On New Year’s Day, Greenpeace and a lot of volunteers were up at the life jacket graveyard to make a giant peace sign while we wait for peace.
Since then, about 2000 refugees have arrived on Lesvos during a brief window of calm weather, although none where I have been assigned to be on watch. The boats arrive in locations that usually depend on where the smugglers believe the international waters are being patrolled. The refugees who have arrived this week report that thousands are waiting on the Turkish side for a break in the weather (although there are millions trying to get to the Turkish coast to cross the water). When the refugees wait, they must live in the squalor of abandoned hotels or the forest along the waterfront. They have reported all kinds of abuse by Turkish smugglers and police.
In the last few days, I have spent many hours waiting for boats at Lighthouse, an open stretch of beach with the best facilities of the landing sites. Best is not much — a couple of tents where arrivals can change into dry clothes and a couple of storage rooms. The refugees are only here for a brief time until they are bused to a transit center a few miles away where there are bathrooms and a little shelter.
The Greek lifeguards are stationed at Lighthouse with small rescue boats waiting for a call, and a team of photographers waits with drones for a landing. I have had wonderful moments with several of them, especially Alex who is making a documentary. Here is the teaser — it is amazing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4LB-HbUvQM During the course of the afternoon pacing in the cold we listened to world music played on a car stereo, danced, sorted clothes, ate chocolate, complained about the world’s lack of interest.
The German rescue team made a couch out of the remains of the boats and life jackets. The couch is furniture imported from Turkey by the most homeless people in the world. The ironic message on the upholstery refers to three people who will leave a few days after the couch’s christening.
Today I spent the pre-dawn hours on watch at Eftalou again but the boats are coming in 50 miles away in Mytilene. So I went back to Mytilene tonight for a six hour shift at Moria, the camp where all refugees must register before they are able to get on the ferry to Athens. I mostly helped find clothes for today’s influx of refugees who, after the cold and torturous journey from Turkey, waited in lines under a flimsy tarp in a driving rain. Every one of them was polite and calm and engaged. I only heard one kind of complaint in five hours — teenage girls disappointed that I couldn’t find them skinny jeans and more fitted jackets. I was grateful and amazed at how they have managed to remain normal.
“Do the people in the United States really not understand how this happened?”