The refugees are remarkably beautiful. The women have long wavy hair that is super glossy and many, many of them (men too) have gorgeous hazel or blue green eyes. It’s so striking against their dark hair and skin. The little children are ridiculously cute. It was so fun to watch the little kids playing; children are pretty much the same everywhere in the world. So many children came through the camp; lots of big families. It’s amazing how quickly children bounce back. Most of the children I saw were laughing and playing soon after they arrived in camp. They saw their parents relax and settle down to wait for the bus, and immediately the kids were out playing with a soccer ball or running around.
The people who came through were so grateful; it blew me away. Not a lot of panic, although the volunteers have a lot to do with that. We try to be calm and welcoming, no rushing and lots of smiling. It helps keep everyone calm and gets the refugees to relax. I found that the refugees were quick to smile and laugh, happy and pleasant. Once they got into camp you could see them relax because they knew they were safe. Most of them had just spent a night or two sleeping in the forest, waiting for a chance to get on a boat. The refugees are stressed, anxious, they have so many emotions going on when they arrive at camp. A lot of that stays, but a little bit of it disappears. They can relax a little, they can warm up, drink some tea and leave a little happier and that makes everything we were doing worthwhile. One of the team members told us of one man who asked why our team had come. When he found out we had come from Canada and had left our families behind to be there, he cried. We came because we knew he was coming.
The smugglers charge anywhere from 100 euros to 300 euros a person and put as many people on the rafts as they can. A boat had come in the night before with 80 people on it. These boats are made for 15. The smugglers shout at the men to get on the boats and once they are on, the smugglers kick and shove the women and children on. People run after the boats as they leave, trying to jump on. The desperation these poor people must feel. Near the shore the water is calm, but once they get to the middle of the trip, the waves are too high to see land. Therefore at night many boats are lost because the people on them cannot see Greece anymore.
When we arrived at Skala Sykamineas we were told that 8 people had been swept overboard the day before as they were coming to Greece. The coast guard had found 6 bodies, but 2 people were still missing and most likely dead as well. The night before, two boats went down and 45 people drowned. Then another 8 people drowned, six children and two women. In Canada we are so removed from the reality the refugees face. We might feel the horror of it, but we can’t feel the full sorrow. The pain in some of those people’s faces takes your breath away. Children often die as they are so vulnerable. One man said that as soon as their boat reached the shore everyone burst into tears. They were so grateful to be alive and they had been so terrified. Seeing and hearing the reality of their predicaments was so heart wrenching.
Many of the refugees are dehydrated. They are told by the smugglers, or others, to not drink anything so they won’t have to go to the bathroom, especially the women. There were groups who came into camp and refused water bottles or tea. At the time I didn’t realize that it was so they wouldn’t have to go to the bathroom.
These are the refugees.