Last month, Chloe Sarshar followed a lifelong dream to devote herself to international relief work. The purpose of her journey was to assist in a Registration Camp in Lesvos, Greece, helping refugees fleeing from the Middle East. Shedoesthecity was so inspired by Chloe’s endeavour oversees that we wanted to showcase some excerpts from her personal travel blog. ICYMI, check out part 1, part 2 and part 3 of Chloe’s series.
Part 4: Final Reflections
Before I started this trip I was a little worried about how I would get through it all, emotionally and physically. I have to say I fared better than I thought I would, and the time spent was challenging yet rewarding.
My last two days were spent in Moria, in the medical tent. Due to the bad weather, Moria was fairly empty and Frontex more or less managed to catch up on registration.
At one point I was asked to bring an elderly woman to the medical tent. She told me about her five children, three of whom she’d already lost to the war in Afghanistan. Once in the tent, we spent a good five minutes trying to figure out her age, as she wasn’t sure. This is quite common, particularly with women, as a lot of them don’t have birth certificates. (We had one guy come in who adamantly told us he was twenty-nine even though he definitely looked over forty.) Eventually she decided that she was around seventy and we left it at that.
She was particularly concerned that she had lost all her medication in the water and began crying when the doctor gave her the results. We were able to reassure her that her blood pressure was only a little higher than normal and likely due to the stress of the trip. She began kissing all the doctors and telling them that Allah would look kindly on them; it was funny to see the doctors’ reaction to this, as some of them were not sure what to say in return.
I also met a woman who had been travelling for several days and told us her baby had been crying non-stop since they had left. I could tell she was tired and sick herself but was more concerned for her child. We managed to rehydrate the baby and she was able to nurse for a while. At one point, another refugee told her that she should cover up if she was going to breast-feed; it was entertaining to watch her tell him off. I told her that things were not that much different in the West as people still lose their minds when a woman breast-feeds in public. We laughed about how stupid this was and under her breath she said, “I guess men are the same everywhere.”
After helping translate for a doctor I went back to the waiting area of the medical tent to find a woman sobbing hysterically. She told me she was crying was because twenty days prior she was separated from her teenage daughter. She had already lost her husband (who was murdered by the Taliban) and only her and her fourteen-year-old daughter were left. To be honest, there are no comforting words to say to someone in this situation. We told her that she was safe now and that we would do everything to find her daughter. We contacted the UNHCR and the ICRC who are working to reunite families. After she left, one of the nurses and I hugged and cried for a long time. It is something that I will never forget.
In all the chaos, there were still light moments and we were all grateful for them. On my last day some clowns came to the children’s tent and played music for everyone as the kids danced around. Eventually some of the refugees joined in with their own traditional dances. (I suppose it should be noted that no women danced.) When you’re in the midst of it all, it’s hard to see the good amongst all the bad and I think for refugees and volunteers alike it’s crucial to have these brief moments when you can forget the circumstances that brought you all together.
My time in Greece was definitely not long enough. In truth, after observing the situation, I’m not sure how much help we’re really giving these people on a macro level. Once they go to Athens and then on to other places, they still need to seek asylum and start new lives. A lot of them don’t have money, documents or even family left and many of them will face discrimination and systemic barriers as they try to settle in the West.
I can’t help but worry about the wonderful people I’ve met and the journey they still have ahead of them. With the harsh weather over the past week, the trip had been more dangerous than ever. Thirty-four people tragically lost their lives on the Turkish coast trying to cross over to Lesvos. What’s more, the Turkish government confiscated a bunch of fake life jackets that had been given to the refugees (when I say these jackets are fake, I mean they were not buoyant and people were drowning).
The situation is bleak on all sides. There are refugees running for their lives; there are people taking advantage of refugees at any possible moment; there are organizations who are limited by red tape and bureaucracy and governments who are refusing to address the issue with any sustainable solutions; and finally there are individuals who are doing the best they can to provide relief to those in need. It’s far from perfect and more needs to be done by those in the position to do so.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my experience as I’ve definitely enjoyed writing about it. I feel this trip has started me off on a path that will bring me back to similar situations in the future.
Until then, take care, be safe, and be kind to one another.