Saturday, February 27, 2016

An Iraqi Story

First an update. As it turns out, former Starfish volunteers are no longer allowed inside Moria. Period. Doesn't matter that I was the whistle blower, that I quit, that I signed up with I Am You and had the endorsement of the DRC. I'm former Starfish so I'm not allowed in. That did make my decision easy of course, I'll stay with Better Days for Moria, and here I am.

Since I'm here all the time, and not just when I'm on shift, working, I have more time to sit with refugees and hear their stories.

There's one young man--an Iraqi Kurd--who is volunteering while he's here. I met him last night on his 21st birthday and he told me his story this morning.  The first part of his trip was easy--by bus and with his passport he traveled normally  to Istanbul where he stayed a couple of days. Then he paid a smuggler 2,300 euros for passage from a town near Izmir on the Turkish coast across the Aegean to Lesvos. He actually knew the smuggler and his family and said he was treated like a VIP, but that clearly didn't extend to a discount. The price did not include his life jacket. He paid an additional 14 euros for that.

On his first attempt, he said, the boat was very small and very bad. There were 15 people in the boat, but it sank. He is a fairly good swimmer and saved some children, but a woman and her two little girls drowned. He said he couldn't see the woman, but that he could see the little girls. He wanted to help but they were too far away for him to swim  to and still save himself. He's generally pretty upbeat, but his eyes were a little haunted when he told the story.

After a week or so back in Istanbul, he set out again.  Interestingly, he wasn't charged again for the next trip. I don't know if that's a normal thing--some sense of scruples among the smugglers--or if it was due to his "VIP" status. This time the boat he was on was picked up by the Turkish coast guard and returned to Turkey. He told me they were close to the Lesvos coast and were sad when they saw it was the Turkish rather than the Greek coast guard. They were taken back to Istanbul, and after being let go, he made his way back down to the coast to try again.

He and the other 43 people on that boat stayed in a house near Izmir for three days, hiding from the police. Every day the smuggler called, and finally when he called, it was the day. Again the 44 people got on the boat and pushed off into the Aegean. They left at 5 am. That time they made it.

But on his first attempt, when the boat sank, he had lost his passport and most of the money he had left. When he arrived at Moria registration camp without his passport, they didn't believe he was Iraqi because his accent (from near the Iran border) made them think he was Iranian and they registered him that way. Iranians are not allowed to follow the same route to asylum that Iraqis are, and so he's stuck. He can't go to the Iraqi embassy the way a normal tourist who lost his passport would do. They would arrest him and send him back.

So he's here. Volunteering on Afghan Hill, translating and sleeping in the clothing distribution tent. He doesn't know what he'll do next, maybe stay he said. Whatever else, he told me, he still had his smile.

Better Days Camping

This was written Thursday, and today's Saturday.

So its my first night of camping out on Afghan Hill and I definitely already have a better understanding of what it's like here for the refugees. Not that I've fled my country being bombed and terrorized, or left everything I know behind, or paid a fortune to cross the sea in an overloaded rubber dinghy with hope and fear pounding in my heart...

But I'm beginning to experience the uncertainty and exhaustion of carrying everything valuable around with me, of waiting around with nothing to do, of hoping it doesn't rain or the temperature plunge while I'm sleeping in my tiny tent with a sleeping bag that will probably be inadequate, and sitting at the charging station with my phone plugged in, anxious to keep in touch with the outside world. 

So I'm writing this on my phone, in an email to myself, and will post it when I get the chance. It's only 7:45 pm and I've been here wandering and sitting, my computer heavy backpack on my back, my cameras in their bag bumping my hip with every step, for about three hours tonight, and at least four more to go before I can will walk up the hill a bit to where my tent awaits to attempt to find sleep. 

My first shift with I Am You isn't until Saturday, so all of tomorrow and tomorrow night will likely be more of the same. Though I will attend the Better Days for Moria volunteer induction meeting tomorrow afternoon. Since I Am You has put me on warehouse the first few days and I have no idea how to get there, maybe I'll just stay with Better Days. It's full now, and there is plenty of work with refugees, so it might be a better option. After all, I'm living here now. Anyway, my phone is about charged and the rocks I'm sitting on to take some of the weight of my backpack off are cold and hard and damp. 

Think I may go get another cup of tea. Better Days makes great tea.