It’s been slow here on the island for the past few days. I did some inventory for Pikpa and enjoyed the sun, more or less. It’s been nice to have some downtime, just enjoying the beauty of the island and hanging out with friends. A group of people went to the Hammam in Thermi to enjoy the hot springs. I walked along the windy seashore at dusk yesterday and looked across the calm waters to the coast of Turkey. It was hard to distinguish between the sea and the sky, hard to imagine that this stretch of water is where thousands and thousands of people risk their lives to escape horror.
The time off has given me the chance to think, to examine what I’m doing, and decide what to do next. I posted in the Lesvos volunteers informational Facebook group offering to answer questions from people thinking of coming to volunteer. I found myself recommending that people go to Chios and Samos, because with this lull Lesvos feels full of volunteers.
It won’t last, of course. We’re already preparing for the inevitable rush of refugees who have been building up like water behind a dam. When the dam breaks they will flood across the Aegean in their tiny boats, they will bob and whirl through the water, and if they’re lucky they will land safely on the beaches. For now they sit in Turkey, waiting for the smugglers to call and we sit here waiting to receive them with hot tea and dry socks.
The Greek Coast Guard did a trial run of intercepting refugee boats at sea rather than letting them reach the shore. This combined with bad weather, rumours of policy change in the EU and the Schengen Zone, and increased Turkish patrols led to fewer boats, though some still got through. Volunteers took care of them the same way we always do, with hugs, medical care, and dry clothes. The two large Greek boats that have been patrolling are gone now. One went up to patrol the North coast and the other departed to parts unknown. Perhaps it will come back. Until then, we prepare.
Last night I sat in my flat with Anna from New Zealand, Anya, Nora, Tobi, and Patricia from Germany, and Dan from Gibraltar and England. Anya and Dan were here in the summer and they told us stories from before the refugee relief effort was well organized. “It was hell,” says Anya, “It was real hell.”
Dan described a stretch of time with three and a half thousand people waited in a four day thunderstorm without food or shelter just to get registered. Compared to his stories of police treating refugees like animals, thousands of people starving in the mud, and volunteers slogging up the hill to distribute a few rolls to whoever they could reach, today’s situation feels like luxury.
That said, six boats arrived on the South Shore last night. None of them were sinking, but we heard rumours of two capsized boats in Turkish waters. The crisis is far from over, and we will do the best we can to ease it.