Just a regular morning at the Eastern Shore of Chios in Greece
Quickly –but not hectically- I jump out of the car. I am standing on the rocky coast of the Greek island of Chios, not far from the small holiday town of Karfas. In the distance, I can see the silhouettes of Turkey, which is only seven kilometres away. Very briefly I take notice of the sun that will soon rise, the sky and the sea will be bathed in fiery shades of red and orange. But I know I won’t see that, though. Not because I’m not staying on the coast, but because in a few seconds my attention will be drawn elsewhere, to a group of refugees- people that had to flee from one of the many ongoing crisis areas raging on our planet and had just survived the dangerous crossing from Turkey. They have climbed up the rocks and are now sitting huddled up against a wall. Their rubber dinghy is now swaying calmly on the water. Only swiftly, I perceive the smell of sea salt and wet clothes, then I fully focus on the people in front of me. People who had the tremendous misfortune of not being allowed to live in peace. The atmosphere the group transmits signals to me that not everything went well this time. With one eye I spot my team leader, with the other one a mother with an approximately 10-month old baby on her arm. I have Ben briefly confirm to me that, just as during previous missions, I am responsible for the children today. Thus, I narrow my focus even further to the mother and her baby – the most vulnerable people on a yet so very dangerous flight. The rest of the group will be taken care of by my fellow volunteers.
My adrenaline level has already risen high. On the outside I smile and try to radiate calmness and confidence. Isn’t it crazy what one is capable of in such a situation? Not wanting to separate the child from its mother, I signal her to come with me. But instead of getting up she stretches out her arms and hands me the baby. Me, a total stranger to her, only qualified to be at this so called “crime scene” by nothing but my orange vest and a registration with the port police. Despite her more than understandable motive, by law it is a crime to cross a border illegally. The woman’s exhaustion and despair is more than visible to me. I feel like I can grasp it, but have no time to dwell on it, as I already have her child on my arm and walk straight to the car. Inside me everything goes very fast, on the outside I am calm.
From the corner of my eye, I sense the beautiful sunrise and I feel the baby clinging to me. For a second, my eyes fill with tears, as I think about the injustices of this world and the fact that nobody prevents that this little being already has to be a refugee. But today it is not my job to be angry and sad, but to give people the feeling that they are not alone when they arrive in the EU. The baby is soaked to the diaper. The thought that it must have fallen into the water frightens me. Since I can’t find a changing blanket quickly, I spread out my scarf. But the baby refuses to let go of me and clings firmly to me with a strength that confirms my suspicion that it must have already fallen once today. It stings my heart. After several minutes, an approx. 12-year-old girl, surprisingly calm and even smiling, fetches the baby’s mother. For a moment I feel relieve, thinking to myself that now the mother can wrap her baby dry. But the next moment she hands me a second toddler.
There are currently about 4500* refugees on Chios. Each and every one of them was received by our team. Only during my three-week assignment, 1.004 people arrived here. When I close my eye, I can’t remember any particular faces. I doubt that I would recognize any of them. Maybe that’s okay, maybe that’s self-protection. While I do not remember faces, I can clearly recall the feelings and stories that marked these faces. In the case of the mother, it is one of the most terrible feelings a mother can have. With her two small children, wet and crying, clinging to me, her eyes transmit a pain that could only be increased by the actual death of the children. She herself is wet and freezes, her body trembles from shock and silently she screams out the pain of having brought her children into such a situation, of the danger she has to expose them to, the possible tragedy they might have just escaped by an inch.
picture: Anton Vester; the picture was taken in the morning after the landing when the team including Lea (wearing a safety vest) cleaning up the landing location.
Never was I so aware of what it means to be on the run. On the run from Afghanistan, like the group we took care of that morning. But also on the run from Syria, Somalia, Congo and other countries that are no longer safe. While I am typing this, I am sitting at Izmir airport. I paid 20€ for the ferry crossing to Turkey, showed my passport a few times and in a few hours I will be home safely. Already now I almost can’t believe the things I saw. But just at this moment, in the early morning as the sun is rising again, people like you and me are fleeing all over the world and my team on Chios is on its way to the next landing.
*current situation 30.11.2019 around 6.000 people in Vial Camp
Text by Lea Rau, 01.10.2019
The Chios Eastern Shore Response Team, part of the German non-governmental organization Offene Arme e.V., has been working uninterruptedly since the beginning of 206 to provide support for refugees after their arrival in Chios. All team members work as volunteers. More information about CESRT and the situation on the Greek islands can be found here:
Additional, selected pictures about the situation in Chios. This series of pictures were originated after night beach landing of 67 people from Afghanistan and Syria close to Chios.