12.31.2015

 

12.31.2015

              New Year’s Eve was a little busy here on the island. Not that the holiday was the reason, but rather we saw a large portion of the refugees in the transition camps load up on ferries to go to mainland Greece/Europe. Over 1 Million refugees funneled through Greece last year, of which 800k crossed the island of Lesvos first.

              It was very cold and windy so there were no boats that came across. All of us volunteers were happy to know that the smugglers/mafia weren’t making the refugees risk it. We still hold our concerns as to what is happening on the other side of the straits.

I spent most of my day at “Lighthouse 1” which has no actual lighthouse. This is one of the points on the island the Spanish, Greek, Norwegian, and Dr.’s Without Borders rescue boats help guide the refugee boats to. The NGO (Non Government Organization) that spends the majority of their time at that location is called “Lighthouse” therefore the name. There are a few tents that allow the refugees to change into clean, warm clothes that have been provided either by donation or purchased through donated money.

Most of the patrol points overlook the straits, so when a boat is seen, they will notify Lighthouse 1 or 2 as well as all of the rescue boats. This allowed myself and the two other volunteers from “A Drop in the Ocean” to sit inside the tents and try to stay warm. There were two different film crews there as well as three Greek lifeguards. It was nice to sit in a circle and just talk and tell stories.

The other two volunteers with me, Marian and Mari, are two Norwegian girls. They had initially planned on spending their holiday on the US west coast, but when Mari saw the story of the refugees their trip changed immediately. They decided instead of going and spending money and time on themselves that they would spend 5-6 weeks helping the refugees instead. Amazing women.

There was a duo of reporters from the UK doing a documentary on the refugees. They had traveled the whole migratory path, been beaten by cops, arrested, had cameras broken, etc. but they were going to tell the story. The producer was paying for all of this out of his pocket. His cameraman had an excellent story. He himself was from a family of refugees. His family fled from Cambodia during the deathly reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. He felt inclined to tell the story of the refugees since he too had an identity with them that he could share. I look forward to seeing this documentary, I cannot elaborate on it much more for their sake, but what I saw was spectacular.

After the shift was up, the girls went to Camp Moria to say goodbye to some of the families that they had been working with. They were all heading to mainland Europe. It was great to hear stories like “My family stopped crying on the phone, because they knew I was safe.” But then there were stories like this, “We will go to Sweden, and if they don’t accept us, we will go to Germany. If they don’t accept us then we have to return to Afghanistan where they will make us into Taliban, for that is the only option the Western world is giving us.” Society is creating their own monsters.

Supper was a good time, I ate with one of the coordinators, her family, and a few other volunteers. Maria the coordinator had just landed on Lesvos a couple days prior. This was her second trip, and she didn’t come alone. She towed her along four of her family members as well. I was the only one at the table that wasn’t Norwegian or Swedish, but I couldn’t tell the difference. I was accepted, part of a group. I felt at home, we laughed, we cried, we told stories.

We followed our supper with some light festivities, we couldn’t go to hard since we may be needed in a moment’s notice. We went to Hotel P where a few more volunteers from my NGO and some 20 others were celebrating the Eve. There was a motley assortment of volunteers from all over, but everyone was having a good time. Even though most didn’t know each other, everyone immediately walked up to everyone said, Hi, I’m so and so from X country. We all shared food and drinks, played games, danced. It was the most memorable NYE that I can think of. I was surrounded for once in my life by good people, who all just wanted to make the world a better place at the sacrifice of their own wants. I could have asked for no better group of people to end and begin a year with.

12.30.15

12.30.15

                  Today I helped my first group of refugees come ashore. Only one girl was in shock from hypothermia, she had to be carried because she was losing consciousness. The event I’m going to try to describe is one of the most powerful moments of my entire life, and I’ve seen a lot.

                  Three of us were in a car on the day shift sitting on the edge of a cliff scanning for boats. All day we stared at Turkey, scanning the beach for any movement, for it’s only 4-8 miles across: the final leg into Europe.

 

Lesvos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}

 

It had been roughly 2 hours when all of the sudden we thought we had seen something. For about 10 minutes we kept looking until about 2 miles out we finally could see. Bright orange/red sticking out against a backlay of foaming dark water and whitecaps. Waves were 4-8 feet, the boat, scarcely 2 feet from hull to top. Most would refer to it as a zodiac or rib-boat.

