My Refugee Journey – 12th March 2016
The day starts with finishing the following of the Camp Fire volunteers who each day and night look out to sea and help bring refugee boats safely to the shores of Lesvos. Its 8am and I at this moment don’t feel tiered, I’ve gone past that phase, so I head to Damas (our local haunt) to have a cup of tea and use the WIFI – Once sat down I reflect on the night before, the boats coming in, the mainly women and children on the boats, including tiny babies, families risking their lives to cross the dangerous stretch of water between Turkey and Lesvos that in the month that I’ve been here has already claimed the lives of over 100 people including children, because they feel they have no other choice.
I also reflect on my taking of photos, at times getting quite close to the refugees sat on the floor, wet and glad they are alive and made it safely to Lesvos. I recall the moment where three of us with large cameras raced in the car from the coast after watching the coast guard rescue a boat of refugees and head to the port to get ahead of them so we could get photos of the refugees arriving of the ship to the safety of land. In the car I compare us to Paparazzi of which I’ve never really cared for in their relentless pursuit of celebrities and think this is what Im doing now. I’m racing ahead to get a load of photos of refugees that have just left their war zone home and risked their life to cross the sea to Lesvos, only to face the lens of my camera.
I have to tell myself, remember why I’m doing this, it’s not to flog photos to the media back home. It’s to produce a book to show the story of refugees fleeing war and to raise money to put back into the island here to help future refugees.
After a little sleep to recover from being up all night on the coast, I head down to the Sugar House, a bakery that has a nice relaxed seating area I get on with some admin before I head off to the ‘No Boarders Kitchen’… This I understood was just a place for refugees who were not in Moria or Kara Tepe (I will explain in a minute) would go to have their three meals a day. But when I got there I found it was also a small camp just outside the Port on the north side. This like Better Days For Moria (Afghan Hill), is an unofficial camp, but unlike Better Days, it is an illegal camp as it is on government land. Better Days, although an unofficial camp, it has permission to be on the land its on and pays rent to the land owner.
Refugees at either No Boarders or Better Days, are not seen as refugees, they are from outside of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. There are many from countries such as Morocco and Pakistan, where there have been migrants make the journey to Lesvos. These people because they are not seen as refugees have no permission to go any further into Europe. Their journey has ended. So they have a couple of choices, be deported right away back to their own country or Turkey, or apply for asylum in Greece, though the second they apply for asylum in Greece, their deportation papers are automatically generated, so if they do not get given asylum in Greece which is basically what will happen they will get deported. Their Refugee Journey has well and truly ended!
So back to the No Borders Kitchen… What can I say? I was told before I got their by some people who’ve already been to visit that the volunteers there are basically far left activists and anarchists. They don’t believe in national borders, hence the name of the site and there was more nose rings all in one place than I think I’ve ever seen. They are your anti-war protesters, CND, Eco Warriors, anti Fox Hunts activists, these types of people. They don’t like authority especially governments. They are the outsiders here, not really accepted by the mainstream volunteers on the island, I met these sort in Calais, the sort that would rush a ferry like in Calais to make a statement.
The camp itself smelt, in fact it took me back to the days where I would lead expeditions through Africa, it had that unwashed, stale rubbish tip smell. Saying that, the camp has almost a holiday camp feel to it. Its right on the beach front of Mytilini and has taken over part of what once upon a time before Greece went into economic meltdown would have been a tourist beach and sporting area with volley ball court and tennis courts next to it.
The camp is very relaxed and the volunteers and refugees play games and dance to music – they have a lot of fun, that I can see. They are limited on funds and still manage to pull off three hot meals a day cooked fresh.