“Let’s definitely plan a trip the first week of the new year.”
But our initial plans for a quiet get-away soon became a trip to the Greek island of Lesbos.
Lesbos is not only a beautiful island for tourists. It is also the first European destination for thousands, likely millions of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond.
Theoretically it’s a quick procedure: boats with 30-60 people arrive, ideally welcomed by a group of cheering volunteers. People get off the boat, take off wet shoes and socks. Blankets are wrapped, water and snacks distributed. Then busses arrive to take everyone to Moria camp, where they need to register before their onward journey. Ideally, the new arrivals do not even have to spend the night.
And so that is where we found ourselves. Geared up with gum boots, gloves and beanies, for our week of four, 12-hour shifts in Moria camp. As Arabic speakers, we spent most of our time in the queue for the registration of Syrians and Iraqis.
It was a crash course in refugee transit life.
I am sorry, I know you are hungry because you have not eaten in two days, but we are having problems with our caterer.
I am sorry, I know you have been waiting for two hours but I cannot tell you when the queue will move.
Yes, I know that the children sleeping there are yours.
I am sorry, I know that one blanket in a non-heated hut with 4°C is not much, but it is all I can do, maybe grab a hot tea from the tent up there.
I am sorry, I know you need new shoes because yours filled with water when you crossed the sea in a dingy, but sadly we have run all out of men’s shoes.
Sorry, women’s shoes too.
Sorry, shoes for children too.
Would you like the moist blanket someone left here this morning instead?
Please, I know it has been four hours now…but just wait a little longer. Look, the food is arriving now.
In all of this, not once did I came across anger, or fury.
The people that I have met bear their past, present and future, which are far from rosy, with incredible grace, faith and, yes…kindness.
All they have, they can fit into a few bags.
Yes, a refugee crisis is challenging for a country. But to be a refugee is even more so for an individual.
We should welcome people who have escaped violence, starvation, prison and death, who have lost their property, their status and their futures, not only with open arms, but with open hearts.
Since I wrote this piece, a lot has happened with regards to who may and may not arrive in Europe.
The EU and Turkey have struck a deal which I expect to be massively contested.
The Western countries and with them most EU countries have forever placed themselves at the head of the human rights debate, dividing our world into abiding and unabiding countries. This is no longer valid. The situation in Turkey and Greece has become unbearable with people queuing up and living under horrific circumstances, often on European soil. The European governments are hoping that people will stop leaving their war-torn countries due to fences and border controls. But if you had to choose between climbing a fence, and starving or being bombed to pieces, what would you do?
Lara Schadt is Senior Consultant with Mission Talent. She recently got married in a refugee camp in Lebanon.