Thursday, January 21, 2016

the second imad

the second imad is another story of failure. on my second moria shift, i was assigned to be a runner with the evening shift at the RHUs--the refugee housing units, the small tin buildings used primarily to house families.

however, the weather had been fine and many boats full to overflowing with refugees had landed that day. typically, i'm  told, these small rubber dinghys carry about 50-60 people, though another volunteer who has been here a long time told me that he had seen 83 in one boat. even 50 is a criminal overload, but somehow, most make it. fortunately, the sea is generally quite calm, and most don't put out to sea when the waters are rough.

because of the high volume, all housing units were severely overcrowded. as a runner, my job was to check with the "keyholder" as to which unit might be able to accommodate the group i had, then escort them to the unit and see them safely inside. protocol is to try to keep families together, to keep nationalities--or at least common language groups together, and to, of course, treat all with dignity and kindness.

this imad, the second imad, was the apparent head of my first group from syria. they were a large family. i don't recall now exactly how many--9 or 10. i was told to take them to building 4, where i would find another 14 syrians already in residence. when we reached the unit, i knocked and we waited to enter. in fact, there were 17 people already in residence.

that's not supposed to happen. there is a large whiteboard that the keyholder keeps up with the number and nationality of residents already in each unit. however, in the madness of people coming and going (people leaving to find food or blankets, people being moved to another camp or leaving for the ferry following registration, etc.), other family members that might not have been revealed, and who knows what other variables, the counts were sometimes off.

in any case, rather than 14 in residence, there were 17, most of them sleeping on pallets of UNHCR blankets, head to toe, crammed in almost as tight as they are in the inadequate boats. i was fortunate in that the second imad spoke fairly fluent english, so my scant arabic wasn't put to such a severe test. he told me after ebullient greetings in arabic between the two groups, that in fact both groups had been on the same boat. though the unit was already crowded, i had been told that we must put 25-30 people in each unit, so adding imad's family would fall within those guidelines. of course, if the camp is less crowded, we put fewer people in each unit, but the camp was swamped that night.

the refugees already in residence didn't see it that way though. they were highly resistant to the idea of more people sheltering in their already crowded unit. despite the fact that they had been boat mates, the were adamant about not taking in imad's family.

since i had been told in no uncertain terms that we must put at least 25 in each unit in order to house as many people as possible, i did my best to persuade them of the necessity of squeezing in imad's family. i adjured them to pile shoes and backpacks in a small a space as possible, and make room. finally, the syrian family already in residence in building 4 agreed to take all but two of the men--imad and a teenaged boy.

i didn't know what to do. my instructions had been specific, and had included no room for contingencies or decision making. i was distressed, and tried to talk imad into going back to the DRC (danish refugee council) building where the whiteboard was to see if we could find something elses, but imad had had enough. the rupphall (the huge {heated!}) tent for single men was also full to overflowing, and imad just wanted shelter. he asked me if there was anywhere he could get a tent, and i told him that the vendors outside the gates had some.

imad set off with his teen son--i assume it was his son, but maybe a nephew or cousin?--to buy a tent. once again i felt i had failed in providing someone already so beset with what he needed.

later in the evening, i found out that DRC actually had some tents for distribution when necessary, and indeed, we gave out many that night. but imad, cold, hungry, exhausted, had already been sent to spend his undoubtedly limited resources on something i could have provided him with, if i had only known. in the teeming throng of thousands milling around the camp, i had no way of finding him, and many other families waiting for me to find them shelter. i didn't go looking for him. by the time i found out we had tents, it was too late anyway.

additionally, and again, if i had but known, many people who had already registered were moved out to another camp for those already registered, and room freed up in the rupphall--the large tent for single men.

his last words to me were to try to rest and take care of myself. his dignity and his kindness were meant to warm me, i'm sure. rather the irony put me to shame, that once again, i had failed. this imad, too, will ever be in my thoughts.