A little girl scrutinises under a rock with her torch, carefully turning each one over looking for treasures underneath. She reminds me of myself as a child, endlessly fascinated with searching for creatures in the rock pools. Completely oblivious to the fist-fight breaking out nearby, she gently replaces each turned stone as men in orange vests and dust masks pick up trash around her. The train passes though just metres away from her carefully laced up shoes. Donated, as her favourite pair were probably pulled off and discarded sopping wet and cold back on the beaches. She doesn’t flinch. The chain-link fence turned makeshift washing line protects her from the frequent carriages pulling through, taking many things to Macedonia, except of course, the people who want to go there most.
I cannot begin to imagine how it feels to sell everything for this so called better life, just to get stuck halfway. This transit camp is becoming much less transitory than it’s 1500 person capacity is designed for. Each night volunteers head out to give out tents to those most in need. It’s too hard to tell during the day who that is, so we wait until later at night. Thats when it’s easiest to creep around sleeping bodies in the fields looking for the most vulnerable without any shelter.
The small girl gracefully dodges the constant stream of people walking by as she forages outside her families small popup tent, crammed in alongside 10,000 other refugees waiting to be allowed through the border. Her father sleeps, exhausted in their small space that the family has called home for the past week. Her mother waits in a queue that stretches all the way down to area B of the camp, a line that will take many hours just to receive their one meal for today. Whenever I see children around the camp I remember the instructions “If they break out the gas, cover the kids faces first”. Sometimes instead I think of those posters around the place warning about the very real risk of human trafficking, abduction and organ harvesting that goes on.
The girl with the curious eyes finds a stone that captures her attention for an extra moment. Another familiar face walks past, the one with the fear and sadness perpetually resting in her big, brown eyes. A bomb went off in her daughters room, now she has lost the ability to sleep or function psychologically in the way little five year olds are supposed to. She is always walking around, trying to make sense of the world and find out where she needs to go next to bring her family somewhere safe, to give her child any hope of recovery.
As riots break out here, the border closes and more people are pushed back from Serbia, over in Calais they are tearing down that camp. Setting fire to peoples homes, ripping them apart in front of them. Shipping them out with false promises of residence in the UK. Across Europe as the tear gas flows into children eyes we are all asking the same question that you are asking me.
Where will they go?
This is the question I get asked everyday, by friends, followers and refugees alike. I have learnt so much being here. I understand what is happening in ways that people outside of Greece don’t. I have access to first hand accounts and up to the minute information. Yet, this is the question that keeps me up at night. I don’t think anybody knows the answer. So for now you can ask all you like, but it is the one question I just do not have an answer for. Perhaps they will get pushed back to Turkey. Maybe they will forge a trail across Albania, until that closes. Your guess is as good as mine.
Soon my two weeks on Lesvos will have become two months in Greece. In just 7 weeks I’ve come from one end of this country to the other. I’ve pulled in wet people from boats in the dead of night, helped prepare food for thousands, organised hundreds of people out of Moria and into cars, sat at the no-borders kitchen watching the sunrise and waiting for UNHCR busses, holding hands and crying with the others who wait. In such a short time I’ve supervised clothing distribution tents, slept in a tent at a gas station surrounded by 5000 refugees and waited alongside sick people in a remote, rural Greek hospital. I have stood in front of the fully armed Macedonian military, wondering when the tear gas will begin. I’ve liaised with the Greek army, offering the support of our medical teams if they fall short. I’ve seen more, heard more stories and experienced first hand the effects of this war in more ways I ever had thought possible. This two week volunteer vacation has become something I just cannot imagine myself walking away from, it’s become my life. So here I stay. For another month, perhaps much longer than that.