                  We immediately notified our coordinator, who notified both the Greek Coast Guard and the Norwiegen Rescue Boat. Within 5 minutes, all 140 NGO’s on the island knew a boat was coming in, all 2000 volunteers received a text or facebook message. Every volunteer was racing to help bring in this boat. Today no one was expecting zodiacs due to the waves, we were looking for solid-hull boats. You could see the Greek Coast Guard and Rescue Boats screaming across the straits to intercept the refugees. 1). To ensure safety due to waves, wind, etc. 2) to help tow them. (a 30hp outboard is what’s used to move 40 people in a boat) and 3)  to intercept the refugees before the Turkish Coast Guard turned them down or rammed them to make them sink. Time race.

                  The one way “road” on the cliffs to the beach would be considered more of a 4 wheeler path. We were lucky that it hasn’t rained lately because the grade is steeper than American roads would allow. They’re all gravel, just wide enough for European cars to fit on, on cliffs 2-800 feet in the air with no guard rails. But it was still a race. Though we were the first to spot the boat, we were not the first to `1            including the rescue boats. Volunteers from everywhere: Greeks, Brits, French, Swedes, Norweigens, Slovaks, The Dutch, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Americans, Pakistani’s, Iranian’s, etc.

                  I have both participated and observed full infantry battalions do missions that had been rehearsed for days. Today I saw the smoothest, unrehearsed, multi-NGO, mulit-national cooperation and coordination. For that matter, volunteers who spoke English as their first-language fall in a 5% category. Luckily everyone in Europe is educationally advanced and speak 2-3 languages fluently. Today I saw humanity’s heroes and I’ve have never felt so proud to wear my humanitarian reflective vest. My new uniform.

                  I must switch subjects now, for after all this is all about politics. While the UN payed the Turkish government to aid the refugees, it’s actually a humanitarian nightmare the way the Turks have treated the refugees. Upon entering Turkey, the refugees will be extorted the entire way, most refugees say the animals get treated better than themselves. They sit in the forest for several days while they wait for a chance for the mafia to smuggle them. To obtain passage, the refugees pay $500-$2000 a head to get across, the mob makes a half-million per boatload. The boat does not have to make it, it just has to be filled.

                  It gets worse. The mob makes the refugees pay for their “life-jackets.” Most have a 1/2 “ piece of material that absorbs water, some are just filled with hay.

Lesvos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}

If you can’t afford one of these then you are excluded from a “flotation device.” Day’s like this is when the Turkish government and mob extort the refugees the most. When the risk of capsizing is higher the rates are cheaper. En couth, that means that the poor and the families will take most of the risk because it is all that they can afford. Even in life and death the Turkish government and mob weighs supply and demand over humanity. There is no UN, and the Greeks guarding the camps are paid. Next fall the UN will meet to figure out a plan for the refugees, but until then it’s up to the global citizens.

12.29.2015

12.29.15

It’s been too busy to log the past few days. To sum it up, 72 hours of travel and layovers, cheap youth hostels, airport sandwiches, wrong airports, cabbies (no matter what country, cabbies cannot drive), and ferries.

                  Dec. 28th I was on the ferry from Athens, Greece to Lesvos that I met my first volunteers. 1). Nicolas from Norway and 2) Freida from Slovakia. Both had been here during the summer to help, but even back at their homes, their heart was still in Lesvos. Assumedly the volunteers have been calling it Lesvos Syndrome. I found them the very next day at one of the warehouses/collection points for clothes, blankets, etc.

Lesvos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}

All summer long Frieda would walk the 4-8 miles several times a day leading refugees from the sea to the next transition camp. Just a small whisp of a girl, but everyone called her the Hulk. Nothing would stop her from helping the refugees, even if it meant walking so they could ride.

                  Back to the ferry, it was none too difficult to spot the rest of the volunteers. We were all standing at the pier with wide open mouths and eyes totally lost, yet ready to start work. I immediately came across two girls from San Fran who were heading the same way as myself. The three of us rented a car and began our hour drive north to the coastal city of Molyvos.

                  By the time I had eaten some supper, I had been introduced to volunteers from Holland, Sweden, France, the UK, the US, Slovakia, Norway, and Israel. Over 140 NGO’s, 2000 volunteers, all paying to help. One volunteer from Norway is a publisher, and every profit from her books paid for here and dozen of her team to aid the refugees.

                  The UN is non-existent here, there is no central headquarters. Instead every NGO works together via social media and smartphones to handle the largest migration crisis since WWII. The brunt of the work, awareness, and money raised is shouldered on the backs of 19 and 20 year olds. What amazes me is that we all found each other through Facebook. Millennials using globalization, technology, and networking; that’s who is working to save the refugees. I’ve begun to believe in humanity again. For once I feel like I belong. I’ve been here one day and I’ve never met so many people with almost nothing to give. Many dropped out of school, left jobs, put themselves in debt, all with a smile because they are making changes.

Lesvos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}

 

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