Helping refugees on Lesbos island, interview

This video says about itself:

Refugees Welcome – Lesvos Greece

22 December 2015

I’m an English teacher taking a year off to explore film/travel and this was my last trip of the year.

I have no volunteer experience but I wanted to see what was really happening with the refugee crisis in Lesvos, Greece.

I booked a flight, rented a van, and headed for the beaches where I found a hotel and a great volunteer group to join.

Here are some of the “rabid dogs” and “terrorists” I met there.

I would love nothing more than to make this my everyday job. Different countries, different conflicts, different people…but in the end we are all in this together.

Shot with: GoPro 3+ Black, Lumix Gh3, Iphone 5c

Poem: “Home” by Warsan Shire (read by Benedict Cumberbatch)

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

‘Locals avoid coastal roads so they don’t have to see corpses’

Saturday 19th March 2016

[Danish daily] Dagbladet Arbejderen talks to refugee solidarity activist Var I Dali about her experiences helping desperate incomers to Lesbos island

Faroe islander Var I Dali and her sister Simone have spent four months on the Greek island of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea helping tens of thousands of refugees arriving from Turkey in flimsy rubber boats.

In October alone 100,000 people arrived on the tiny island’s shores. “I simply acted out of my frustration, I had to do something for these people in need,” says the 27-year-old, who finished her MA in international development language and cultural studies at Roskilde University Center west of Copenhagen last year.

More than a million people sought asylum in Europe last year and every month the United Nations aid agency UNHCR releases statistical data showing where the refugees are coming from.

Around 40 per cent come from Syria, a country more or less completely destroyed by bombings after five years of war. Another 30 per cent are coming from Afghanistan — a country EU president Donald Tusk recently declared “safe.” It has been almost continuously at war since the late 1970s.

One morning, Var and three other volunteers were driving along the northern coast of Lesbos. From the vehicle, they saw a rubber boat approaching. There was unrest on board. “It turned out that the boat en route from Turkey had taken in water, so the Turkish smugglers panicked and threw bags and people’s belongings overboard. In their haste, they overlooked the fact that an infant was wrapped in some of the carpets in the bottom of the boat. “The child was never found. The mother was heartbroken when the boat came ashore. She couldn’t understand why we were saying ‘now you are safe’,” recounts Var.

She accompanied the mother to a nearby refugee center in order to be registered and then contacted the Red Cross and the UNHCR. “It’s the worst thing that can happen to parents, to lose their children like that. Everybody is deeply shocked,” says Var.

Whenever the volunteers on Lesbos can see Greek rescue ships at sea and hear the sound of rushing helicopters, they know that a rubber boat has capsized and a search has begun. Twice Var I Dali has helped organise checks where relatives have had to identify their drowned children, fathers, mothers, uncles or cousins.

“The corpses are lying on the beach, and families identify them while weeping heavily. There used to be many drowned children. Normally, psychologists should be present under such circumstances, but it wasn’t the case when I was there,” Var says with regret in her voice.

She explains that several of the passengers have burn marks on their bodies because they have been sitting too close to the rubber boat motor. Others have frostbite due to the cold water.

International migration organisation IOM estimates that more than 22,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean between 2000 and 2014. “Local Greeks tell us that they are deliberately avoiding the roads running close to the coast simply to avoid seeing drowned human beings, or even just baby shoes rolling around in the shallows,” she explains.

Var is critical of narratives which suggest migrants are driven by a desire to earn more. “I refuse to believe that people leave everything they own and hold dear behind just to achieve prosperity and wealth inside Europe.

“When they arrive here, they own only the clothes they are wearing. And they never know if they or their families will survive the journey across the Mediterranean. Why do human lives have to be lost when this problem, in principle, could be solved politically?” asks Var.

“If you meet just one of these refugees while already thinking they are just migrants pursuing wealth, you will change your mind like this,” she says and snaps her fingers.

She then looks ahead, quietly. Var comes from Thorshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands, but lives in Copenhagen. She explains that when the rubber boats finally reach the shores of Lesbos after an hour and a half at sea, passengers are gathered at assembly points where they get some fruit, blankets, dry clothes and medical care if needed.

All too often there are not enough tarpaulins or tents for 300-500 people at the assembly points, which is why Var has frequently witnessed men giving their indoor seats away to women and children. “The men then simply sleep outside in freezing temperatures,” she reports.

After this reception, the refugees either walk or are put onto UN buses which take them to a center where Greek police register and fingerprint them. Var helps to organise queues outside the centre, where thousands of people are given a number while waiting, standing up for hours.

When they have been given a temporary residence permit, refugees then rush to the ferry heading for Athens. Syrians will be allowed to stay in Greece for three months, while Afghans will have to leave after one.

Upon arrival in Athens they mostly set course for northern Greece and the border with Macedonia, then from there follow routes northward through Europe either on foot, or in buses and trains.

Nato actions won’t help. Var does not think Nato warships patrolling the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey in support of EU border force Frontex, currently the EU’s major response plan, will help. Nato vessels are being tasked with picking up shipwrecked refugees and send them back to Turkey.

Experts from the Red Cross and the Danish Refugee Council predict that actually more refugees will emerge out of this scenario. Eight-nine million internally displaced Syrians in refugee camps are already waiting to break up.

“I think that increased border control will create more danger for the refugees, as they will try to come in through other and even more dangerous routes. Some are already sailing at night, which is extremely dangerous,” Var warns.

Var travelled back to Lesbos earlier this month to help more refugees.

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