Islamic Relief aid worker Musab Bora reports on the first day of his visit to Greece, where we are providing vital aid to vulnerable people – most of whom are refugees fleeing war-torn Syria.
I’m on the Greek island of Lesvos, where thousands of Syrian refugees are arriving in boats from Turkey, having fled their war-torn country in hope of safety. The relatively short journey is dangerous – a huge contrast to the trip made by tourists holidaying here. Refugees are risking their very lives to reach these shores, not knowing if they’ll even have a home to go back to.
Having arrived, we went straight out to distribute food to the people travelling on foot from the north of the island to the port at Mytiline. Typical of those we met making the long journey from the sea were Mukhlas and his friend Ahmed, from Homs in Syria. Sitting on steps outside the house of a local lady, Mukhlas also had his aunt and his three children with him.
The two families had travelled across from the Turkish mainland. There were 55 people on the boat in which they travelled, and water came into the vessel throughout their journey. The boat’s navigator was inexperienced, and it took two hours rather than the usual half an hour to make the crossing. They didn’t know if they were going to survive.
They have found a little hospitality in Greece. They will have to wait a week before they can get papers and continue on to the mainland. They were very grateful for the help we could give, but the journey ahead is likely to be long and fraught for both families.
We looked at the rocks where boats landed, the shore littered with discarded lifejackets and punctured lifeboats. For those that had made it ashore, how many had not? In the distance, luxury yachts were visible, leisurely sailing the waters between Turkey and Greece.
The juxtaposition of luxury and desperation makes for some strange scenes. In Mytiline, families that travelled in overcrowded boats knowing they could capsize at any moment are now camped on streets against the backdrop of moored yachts. Roads that tourists pass through taking in the island’s scenic views are part of the gruelling 65-mile trek that families with young, elderly, pregnant and sick relatives are making on foot, in the hope of reaching safety on mainland Europe.
As I took in these scenes on the first day of my visit, one thought kept crossing my mind: it doesn’t have to be this way.