I almost didn’t go on this trip, and that would have been one of my biggest regrets. This trip has touched me in a way that has altered my belief in humanity and kindness of the universe amongst war and tragedy. Of course this trip was filled with why everyone loves Europe, ancient sites, wonderful foods, charming sea villages, the local homemade beverages, and to be able to do this trip with my husband and good friend of the IRC Danielle Silber, made it all the more special.However, the most meaningful experiences were at the two International Rescue Committee headquarters, 3 refugee camps, 1 detention center and staying on an island that has been living this crisis first hand for over a year. I am not going to spend time on the inconceivable numbers of the Syrian Refugee Crisis, actually I’ll share one number based fact: The Greece’s Ministry of Migration is keeping 3,500 people in a center built for 500 with water available for only three hours a day and where people line up for daily food allotments starting at 3pm because when the food is delivered at 7pm often it will not be enough. But we read facts like these and hear others similar or worse repeated on the news and for some reason we tune it out or worse we associate it with the fear mongering of terrorists. We need to remember that amongst these brutal realities, there are acts love, hope, and humanity, and we need to come together to support this crisis. The severity of this issue should not rest on the shoulders of the Greek people and NGOs, like the IRC, alone.
As one hotel owner, who had over thousands refugees arrive on her beachfront, shared, she felt threatened only once, by a smuggler. The refugees, even the boats of young military age men that came alone, are truly in need of refuge and were never a concern of harm. The powerful and exhausting kindness that the family of Aphrodite Hotel and their staff continue to show is awe-inspiring. On our first night at the hotel a boat of 17 refugees arrived and they were once again there to serve the higher purpose of humanity. Another Lesvos hero, captain George not only showed us the beautiful island of Lesvos, but humbly shared a few of his countless stories including search and rescue missions that saved lives of refugees. When we responded in amazement, he seemed as if he was undeserving of such praise and shared that there was never a question not to help.
It was a honor to meet the talented and dedicated IRC staff members tirelessly working in both Athens and Lesvos. The scope and sequence of what the IRC is doing covers everything from working with the Greek government to providing basic hygiene products to women. And I mean they have staff dedicated to working on everything in between. Walking the camps with IRC staff there were many extremely, bleak moments, the constant realization of what you are witnessing and knowing that these are just a few examples, there are many camps for this crisis, much larger than the ones we saw, all over Greece.
But again, there were acts of love, hope and humanity…The Syrian doctor offering his services to the camp, the community garden growing too little food for the entire camp so donating it to the poor people in Mytilini, the men making a community center for all to have a gathering space to come together and the children. The smiling, laughing children, their lives more uncertain then the adults all around want to let them know. As a teacher, to see this, it really struck a chord. These children and teens are stuck without education and proper, healthy routines. We need to remember they will be part of our future. If we treat them with the dignity they deserve now, who knows how it could pay forward for the future… and if we continue to not validate their human rights, that would be a true disservice. The families of these children thought they were on the way to asylum, putting their family members’ lives in the hands of the smugglers, bringing only small bags of belongings (that would end up most likely not making the journey), because that was a better option than staying in their war torn country.
These families risked everything now only to be stuck, as Europe and the United States has closed its borders to them. This is our true failure to humanity – a true crisis that needs fast action that sadly will not happen. I invite you to take a moment and see this crisis on a human level, not as statistic and without political or racial prejudice. And then when you feel moved that we have truly let millions of innocent people down, I invite you join me and support the work of the IRC, support the Greek people in Lesvos and/or in the very least send your own prayers and positive messages to all of those effected by the Syrian Refugee Crisis and those on the frontline working to make it a better place.