For the last week, I have been part of a delegation from Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Europe to Greece to listen to the stories of refugees into Europe and those working with them here. Here are a few windows into our time so far.
Thursday morning our boat arrived to Lesbos. We rented a car and have been visiting people and places. From Lesbos, you can literally see Turkey on the other side of the straits.
We drove up to the village of Kalloni (central Lesbos) to meet with Father Stratis, a Greek orthodox priest who has been helping refugees for 10 years. Refugees arrive to the village soaking wet and exhausted, often having walked many hours. Greek citizens face jail time if they pick up the migrants (similar to U.S. citizens at the border with Mexico). If they know their way it is 10 hours from the beach to Kalloni. If they don’t know the way, it may take days. George described how their shoes are usually completely destroyed between the water and the walking. The balcony of Father Stratis’s church is filled with donations of clothes that he and three volunteers sort and process for handing out.
While they have sufficient resources right now for their ministry, their biggest struggle is with morale. The towns people often complain that they are helping refugees when they should be focused on helping Greeks who have been hurt by the economic crisis. The fascist Golden Dawn movement, while not strong on Lesbos generally, is toxically eating away at the minds of young people, making racism appear acceptable. George talked about how young people see the violence of the Golden Dawn against refugees as cool, like the violence of Hollywood movies.
We were deeply touched by the witness of Father Stratis and George.
Friday afternoon, we visited the memorial place in Thermi with some members of the Welcome to Europe Network. Several migrants lost their lives on the sea just trying to reach the nearest European border they could see from Turkey. Twenty-one Afghan migrants sank close by just a few days before Christmas of 2013.
A memorial to refugees who died crossing the water from Turkey to Greece
While paying our respects at the memorial, we were invited for coffee by a fisherman. He explained how he often gets calls from the coast guard to come save people. He finds them clinging to each other in the ocean. The coast guard will not rescue them themselves because they say their boats are too high and they can’t reach the people.
After pulling them out of the water he covers them with blankets from his own boat. One night he had to save 35 people. One baby drowned.
He said that stream of refugees won’t stop until the war stops. He remembers the Greek civil war 1946-49 and how bad it was when the Greek people were fighting each other.
The actions of the Coast Guard in their neglect of drowning refugees is deeply tied to broader European attitudes and policy. Our group will discuss over the coming days how we feel CPT Europe is called to respond.
Photos by Tim Nafziger and Marius van Hoogstraten
Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled