Letter from Joanna

Letter from Joanna

Last night I arrived at Sikamenia, a village on the northern part of the island of Lesbos, after meeting my good friend Jonny who flew over from England. He decided to join me as a volunteer just a couple of days ago. It’s good to have a close friend to share all this with.

This is a place of great contrasts. The scale is a typical of a Greek village with quaint charming old houses, cafés, lemon and orange trees in lush gardens, and a nice little port overlooking the sea and turkey on the other side, which is just about 4-5 km away. All sureounded by fantastically beautiful mountains in the background. It wasn’t so long ago that this would be a tourist’s paradise.

Now the rocky beaches are full of abandoned life jackets and rubber dinghies. A stark reminder of the suffering that is going on out there in the world, the atrocities that are forcing people to take to the water and put themselves in such extreme risk, to seek a security in Europe.

Lighthouse Relief have built up a nice permanent camp right next to the beach, where they offew new arrivals some dry clothes, food and a place of rest before facing the journey to the island’s registration camp at Moria. Everyone has to register at Moria before they are allowed to try and continue travelling to other European countries. It has become tougher and tougher for the refuggees and now only certain nationalities are allowed to register. Those who do not qualify end up in limbo in a camp outside Moria.

A volunteer told me that two weeks ago around 20 boats arrived everyday to this little beach. Each boat has around 40 people, many of whom are children. Thousands of people land at different places on the island every day. Right now, however, it is more or less still. No one really knows for sure what’s going on, but we suspect that it is some sort of political scheming between the EU, Greece and Turkey to keep the boats away.

The EU want Turkey to keep the refugees that are there, forcing Greece to stop refugees entering the European Union. Frontex are doing their part to try and stop the boats.Those who still get through are captured by the Greek authorities’ boats who then bring them directly to the registration camp- which is a small fast-track for them.

The stream of refugees coming from the Turkish side is steady, and it seems that thousands of people are waiting for an opportunity to be able to get themselves over the sea with that number increasing every day. It’s as if the authorities are building up a clot that will burst at any moment. The worst off are stuck out in the seas in small rubber boats, trying to not be detected whilst at the same time having no protection from hard winds, rain and rocks.

We decided to go to Moria which is an hour’s drive away, to see if there they needed any help there. In spite of the authorities, the winds and the rain, around 80 people managed to arrived at the camp by bus, soaking wet and hungry. I can’t even begin to imagine what a horrible, terrifying journey it must have been. They are calm – outwardly, in any case.. Some of them got to proceed directly into the registration camp, where hundreds of people are waiting for their papers.

Unfortunately, most of the people from the boat were still outside, where a volunteer organisation ‘Better days for Moria’ has built up an independent camp for those who have been excluded. We spent the afternoon and evening there, handing out dry clothes, shoes, and hot food. It feels good to be useful.

A little guy, Ahmed, six years old, arrived last night with his Dad, and they helped me sort out the socks. Ahmed then played with the camp puppy, which we both thought was very funny. Ahmed’s father was so happy to be able to get a little rest knowing that I was keeping an eye on Ahmed. He wanted to give me a necklace he had with him as a Thank You. I couldn’t take it, but the lovely and generous gesture was touching.

Yes, there is so much more to tell, but it has been a long day, and it’s time to sleep. Tomorrow we will spend the morning trying to clean up life jackets from the beaches, and collect litter, abandoned rubber dinghies, and so on.

Before I go to sleep I just want to thank everyone who has generously contributed with money and encouraging words.

Together we make a difference!