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The flame of humanism is burning strong on Lesbos

19 December 2015 / 20:12:25  GRReporter
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Nine o'clock at night. At the port of Molyvos, a Frontex ship is towing a grey boat. It ran out of fuel at sea, with 50 Pakistanis on board (night trips are cheaper). The "captain" was arrested. Silent, freezing and rattled, the passengers are walking in the dark, remaining strikingly apathetic to the friendly greetings of the journalists present on the scene. At the end of the pier, while the first informal registration is being performed, volunteers are handing out warm clothes, sandwiches, juices, apples and biscuits. The atmosphere is different only 15 minutes later. The passengers are praying, smiling and thanking wholeheartedly. There is a long road ahead of them. But this small manifestation of concern and age-long Greek and European humanistic tradition warms their hearts.

Conditions on Lesbos have nothing to do either with the volatile chaos in July or with the island of Kos, where according to the report of the Council of Europe published a week ago, "the situation gives reasons for shame." Gone are the summer scenes of exhausted men and women lying on the road near Sikamia or the clashes and garbage plaguing the Mytilene port.

The flow of refugees and migrants has eased in recent weeks. On the northeast coast of the island, dozens of humanitarian organisations from across Europe are stationed and provide care to those arriving. They also lend relief to the island, which for months was carrying the unbearable burden of the unexpected invasion – with compassion and courage, and without serious damage to the psyche of the local community (Golden Dawn only got about 8% in the last elections).

The president of Sikamia Municipality, Georgios Saroglou, says: "Donations in food, clothing and tents are really substantial. They have come in from all over the world and it is difficult to keep them in store. Doctors and equipment came in from Patras and Thessaloniki and we were able to set up a small clinic. The municipality has 10 workers who clean the beach every morning from debris, boats and life belts."

Warm atmosphere

The refugee camps are located in Oxy, Gipedo and Kara Tepe. The International Rescue Committee has launched a new camp in Efthalou, and a registration centre is already functioning in Moriah. The dirt road connecting Skala Sikamias and Efthalou is abuzz with traffic and lined by the big shacks of Sociata pentru sanatate, educatie si familie, a Romanian charity, and those of the Adventists. Vehicles are making their way along the road manned by people wearing uniforms of the Spanish SOS Remar (Messengers of Peace), of the international WAHA (Women and Ηealth), of ActionAid, of the Norwegian Drapen in havet (Drop in the ocean), the Evangelists' Samaritan's Purse, of the Norwegian-Swedish Light House, of Refugee Relief - Lesbos, of the Greek Lifeguard and Action Club rescue schools, of the Greek Red Cross, of the Addiction Treatment Centre, etc. Barcelona's Proactive speedboats and jet skis are waiting further down. Dutch rescuers from Bootvluchteling are stationed in Mytilene. Apart from the Greek Coast Guard and Frontex, others are patrolling the sea waters as well, e.g. Sea-Watch Rescue from Berlin, the sea captains Stratos Valamios and Georgios Mavrapidos, etc. At dawn they are already combing the waters with their binoculars for arriving boats. Yes, casualties still happen sometimes, but most make it ashore – freezing, but in one piece. Doctors without Borders and UNHCR people are all over the place. Every day, the buses of the Greek state-owned KTEL with inscriptions in Greek and Arabic, NGO vehicles and private company vans are shipping 300-500 Afghans and Pakistanis to the camps. Despite some coordination issues between the plethora of organisations on the ground, the atmosphere is warm. The enthusiasm of young people sharing common goals and vision is reigning supreme.

Welcoming face

Mytilene is clean (thanks largely to the efforts of volunteers) and shows its hospitable face. Saadat speaks good English. It took him 15 days to arrive from Kabul through Tehran. He claims the status of political refugee who, because of his and his wife's work for foreign organisations, has the Taliban on his heels. Mustafa's journey from Pakistan lasted three months, and he spent the last two days hiding in the woods along the Turkish coast. He is now shivering, wrapped in a blanket, drinking hot tea and smiling. Apparently, he is unaware of the hurdles at Idomeni.


Tags: Lesbos refugees migrants humanitarian organisations
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