My Refugee Journey – 31st March 2016

border-1Its now been a week since I arrived back home from Lesvos after two months volunteering on the front line of the Refugee Crisis hitting the shores of Europe.  Like many, I felt that I couldn’t just watch it on the TV anymore and felt compelled to do something, so I linked up with an NGO and got on a plane.

Now this for me was not just a Journey that I would call ‘My Refugee Journey’ aimed at supporting where I could the refugees, but a journey for me, a journey starting to get myself back on my feet after over 2yrs of hell, which still wasn’t over.  After being accused of doing something I didn’t do, my health went downhill like a rock! I ended up with depression and sever panic attacks; I even attempted to take my life twice.  Even after I proved my innocence some 18months later and the so called victim backing up my story helping to prove my innocence, many on social media still felt the need to attack me and come up with all sorts of ideas why they thought I got off.  It’s now over 2yrs since this hell I found myself in started, I lost my gym business, I went over £20,000 in debt which Im still in, I still get panic attacks, my physical health isn’t great.

This was a journey as much for me as it was for the refugees…  The toughest part of the journey for me was the start; I had to get out of the house! For me even thinking about walking out the front door had me getting mild panic attacks, so to get out the door even at a very silent time of day with the help of a friend was still very tough! Then there was the next step, to get to the train station, right in the heart of town, this did terrify me and if it wasn’t for a friend helping me along the way I would never have made it!  It was stupid o’clock in the morning, still dark and only a couple of people on the platform, but still I felt a panic attack coming on, the train arrived and I go on, a whole carriage to myself, I was leaving Swindon! With every mile I left Swindon behind the more I was able to relax, by the time I got to Reading I was OK, I felt a huge sense of relief, I was relaxed and on my way to Heathrow and off to Lesvos to help refugees.

It wasn’t agoraphobia, I wasn’t having panic attacks from going outside, I was having panic attacks about going outside close to home, where people knew me, I had had too much the past 2yrs and my health really was poor, I was hoping that getting away from everything would help me.  I had only been outside my own home less than 30times in over 2yrs, and had done no exercise, the most exercise I had done was to get from my bed to my sofa and back to bed at the end of the day, I couldn’t even face going out into the back garden without having panic attacks.  I knew though, that if I got away from home, away from everything I could start maybe getting my life back together.

Since the accusation I’ve turned more to writing, something I enjoyed doing over the years, being published by many well known papers and magazines from Men’s Health to The Times News Paper.  I wanted to do that again, but maybe not just writing about fitness, I was by now fascinated by the refugee crisis and the Middle East, and wanted to write about my experiences volunteering and of what I saw firsthand watching the refugee boats coming in ashore to what I witnessed in the various refugee camps that by the time I was to leave, would become detention centres (Prisons).

I came home early, I was already starting to feel quite ill from having to put up with every establishment allowing smoking, my throat, my lungs and my whole body for that matter just wasn’t able to cope with copious amounts of cigarette smoke every day when my own health wasn’t great to start with.  Plus I like many also left due to not wanting to be a part of a system that was locking up refugees as if they were prisoners.  It was hard to stomach seeing these refugees risk their lives to get to Europe, only to be locked up like common criminals.

So I left, I headed back to the UK and home…  I’ve been home for a week now, and in many respects I feel like I never left, I feel on edge again, I’ve managed to get out of the house once when it was hammering it down with rain thinking there wouldn’t be many people about so I could get to one of the small shops for some food, but again I just feel trapped like a prisoner in my own home.  The only difference is I have 2months of memories of the refugee crisis in Lesvos and an even more determination to help after the EU – Turkey Agreement sentenced refugees to living behind razor wire and high fences, with the real threat that they would end up back in Turkey.

I’ve now two weeks before I head off on my next part of ‘My Refugee Journey’.  This time it’s to the Balkans, a place I’m very intrigued about, many in the west still have a very negative view of Serbia after the Bosnia and Kosovo wars, but much has changed in this small country now at the heart of the refugee crisis and unlike Greece, Serbia is getting very little help to deal with the crisis.  I’ve linked up with an NGO (Non-Government Organisation) called Refugee Aid Serbia and a couple of other groups to help volunteer with and to understand more about the Balkan situation, our media will show the violence at the borders like in Macedonia, but the real issues behind the civil unrest isn’t the country its happening or the refugees which the media love to spin the blame on often, but decades of US Foreign Policy followed like sheep by Europe.  There have been many chances along the way in over 5yrs of troubles in Syria that governments could have helped but have not.  And now countries like Greece, Macedonia and Serbia are paying the price of an inept international community of leaders we voted for.

I will depart the UK again on 12th April and arrive in Belgrade, Serbia on 13th April where I will be based in and around Belgrade following the refugee crisis – I’m hoping to meet up with the Danish Ambassadors office in Belgrade to find out more about what they have done for the refugees in Belgrade along with NGOs and other groups of volunteers and I’d also like to get a sense of what the normal public of Belgrade think of the refugee crisis.

From Serbia, I aim to head out to Macedonia, link up with a couple of refugees I met for the first time in Lesvos and to witness the harsh conditions thousands of refugees are facing from the Balkans down to the Greek/Macedonia border.

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