For a number of days now, boat arrivals have decreased dramatically and stopped altogether in some places. We are all left speculating as to the reasons for this. One person who claims to have a contact in Turkey says there are 100,000 people ready to go, but the smugglers have run out of boats. Or could there be more patrols on the Turkish side, sending the boats back, as part of the EU’s deal with Turkey to improve border control? Have they really run out of boats, and if so, why and how? Imports blocked perhaps? Or is it the weather? It is blowing a gale outside as I write, locals say with the wind in this direction it would be impossible to set off from Turkey. I certainly hope no one is on the sea in this weather.
As we speculate over boats and the availability of them to the smugglers, I have taken some photos of some of the vessels the refugees are arriving on. I was shocked to see one enormous, seen-much-better-days luxurious sort of party boat tied up in the harbour at Mtyilini. It didn’t take much to figure out it was a refugee boat, with the life jackets strewn on deck. How many people will they have crammed in there? Where did they land? What would have happened if the boat had got into trouble? How much did each person pay to be on it? Next to it a much smaller but still out of place leisure boat. Same questions asked.
Along the shore here, more old wooden boats that had probably long ago been scrapped, written off as unseaworthy. Glass windows smashed on one- what a reassuring sight. I have no photo of the one that shocked me most… a wooden boat, could fit a few people comfortably. Had a toilet on board… a toilet that was ripped out but still hanging there. The body of the boat, the deck, the woodwork was rotting and completely ripped up in places. The boat was a wreck. And people had still been put on it and sent over the sea.
So few boats means very few refugees or none at all. This is a strange sensation for everyone who has dedicated their time and energy for such a long time to helping them along their journey. Volunteers are making the most of empty camps to reorganise, sort donations, improve infrastructure. I am so impressed by everything that has been put in place since my arrival, absolutely everything is developing and improving.
We are all under a spell of uncertainty. What is holding people back and should we expect a tidal wave of boats any day now? If so, when? People who only have a short time to volunteer are asking if they should go elsewhere, to the Greek border with Macedonia, for example, where certain nationalities are not being allowed through and are stuck there with nothing.
I am enjoying having some peaceful time and recharging my batteries. I did something I have longed to do since arriving here: go running along the “dirt road”. This is the 15k stretch of coast from Eftalou to Skala Sikaminea where all the boats arrive. I’ve run it in the dark, running to meet a boat. I’ve run it in the day, running to meet a boat. I haven’t “gone for a run” along it until now because, well, can you imagine going running along a refugee road, running past hundreds of exhausted people struggling to walk the several kilometres till they can get a bus? No, neither could I. So today, refugee free, I ran it. That was good.
On a work note, I am continuing to work on a small but challenging project with dear friend and fellow volunteer Juval: our tea tent at Moria. It was all systems go until our designated tent blew away (not in the least bit surprising given the quality of the tent and the strength of the wind here). We were busy finding pallets for raised flooring and getting a table made, but everything is on hold until another tent arrives. We need something really heavy duty to withstand this wind. We hope we can find it in the next couple of days.
On a final note, please take 8 minutes to watch this video from the Guardian. I recommend it because it will give you a very good idea of what the different places you hear me talking about are like: Moria registration camp for the non-Syrian refugees. Kara Tepe camp for the Syrians. Oxy transit camp features, which is where I have frequently driven people to in the van, it is just ten minutes from the beach here. At the end of the video you will see the port in Mytilini where they take the huge ferry to mainland Greece. You will also see the boat arrivals. Yes, it’s just like in the video. As for the debate put forward by the video on “classes” of refugees I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this. It is very strange to receive people from many different war-torn or difficult countries and know that they will not all receive the same treatment. Watch it here.