As volunteers doing our service we probably all feel it: What we see in Lesvos is the beginning of a peoples´ migration of historical dimensions. Every single day several thousand people take the risk to cross the sea tightness in the Aegean Sea, going to an unclear destination. There are women who just gave birth, there are extended families with 3 or 4 generations, there are people in wheelchairs, nobody carrying more than a plastic bag with some possessions and hopefully some blankets their were gifted with. You start to acknowledge the value of family, of belonging, of home, of the rare chance to have a private place to changes clothes.
But you have to look into the fate of a single person to really understand what war means, what unbearable situations and decisions people are being forced to take. We as humanity cannot tolerate it anymore. Thousands of volunteers having done day and night shifts in the last months in Lesbos and many other places are witness for this imperative: This MUST be the turning point. We must change the system.
Fadi is 39, a communication engineer from the upper middle class in Syria, happily married, two kids, shares his story while we are sitting at the beach – he, my Palestinian friend Aida who is translating, and myself. Several times his tears appear, and we have to struggle to hold our owns back – knowing that so many people have went through similiar ordeals and might not have the possibility to share – and not have the happy ending, that Fadi´s family apparently has.
“Five years ago, life in Syria started to change, 3 years ago it became unbearable.” They could deal with loosing the comforts of a rich life. But then lives were in danger. Their village was under siege of the army, no food, no electricity for weeks. They started to think about moving to different places in Syria. When the army started to draw all men to military service, Fadi escaped to a village close to the border to Lebanon. “It was hard leaving my family behind. My younger son was born under siege, and I wanted to have them with me to be sure that they would be fine.”
To pass the 7 km distance between the two villages they had to travel a huge journey of 220 km which cost them a fortune. Hardly united, the village they were in now was attacked by the army. The only direction to leave was towards Lebanon. “We wandered with 120 people, all families. The army bombed us, and 17 died.”
Which army is able to throw bombs on fleeing families? Answer: it seems all armies of the world. They can speak of just wars, strategical wars, defensive wars, even holy wars – in the end it is always about throwing bombs on fleeing families. This is what armies are made for.
And this was only the beginning of an odyssee that lasted for two years. In the refugee camp in Lebanon, Fadi started to help other refugees as translator and organiser. “It became my task to take heavily wounded to hospitals and bribe the hisbollah to let them pass. There were fix prices. For a man we had to pay 400 Dollars, for a woman 200. I have always tried to help in my life, this belongs to my life. But I also understood early that helpers become the first target. Many of us were arrested, persecuted, punished, some of them I never heard of again.”
Thanks to his contacts to the Hisbollah smugglers, he got a hint: “You are the next on the black list of the Hisbollah, you should run.”
From Lebanon he tried to get to Jordan, but was denied. “In the meantime my account in Damaskus was frozen. What do you expect when you put all your savings to a bank account which is being controlled by the state?” For 1,5 years he and his family tried to make a living in Turkey, but it was hard to find a job. “We helped in the refugee camps of Istanbul. But when the IS became strong we were not sure anymore whom we were helping. I was again on the list of the Turkish intelligence. We had to move on. We tried Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but it did not work. Europe was the last chance.”
The first attempt on a boat to Italy failed, the boarder police pulled their wrecked boat out of the sea, back to Turkey. “Now there was a hard decision, that my wife and I had to discuss. We could not again put this risk on our family, so we decided that I leave on my own and we go for unification. But then – I was not able to do it, leaving her behind in a strange country, not knowing for how many years. So we decided, there is no other chance, we belong together. Either we will live together, or we will die together.”
They took the boat to Lesbos. Again the engine broke down in the middle of the passage, but this time they were saved by the IRC (International Rescue Commitee) and pulled to Europe. “This was six months ago. There were no structures or camps, nobody to help us or inform us, just an office to register. We had arrived in our new lives, frozen, frightened, happy, but did not know where to go and what to do.”
It was in these first days that the locals helped them, brought them food and clothes, welcomed them. “This was when I saw that Greek people are not that different from us, they are close to our culture of hospitality, they are good people. And I did not want to go further north, I always wanted to stay as close as possible to home. I asked my wife if she would agree to stay on Lesbos. Herbana said, our aim was to be safe, and safe we are. This is our home now.”
They lived for 3 months in the little Pikpa camp, the Village of Alltogether, a place for refugees who cannot travel further right away, run by a local grassroot initiative, and helped to turn the camp into a community for volunteers and refugees “all-together”. Fadi got a job with IRC, taking care of the Kara Tepe Camp. As one of very few families they applied asylum in Greece. The elder son goes to school here. With Fadi´s little income they could rent a simple apartment where they often host refugees who need special care.
Fadi: “I appreciate all the volunteers who come from all over the world to help with a high sense for humaneness. But only when you have gone through it yourself you know how the people really feel and what they need.” His contribution is indeed very appreciated.
“We have to find sustainable solutions. The Middle East is falling apart, Syria is turning into a second Palestine. We have to be creative in many little places to survive. We learnt to build a laundry machine driven by a bicycle engine, or medical machines driven by solar power. We need all kind of ecovillage experts to come to the Village of All Together to teach us, we need this knowledge, especially when we one day – inshallah – go back to Syria.”
Although Fadi and Herbana made their home now on Lesbos, their highest wish is to return one day. “We still have our families there, and it is still home. What we will need to rebuild our country one day, are all kind of skills of sustainability. This is my passion.”
Fadi has become one of the major cooperation partners of RefuGEN. Presently, together with him and other long-term residents of the Village of Alltogether, we have started a vegtables garden and a compost system.