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Two weeks in Lesbos - testimony about desire to live


As some of you know, I have been in Lesbos for two weeks in December. In normal situation I would found in that small Greek island far from my stressful daily life a place to relax and forget all about my worries and my problems. I was staying in a hotel with a terrace facing the Turkish mountains where I would enjoy the view of the beautiful blue sea reflecting the shining sun. But actually, this sea was bringing every day and even several times per day to the beach overloaded zodiacs with wet men, women and children who are helped by some volunteers to jump to the land. When I saw this scene for the first time, it turned in my mind from heaven to hell. People take the risk to cross the sea illegally to reach Europe because they want to escape war. The luckiest ones arrive safely with a hope to start a new life.

In that island, the blue sky can testify of a daily tragedy but the irrepressible desire for life keeps fighting for an optimistic end. By car, with my Palestinians friends Khaled and Nasri, we drove over the whole coast. From Petra to Skala Skaminia, we saw thousands of orange lifejackets, abandoned on the sand and hundreds of torn Zodiacs. Those were signs of shipwrecks or saved lives.

With my friends, we stopped in Skala (a night club turned to a refugee’s camp): there, we met people coming from Irak. Most of them were Kurdish and explained to us how awful it was to live in a city taken by ISIS. After that, we went to the harbor of Molyvos (a delightful fishing port appreciated by the tourists) where we met many volunteers coming from all over the world to show sympathy and concern and I would say that was the most beautiful part of our experience in spite of all its sad sides.

The day after, my friends and I, decided to go to Mytilini where the boats were mostly arriving. First we went to the port of Mytilini where most of the refugees were concentrated before embarking to Athens. We crossed impressive groups. Most of them were spending the night before in the tiny park next to the ferry station. Hundreds of others were sitting on the floor or lying on the sidewalk. It was an image of war and exodus! It was an exhausting road but the survivors, once established in Europe, would keep an indelible memory. My friend, Khaled, joined the small supermarket to buy bottles of water that he distributed. . No precipitation! A quiet and a strange calm atmosphere that broke with everything we usually watched in movies or on television: it was nothing but  dramatic and spectacular. They uttered nothing except a polite thank you and continued their road.

My friend said: I've never seen anything like this and it will continue, day after day! I told him: do not consider the misfortune; they have escaped death. They have a future ahead of them.

Later we headed to the beach. From the car, I used my binoculars: an overcrowded zodiac advanced towards the shore. Everyone on board looked taut. We then guessed how violent fear and hope were! Then, the use of binoculars became common even from the terraces of restaurants. What could we do? We ran from the car to welcome those people. A flood of refugees came out from the boat. I asked:

-Where are you from?

- From Izmir.

- Yes, but before? Syria?

-No, Afghanistan.

A young Dutch volunteer was there giving water bottles and dry clothes and shoes because the road was difficult. What after that? Nothing, nobody!

- But what does the International NGOs do here?! Asked some volunteer

- I am unable to answer said another one.

A Greek guy challenged them repeating:

- Where are you from?

- From Belgium.

- Tell Belgium to use its power to stop this war!

My friends and I used to spend the first half of the night in Moria camp which looked like a big prison and reminded me of the Extermination camps that we saw in movies. Despite the realization of the great job by the volunteers, the conditions where the refugees needed to spend the cold nights were non human and that’s why a lot of help was still needed! We were there to help refugees with registration staff and to aid volunteers to distribute food and clothes and organize the rooms etc.. That moment of the day was an opportunity for me to get a lot of love either from refugees or from volunteers which was essential to give me the power to continue the night, welcoming boats on the beach. There I found out how much those people who were forced to leave their country were polite and kind and I told myself it was a shame that people considered them as potential terrorists.

Around 1 am every night we used to leave the camp to join the volunteers’ teams operating on the beach. Those volunteers created their own system of organization among themselves. They were coordinating their work through what’s up groups to keep everyone informed if some boats arrived and what kind of help they might need. We used to stand next to the camp fire that we made until we got a signal from an arriving boat which we sometimes could see thanks to night vision binoculars. Then when the boat driven by one of the passengers became closer, we gave the refugees the instructions to get safely to the beach and then we took them to the buses which would take them to the camp. The refugees told us that they paid around 1000 euros per person to the smugglers who usually threw all their staff and stole all their money thus, leaving them to the waves. From each refugee, you could hear a horrible story!

At 12 am, every day, back to the hotel, I used to read the news on my Smartphone. From politicians nothing surprised me, but there were limits! All countries were closing their borders to the refugees and doing anything to stop the war in their own countries even worse, they were bombing innocent people every day.

Contrary to what we said, it was not the image of the dead child on the beach which would remain but the one that told a great story of hope and a better future. The one where refugees were walking in the road between Budapest and Austria. They were like combatants into the front line with highly lifted head, holding the flag of Europe. A march which looked like a manifestation of struggle. They wanted Europe to keep its great promise and become the new America. We wish that Europe would disappoint neither itself nor us.

Asma Balloumi

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