We’re now more than three years’ on... Three years since the global refugee crisis landed in Europe. Three years since the image of 4-year old Syrian, Alan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach sent shock-waves around the world.
Volunteers on the Greek island of Lesvos are now being largely silenced by the authorities who don’t want the world to see and hear the devastating truth about conditions for people in Moria Refugee Camp. Because in three years things are arguably worse instead of better.
So, for this blog, I’m borrowing words written three years’ ago by a volunteer called Merel Graeve. Merel’s accounts were so devastating to me when I first read them in October 2015 that I quite my job to help as a full-time volunteer and set-up Donate4Refugees to help raise funds. Merel’s words are utterly heart-breaking in their relevance today. Three whole years on.
Merel Graeve, Stories from the Ground - 23 October 2015
“Today's events have rushed over me like a waterfall of emotion and I cannot bring my mind back to yesterday, though yesterday was a hellish day, it seems like a walk in park compared to today. Do you remember the conditions I described earlier? Well, my friends, I have just two words to add to all those miseries: torrential rain.
“Right now it is 5 am when I write this. I'm lying in my bed, unable to sleep, listening to the rain outside, and with every sound of the thunder storm my heart literally dies a little more inside.
“We, the volunteers in Moria, are completely desperate. I am completely desperate. The situation is inhuman, it is not possible that this is happening to people in Europe. Yet it is happening, my god it's happening and people are dying out there, people are collapsing in my arms and dozens of babies will die of hypothermia over the next few days.
“Yesterday all hell broke loose and the weather gods have opened the skies to rain and drench people who are already so full of misery. The situation is this: all the NGO's are behind the registration gates trying to process people, riot police guarding the entrance. Outside the gates is us, a handful of volunteers who do not even belong to an organisation with no resources to give the thousands of ill and dying and drenched people waiting out there.
“The rain has not stopped, it has been relentless and never ending, draining every single and last person to the bone. There are no shelters for people to hide, there is not enough food for everybody.
“We bought and handed out thousands of bin bags over the past few days for people to wear as ponchos.
“Lesvos is overwhelmed. The little island cannot cope with this. We need help from Europe. In my previous posts I have told you cute stories of kids and making jokes with the young men, but I cannot joke any longer. Whilst we were trying to put up a small piece of tarpaulin to provide some shelter I burst out in tears as I was watching all the people in such extreme desperation. "Why do you cry?" an iraqi man asks me. "I cry for you" I replied, right now it feels like that is the only thing we can do.
“Besides the sadness and desperation I feel, I feel also anger. Anger at the European Union, at the big organisations, this little island cannot cope with what is happening all by itself. Where is all the big money going? You cannot convince me that there isn't the money to put shelter and tents up?
“I'm dreading going back in this morning. I’m not sure what i will find.”
This photo is Merel’s from three years’ ago, and she tells me there is a new-born baby under those umbrellas. But more heart-breaking still is that it could easily have been taken yesterday. I am angry too. For 3 years the European Union, the big organisations, the unfeeling press, have failed these islands - the refugees, locals and volunteers of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros. They cannot cope with what is happening all by themselves. The situation for refugees is increasingly inhuman, it never got much better because the highly controversial EU-Turkey deal of March 2017 has resulted in the islands becoming a bottleneck and numbers have risen and risen. The volunteers are a little more organised but still completely desperate and overwhelmed. If it was hard to believe this was happening in Europe three years’ ago. How is it possible that this is still happening to people in Europe today, three years’ on?
I’m so ashamed. I so badly want Europe to be the heroes of the global humanitarian crisis story. Instead we choose to be the villains. Is it too late for humanity to right the wrongs of the past three years? We are on the wrong side of history and, quite frankly, we know better. Let’s prove it.