The sun is rising in the east over Turkey, the church bells are ringing in the background, it is the morning of St. Valentine’s Day here in Kos, Greece. Unlike most other Valentine’s Days in my past, I am not sitting at a bar thinking about who I could or should be with, or spending luxurious amounts on a girl to prove to her that I am still worthy of keeping. This Valentine’s Day I am just about to fall asleep after driving up and down the wind-swept beaches of Kos, patrolling for boats and refugees who have come ashore. Today as I am about to go to bed, I spent my Valentine’s morning searching for humans who are trying to find people and nations to accept them and love them. I could ask for no better way than to have spent my morning.
The Turkish Coast Guard and Greek Coast Guard have had a heavier presence on the Aegean Sea as of late. One cannot go half an hour without seeing one close by, with another coast guard boat in the distant horizon. I have yet to see one of the NATO warships yet here at Kos, but volunteers I have worked with on Samos have already seen them in the straits between Samos and Turkey. Turkey has received their 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion dollars) for slowing down/stopping the flow of refugees into Greece. Ever rising pressure from the EU on Greece, the finalization of the military hot-spots, and the added presence of NATO has almost stopped the flow of refugees into Greece. Yet we, the volunteers, are still manning our posts, ever vigilant, looking for humans that need help, until the day that we are no longer allowed to continue here in Greece.
We have received no boats on Kos since I have begun patrolling the shores other than Osama’s family. Most of the other islands are under the same predicament. Volunteers are beginning to become a little anxious and antsy. It’s interesting and sad to see some of those who have come just to only be part of the beach rescue. These are the ones that we see online asking if any other islands are receiving boats, because theirs is not, and they want some “action.” While there is so much work to be done on Lesvos, like taking care of the camp, cleaning the island, and helping with the infrastructure, it is easy to see the ones that are here to build their own ego. They are the ones who want to have pictures of themselves with a baby, so that they can show their friends and the world on social-media how much of a hero that they are.
I have been talking with some friends who have volunteered with me in Lesvos about future plans when and if we are no longer allowed to work here on the islands. We know it is not a matter of if, but rather it is a matter of when. The shores, especially at Lesvos, no longer need volunteers searching for boats and receiving refugees. The flow has almost stopped. While there are roughly 2000 volunteers on Lesvos, of which 1500 are vying to do the same task of beach patrols, only 20-40 are needed on the 30 km stretch of beach. The majority of these volunteers are holiday volunteers/short-term volunteers who have come for what they thought was a need or to depict themselves as heroes. Several hundred NGO’s have appeared and left after a short stay of a few weeks. Instead of coordinating and pooling resources they all simultaneously do the same task, wasting both volunteer time and funding.
A small group of friends and associates are looking eastward as the international talks continue. Since we are no longer needed and will probably not be allowed to continue on the islands, we have turned our attention toward Turkey and Lebanon. Since many EU nations have doubled back on the Dublin Agreement, which means that they can deport refugees back to the country of registration, Greece, Greece could look at several hundred thousands of refugees inside of its borders. Greece has also decided that Turkey is a “safe third country” which means that Greece can deport refugees who made transit back to Turkey, not registration, but walked through Turkey. NATO has now deployed warships into the Aegean to turn back refugee boats to Turkey so that the flow of immigrants into the EU can be stopped. Summed up, there are 5+ million refugees that are already stuck in Turkey, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. That is the reality of the refugee crisis, not Lesvos, not Kos, not Samos, not Leros, or Chios.
Myself and fellow group of volunteers are intending on heading to Lebanon. Some are going to head there at the end of the month, others will go there mid-March. I will be going there hopefully around the 10-15th of March. That allows me about 5-10 days left on my Schengen visa, enough time to make transit through Europe whenever I need to return back to the states. We are not sure how we will be able to be funded, some of the volunteers are selling their belongings, so that they no longer need to pay for an apartment. Most of us are going to try to end our responsibilities in our home nations so that we can save more money to continue our work rather than to uselessly pay bills for living and commodities that we no longer use. My one friend Todar, just returned to Lesvos today, and we talked via social-media for quite some time. If we cannot find the funding, we have tents and sleeping bags, and we are more than willing to live in holes in the ground if that is what it takes. I thought that I had been volunteering of faith for funding already, but that was not the reality. A large portion of my funding has stopped due to bureaucratic paperwork, and though crowd-funding is trickling in, what I have to work with financially is shrinking dramatically. But this is what we do, we never really know exactly how it is going to work, but people need us, and we will find a way.
We always do.