I arrived in Rome yesterday evening, after a month in Lesbos. The reports are right, the situation is really heavy. The flow of refugees is really unpredictable. Some days it’s more than 10.000 people, some other days it’s just a few hundred.
It’s getting cold at night, and there’s not enough blankets or shelter for everybody. This means that people sleep outside, and although the volunteers and some NGO try to help the most vulnerable ones, there are children, pregnant women, older people who will die on the way to Europe because of the atrocious conditions. Lesbos is unfortunately only a small part of the road for them, and I suspect that in many regards it’s the one that receives the most attention.
At the moment there’s quite a lot of “spontaneous” volunteers in the northern part of the island, which is where most boats arrive, whereas the southern part, where the big camps are, is mostly run by big NGOs.
Some of them do a good job, some of them don’t. They all have rules and bureaucracies to answer to, so there is a lot of room for improvement.
The main camp, Moria, which is where non-Syrians go, is a former prison, where only a few refugees get to sleep inside, the rest sleep in the olive fields. They burn olive branches and plastic at night to keep warm, and they are forced to buy blankets, food, clothes and tents in the black market, for crazy prices. Obviously, those who don’t have
money just sleep outside. The UNHCR is the one who should provide blankets and shelter, but they (say they) don’t have the resources.
Among all this, a small, irregular group of volunteers tries to make things better by independently distributing food, singing, dancing, drawing and talking with the refugees. This is I think the thing that’s missing the most in the approach taken by the big NGOs: human interaction.
Another aspect is the environmental impact that this flow of refugees is having. The north coast is covered in plastic, life jackets, shipwrecks, clothes. The roads the refugees are forced to walk for kilometers are
also completely full of trash, and the municipality doesn’t seem to do anything about it. This is one of the most ignored aspects of the situation in my opinion.
As for the effect this has had on me: I think that after seeing with my own eyes what these people have to go through, I have no more doubt in myself that it’s our duty as human beings to help them, no matter what.
What I mean is that all the political, economical, environmental consequences don’t matter when compared to the human suffering of so many people. The only right thing is to help them, that’s it.