Wednesday September 9, 2015

A thousand kindnesses

Aid worker Musab Bora reflects on the compassion that is easing the hardship of refugees on Lesvos, where Islamic Relief emergency personnel are working around the clock to help.

Today on the island of Lesvos, we were joined by an Arabic-speaking colleague from Sudan – one of numerous Islamic Relief staff now on the island to help refugees access the services they urgently needed. He and half of the Islamic Relief team travelled to the northern port of Molyvos, where new arrivals are landing along the coast.

The rest of us went to eastern Lesvos, to distribute food to those making the gruelling trek across the island. Like yesterday, there was a stream of people along the roads. It was difficult to stop and talk to people when we were on mountain roads with hairpin bends and no pavements. On a map, it is hard to tell just how challenging the walk can be, but whenever I felt a little tired or out of breath, I knew what I was going through was nothing compared to what the thousands of refugees that have made it to Greece are experiencing.

Exhausted refugees seeking somewhere to rest

Later, we visited the north of the island, where we met up with Islamic Relief’s Orphans Manager who has been deployed to provide cultural liaison services to the vulnerable people here.  I asked Anwar if it was possible to speak to a new arrival at the makeshift camp.  I was introduced me to Mohammed, from Deir ez-Zur, Syria.

Just as we were about to start our interview, Mohammed abruptly stood up and headed to the entrance of the camp.  The coastguard had collected about a hundred refugees that had made the dangerous journey across the sea, and Mohammed was concerned that his family would suffer even more as new arrivals squeezed into the already overcrowded camp.

It was an understandable reaction. Conditions in many of the sites where refugees are gathered in Lesvos are appalling. Overcrowded and poorly equipped, they are without even basic standards of water and sanitation. Food here is also in short supply. We and the brilliant Greek volunteers had to talk to those already in this camp, using tact, diplomacy, sincerity and compassion, to help them understand that they needed to welcome the exhausted new arrivals, despite the difficulties.

Mohammed went on to tell me his story, and reminded me that this is only another step in his long journey. He has been homeless for months and could remain so for many more. As we headed south to Mytilene, the sun had already set but still we saw families on a walk which must seem endless. Those too tired to go on slept in bus shelters and under lorries, or even on pavements.

Kindnesses, both witnessed and unheard

Reflecting on the day, it hit home that we can only resolve this terrible situation, where exhausted refugees are pushed to the limits of endurance in their bid for safety, through the thousand kindnesses, both witnessed and unheard.

The local volunteers who are picking up the tired and injured in cars and busses, the tourists who make piles of cheese sandwiches for hungry refugee children, the restaurant owners who leave tables laden with food by the roadside, and the other refugees who lend someone their mobile phone so they can snatch a brief conversation with a loved one elsewhere. These human kindnesses are what will help us overcome the almost catastrophic humanitarian situation unfolding before our eyes.

As well as assisting refugees in Greece, Islamic Relief is also providing vital aid in other European countries such as Germany and Italy. We also continue to deliver lifesaving aid in countries at the heart of this crisis, including deep inside Syria and neighbouring countries. Support our work. Donate to our Mediterranean refugee crisis appeal now.

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