save everyone and three children died. He is struggling to cope with the fact that he was unable to save the children and saw them as they floated away. He tried again and again to save them but he couldn’t. A video of his account will hopefully follow shortly, it needs editing (can anyone help with this?).

Javeed left Afghanistan because life with the Taliban became impossible for him. He is a gentle and kind person and has formed a strong bond with this young boy, his adopted brother for the journey.

Sunday on Lesvos

After our late finish at Moria on Saturday night, we were very tired yesterday, but so relieved to see the sun was shining brightly, the rain appeared to be gone for good, and everyone was able to start hanging things out to dry.

We didn’t go to Pikpa this time but instead to Molyvos (map to follow, in a hurry right now…) which is a point on the island very close to Turkey where a lot of boats arrive, and an hour’s drive from Mytilini. Help was needed putting refugees on buses and again, finding clean and dry clothes and shoes for everyone. I spent the evening doing this, and trying to sort through the clothes to make distribution easier. I am more familiar with shoe sizes now than ever before in my life and now fully comprehend the importance of well organised clothes… a long queue of soaking wet women all clamouring for socks when you can’t find socks… it’s very hard.

Why are people always wet and always in need of new clothes? Once their boat reaches the shore, they scramble to get to dry land and often have to wade or even swim in the process. They don’t have changes of clothes with them. Watch a boat arrival here and understand why people almost have trench foot.

It’s a hurried post today as we need to work on our car hire, finding somewhere to stay as well as seeing what today brings in the way of work. As I mentioned before, we desperately need a vehicle to deliver aid more efficiently and ourselves too to be more efficient with our time. Please visit our crowdfunding page to make a donation: https://www.generosity.com/fundraisers/rent-a-van-for-refugee-aid-distribution-lesvos. Thank you!!

 

 

 

What Yesterday Brought: Moria

It finally stopped raining last night, just in time for our first trip to Moria, the notorious refugee registration centre high up in the mountains and a 15 minute drive from Mytilini. With a huge old Royal Mail van packed out with warm, dry clothing and shoes and some hot meals, we wound our way up the hills until we reached the purpose built centre. These are the scenes that greeted us, and this, was a good day: the rain had stopped and there were relatively few people. Hardly anyone, in fact, compared to recent days.

*This was supposed to be posted yesterday but we were asked go to the town of Molyvos, 1 hour’s drive from here and I couldn’t finish… *

In every new situation that we walk into concerning the refugees, we have absolutely no idea what to expect, and I find myself often on drives or in cars, with no idea where we are going, what we will need, what we will do. It is one thing I have in common with the refugees. They also have no idea what each next step of the journey will be like, or where it will take them, as they are bundled in and out of first a boat, then buses, then herded into lines to be processed, then allowed to go free again, clutching their papers, left trying to figure out how they will get from Moria down to Mytilini, where they will wait for the ferry to Athens, and move onto the next stage of the complete unknown. These were the stages I witnessed at Moria.

When the boats land on the island, the refugees are “sorted” into nationalities. Syrian refugees have priority and are taken to a different camp. Afghanis, Iraqis and Iranians and probably any other nationality (but I haven’t met any others) are taken to Moria. What we found at Moria was shocking. Wet discarded clothes, UNHCR blankets, foil blankets, shoes, rubbish, are piled high everywhere. The refugees must wait in line to register and obtain their papers, which will allow them two weeks entry to Greece. Single men line up on one side, and women and children and men with  families on the other. Enormous, heavily bolted and padlocked wire gates are controlled by a giant of a man who shouts instructions unnecessarily and aggressively at the people waiting patiently in line,  who are shivering uncontrollably from the cold and the wet clothes they are wearing. Every so often an announcement is made over a tannoy system, a polite and entirely out of place and inappropriate “bing bing bing” precedes the barked announcement. If the refugees are lucky, it will be in Farsi or Pashto as well as English, and they will actually be able to know what is going on. When the gates are opened, there is a rush and confusion as to who  can go in, and families often get separated. For this situation, the giant has back up in the form of a small group of riot police, who stand ready with shields. I try not to get angry at this sight. I don’t think I’ve seen anything yet: teargas was used on the refugees only the day before.

So that is the situation there. It was very windy and very cold. The vast majority of the refugees, having only just arrived on the island, were still wet from their boat journey. I spent the next several hours identifying the wettest people, mainly children, and finding them clean dry clothes and blankets, trying in vain in some cases to get them warm again. This work is so important. If we had not been there that night, there would have been no clean dry clothes. More people than just the few we took to the doctor would have had suspected hypothermia. This is what feet look like when they have been in wet shoes for a long time, and this man’s case was particularly bad, but I took wet shoes off children with feet like this too:

Trench foot?
Trench foot?

There are voluntary doctors at Moria, but none provided by the Greek state. Not much seems to be state provided except the centre and the officials who control it. No food is distributed, no rubbish clean up carried out, no doctors provided, no dry clothes, shoes and warm blankets. No shelter in spite of the fact that the centre can house up to 600 people in purpose-built accommodation. People are sleeping outside under olive trees in tents handed out by NGOs. Everything given out at Moria is provided by small, independent groups and individuals like us. Conditions are nothing short of inhumane. And I know that this is only the tip of the iceberg for these people in their journey, it’s only going to get colder and more miserable.

However, amidst all this misery, there are beautiful smiles and moments of laughter and great humour. I had carried a wee Afghan boy up the hill, as he couldn’t carry himself anymore. The second I picked him up, he gave he sweetest smile with his eyes all lit up. Later he found me again, now sporting a warm hat and gloves and Celtic Football Club scarf, and spent some time playing with my head torch. Apparently the red light was hilarious and he broke out into peals of infectious laughter, and started dancing and singing songs from home. Mum and dad got a break, and so did I.

We hitched a lift back to Mytilini with a volunteer, stopping to pick up two Iraqi men and take them to the port. With all of us squeezed in, our new volunteer friend set off pelting down the hill… but unsure of how to get back to Mytilini…”Mytilini, where are you, wayn anta?” she said, and the Iraqis, in a moment of hilarity, passed her the heavy binoculars used for looking out for the boats arriving. “Here, use these!” they laughed. Much tension from an intense and heavy day was released in the ensuing laughter.