Lots of people have asked me how Win and I’s short trip to Leros was, and in truth, it has taken me a while to let my feelings settle. The trip was intense and we entered a whole new world. A world that is so different to our own, yet just as real and really quite shocking.
On one hand I came back feeling so reassured by humanity. So much goodness, so much kindness and so much love, and on the other – so much disappointment. Disappointment at the ‘system’, disappointment at the EU, disappointment at the media and so disappointed that the refugee camp (or hotspot) is on the grounds of a dilapidated mental asylum – out of the way, with no free space, surrounded by a pair of barbed wire fences.
There has to be a better way. A better way of deciding where people can move to (or whether they have to return), a better way of sharing the responsibility, a better way of helping people move on with their lives. What stood out to me more than anything after visiting Leros is; how impossible it is to know the lives people have lived – where they come from, why they behave the way that they do and what has lead them to a certain point in their life. It’s impossible. We are all shaped by our experiences, and those experiences are very, very different…
There are the Leros locals. The locals that have suffered loss of business, a loss of tourism, a loss of income. Their struggles are real and difficult. Their livelihoods have suffered and they don’t want refugees on their beloved island. Some have committed suicide. They are angry at locals that help refugees and their feelings are understandable.
Then there are the Leros locals that actively help the refugees. Those that raise money and dedicate their lives to making life for refugees more comfortable, more worth living and more fulfilled. They have fought to get refugees shelter, food, provide food and ferry them to the beach. They take care of vulnerable refugees and help them move one. They have been subject to attacks from other locals, and the police.
Then there are the refugees. The ones that have travelled far. The ones that have left everything, risked their lives and the lives of the children. The ones that want to live freely, safely and pursue their dreams. The ones that have seen tragedy, heartache beyond my comprehension. Vulnerable to thieves, traffickers and smugglers. Their children play on the streets and they are kind, open and warm.
Then there are the international volunteers. The girl from Seattle that read something in the newspaper and decided that she had to go to Greece. She just had to get there. There is the boy that comes out for a few months at a time, returns to London to earn some money and then comes back out again. There are the two Spanish friends that came because they had a spare three weeks. There are the two American girls that left successful careers because they didn’t feel fulfilled. They take care of hygiene, clothing and activities.
Then we have the police, and the army. They do their jobs. They preserve borders. They are understaffed, underfunded and struggling. I know very little, except that they have been known to be hostile, unkind and inhumane.
Then there is me. I have a home. I have food. Our income is stable. I have three young boys, that will attend school – free of charge. I have a car, a television, a laptop, a garden, clothing, shoes and running water. I have more than I need, and with that, I feel, comes responsibility – to use what I have wisely, to be generous and to always be so, so thankful.
Many, many thanks to ECHO100Plus and Leros Solidarity Network for sharing their stories with us, and for their kindness.