I’ve been in Lesvos, Greece for four days. Things have been quiet. The last landing of refugees was three days before my arrival. I’ve been spending my days doing beach cleanup, working on up-cycling projects for Lighthouse Relief, and getting acquainted with the policies and procedures of the camp. For a moment, I thought that maybe the crossings have stopped and that maybe things were improving. But four days in, I was proven wrong.
I was awoken around 5 am with a simple statement, ‘Esraa, we’ve had two landings, and we need extra support.’
That was all I needed to hear to jump out of my sleeping bag and get to work. We quickly grabbed our supplies (food, water, dry clothing, and blankets), loaded up the van, and headed out.
The landing site was about a twenty-minute drive from our location. It took us about another fifteen minutes to locate the migrants. We found them huddled around a campfire with police standing watch. Nineteen adults and nine children. The youngest of the children being one-year-old twin boys. The oldest of the adults was an elderly couple that looked to be in their sixties. All of them, except for one woman, were Syrians. The one woman who was not Syrian was Iraqi.
Even in the darkness of the night, the moment I stepped out of the van, I could clearly see the panic and fear on their faces.
“We were going to die”
I quickly introduced myself and worked to find out where they came from, how many people, how they made the journey, and most importantly if anyone needed medical attention.
Being the only Arabic speaker, I was quickly surrounded by the group and bombarded with questions.
Where were we?
Will we be sent back to Turkey?
What will happen to us?
All I could share with them is that they made it to Greece, specifically the island of Lesvos. I explained that we are waiting for a bus that will take them to Moria camp and from there they will be informed of the next steps.
At one point, a man handed me one of the twin boys. I held him in my arms as he slept while we waited for the arrival of the bus that would take them to Moria. I held him tightly in my arms and wondered if he will ever get a chance to live a normal life. If he will ever get the chance to pursue his dreams. I wondered if he will ever be free.
His mother, Fatima, is twenty-three years old. They had been living in a camp in Turkey for almost two months. Her husband had passed away, and she was trying to get to her family in Germany. She had no other family with her and had been relying on the other refugees for support. A few weeks before leaving Syria, she had undergone eye surgery on her right eye. She was supposed to go back to her doctor two weeks after her procedure for a follow-up, but she was forced to flee the country as the violence continued. Her eye was red and watery.
She had a broken smile and a shimmer of hope in her eyes. My heart broke as I sat next to her.
“Will we be sent back to Turkey?”
I learned that this was the second time they had attempted to cross the Aegean Sea. For one teenage boy, he looked to be about sixteen years old; this was his fourth attempt. It took them six hours to make the trip. The boat was small and fragile, and the sea was powerful that night. The small boat was sinking so they were forced to move slowly. Anytime they picked up speed a wave would overcome them. At one point, they almost lost a young girl, about eight years old.
They kept repeating, ‘We were going to die”.
And all I could say to them was ‘Thank God you made it to safety.’
But their journey is far from over. And they will continue to struggle as there is no apparent end in sight.