Letter From Lesbos

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A dispatch from an Irish volunteer helping with the refugee crisis in Eftalou (above) on the island of Lesbos, Greece.

Bewildered Student writes:

I arrived in Eftalou on Lesbos island, Greece last Saturday week. Located around 70km north west of the island’s main city Mytilene, the village is home to a picturesque pebbled beach, overlooking the Aegean Sea and the Turkish coastline.

I went for a walk heading eastwards along the twisty, hilly, cliff-edge dirt road cut into mountainous terrain that stretches for 17km from Eftalou to the pretty village of Skala Sykaminia.

Reaching the top of the dusty hill at the edge of Eftalou, the the view unfolded to show a breathtaking seascape framed by a necklace-like chain of discarded neon orange life-jackets snaking along the Greek coastline.

I met an elderly Greek man, who was also looking out at the sea that looked as flat as glass under the scorching sun.

‘No boats today,’ he said referring to the daily arrival of almost 7,000 refugees on the island every day.

But, within hours, they came.

Several days later, the weather changed and it rained solidly for almost three days. The dirt road from Eftalou to Skala Sykaminia – where volunteers drive all day watching out for boats -crumbled from the heavy rainfall and the only way I can describe the situation is utter chaos.

The well-intentioned people who are helping them off the boats, giving them clothes, food, water, and medical attention – before sending them on their way to Camp Moira, where every refugee has to register – are volunteers.

Save for the nurses, doctors and one small team of four Spanish lifeguards, the volunteers are very young and inexperienced.

The effort that’s playing out along this 17km of coastline is super-human but it’s fragmented, splintered, ill-conceived and, because of this, dangerous for both the refugees and the volunteers themselves.

I have rowed in with a Norwegian volunteer group, Dråpen i Havet (A Drop In The Ocean) and, in just a week, I have seen exhausted volunteers weep as they process what they have witnessed, what they have heard and come to terms with what they cannot do.

People are dying in the water; boats are disappearing from sight; refugees who make it to the shores of Lesbos tell of children falling out of the boats; some refugees who are tasked with driving the boat, but who can see how dangerous the journey is, tell of guns being held to their heads when they wish to turn back to Turkey; some tell volunteers that they injected their children with heroin so that they don’t wail throughout the boat trip and risk being tossed over the side of the boat; they tell of passing destroyed boats and seeing people drowning.

The volunteers are everything from dancers to bankers, they do the best they can and use common sense but they still don’t know what they’re doing – all on maybe three to four hours’ sleep.

The refugees come off the boats freezing cold, drenched, tired and scared. Children and babies often have to sleep on the street, in the rain, with no blankets or cover. Some haven’t eaten for days. The shocking lack of logistical expertise means that even when the volunteers have water, food and blankets they literally don’t know how to distribute these essentials because they’re afraid of a mob forming.

A poorly constructed camp with the UN logo emblazoned on its cabins and tent in Skala Sykaminia is run solely by volunteers. I have been there several nights until the early hours of the morning and there are no UN staff here.

There is no significant support from any major organisation that could, first of all, care for the people who land along this 17km stretch correctly and, second of all, co-ordinate and create an efficient manner to help these people reach Mytilene.

Pic: Dråpen i Havet

15 thoughts on “Letter From Lesbos

    1. meadowlark

      Indeed. I’m not saying that our own homeless crisis isn’t important. It is. But it is an entirely different issue. And one that has to be tackled by a government who actually cares. This is horrific. And it won’t be solved by throwing money at it. In years to come will people say that we (and I don’t just refer to Ireland here) turned our backs and closed our ears until it was too late? It has been said before.

        1. meadowlark

          Thank you for that. It must be said that Waterford Whispers is one of the more informative news sites in thid country.

  1. Friscondo

    I’ve commented before about the deliberate destruction of Syria and Iraq. These desperate people are the collateral damage of a quite appalling agenda that is intent on the Balkanisation of the Middle East. Europe is now reaping the whirlwind of a cynical venture it participated and acquiesced in. But of course, it’s nothing compared to the suffering of the Syrian, Iraqi and other peoples of that region.

    1. Gers

      ^ This. The governments in countries which partook in this butchery of Libya, Syria and others in the middle region knows who they are but of course wont do a thing or very little. We can just watch in despair.

  2. Supercrazyprices

    The recent Syrian migrants are the families who supported Assad and are now fleeing because they know the game is up. The anti-Assad groups are still stuck in Aleppo and Homs or in camps in Lebanon and Jordan. These wealthier mostly Christian Syrians are carrying several bank and credit cards and are accessing their wealth at ATMs as they move through Europe. Many have family already in Europe.

    1. Demon

      Perhaps some are also adults and kids who are getting out from under the rain of bombs and the hail of machine gun bullets and grenades that every lunatic fringe in the world is deploying in their cities, towns, villages and countryside?

  3. Frank Cronin

    I have never done this before, so please bear with me.
    Having read the “Letter from Lesbos”, and looked at the various reports on other media, I am horrified to see what these People have to suffer, and endure. When I think of how far these families have travelled, on the “off chance” that they might get to have a better life, than that which they have left behind, it saddens me.
    In all cases,whether these people are coming from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or wherever, and for whatever reason, they all find it necessary to leave their own country, their families, with whatever possessions they can carry, and embark on this long arduous dangerous trek, into the unknown.
    And these are only the people coming into one, beach on one Island. What about the many, many more who are making their way by other routes. Moving down to a different part of the Mediterranean Sea, we have the other Refugees coming up from Libya, and other Countries in Africa.
    There appears to be a general movement of Refugees, hoping to get established in Europe and preferably Northern Europe. Again this is somewhat strange, when we consider that Europe is generally still in the doldrums, and struggling to re-establish itself after the financial disasters of 2008 – 2010.
    This begs the question, what will happen, if these people’s dreams and aspirations are not fulfilled.
    Meanwhile these People, these Refugees, whether they are coming from Turkey or from Libya, are been treated in a most inhumane manner, when they arrive, by the various Countries involved. Their only glimmer of hope are the volunteers, who without any training are handling the situation admirably.All of these volunteer groups, are all remarking on the same problems, a lack of basic necessities, a shortage of tents, blankets, and warm clothes, especially for children, Items of personal hygiene, and energy foods, and water.
    The priority of keeping these people safe and alive, and the provision of shelter, must take precedence over the signing of documents, and the other administrative needs, they are Human Beings, and not just statistics.
    The problems encountered, as these people come ashore, is nothing compared to how these people are going to be treated, housed, and catered for, when they arrive at their final destination. How can we help them integrate, into their new locations.
    This indeed is a huge problem, and the ramifications will be evident for many years to come, and the final outcome will depend on how we handle the initial meetings with hem. thank God these volunteers are doing what they are doing, and they deserve our support.

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