Thousands of refugees have fled to Europe from Syria. Many undertook perilous journeys across the sea to the island of Lesvos in Greece. Michael Williams, humanitarian officer at Islamic Relief, has been based there for two months and talks about the tide of emotions that comes with the currents.
The most striking thing about the situation in Lesvos is the continuous panic in the air.
What is also striking is the calm.
This may seem contradictory, but in Lesvos there are three main areas where the panic is unfolding: the beaches where refugees arrive; the transit sites where they wait to be registered and the port area where they wait to board the ferry and look for ways to receive money from relatives back home.
On the rest of the island, it is possible, particularly if you don’t speak Greek and read the local news, to forget there is a crisis.
But in those first three areas, there is a crisis every day; the sense of panic is exactly the same today as it was when I arrived about seven weeks ago. In fact, it’s rising.
With refugees being rescued from sinking boats on a daily basis over the past week, and the number of causalities lost to the sea rising rapidly, there is a growing sense of despair amongst NGOs, volunteers, Greek coast guards and locals. The challenge then, on both a personal and organisational level, is to avoid adding to that panic and despair. We need to make ourselves light, to bring a sense of warmth and positivity to the newly-arrived refugees that we meet.
The work that our cultural mediators, from across the Islamic Relief family, have been doing is aimed at just that. My Arabic-speaking colleagues bring a calming-smile and a warm greeting to every situation, responding to the questions of the refugees and making their journey just a little bit easier.
Our role is to focus on the positive improvement that can be made to an often grim situation. It may not seem like much, but in a way, it is the essence of humanitarianism.
Islamic Relief is working with refugees coming to Greece. Our cultural mediation service has assisted more than 33,600 refugees, and our experts on Lesvos have delivered 5,355 food packs, each designed for a family of three, and 1,500 hot meal. Cash grants, worth 50 Euros each, have been given to 55 of the most vulnerable people.
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