I have just come back from Lesvos Greece, one of the islands where refugees are arriving every day. I went there with a few others to meet the refugees and the local activists and see for ourselves what is happening and how we can help. We were asking for donations before our trip and managed to raise over £6000 for the refugees.
What I found on my trip were the stories of individuals who are seeking safety and fleeing from persecution and the incredible work of locals and volunteers who provide support. But I also saw how the wider international community are failing the refugees.
What I saw in Greece, will always stay with me.
We started our trip in Athens where hundreds of refugees spend a few days in Victoria Square before moving to Macedonia and other countries. Most of the people in the park are families. They rely on donations from locals and community groups. While we were there, we saw some local people providing food and sweets to the children but it obviously wasn't enough for everyone. In order to use the toilet people need to pay €2.
From Athens we travelled to the island of Lesvos. This is the island where thousands of refugees arrive in small boats each day. They have to pay at least $1000 to get on a tiny black boat and €100 to buy a life vest in order to cross from Izmir, Turkey to Greece. This has become a business for smugglers to make money and take advantage of the innocent. Some of the boats don't make it to the island. The dinghy boats sometimes capsize and many people drown. Those who make it walk on the same shore on Lesvos every day before setting off to Athens. They walk in the thousands on their bare feet without food and water, only receiving help from the local community. Sometimes there is no help to get.
I found that after crossing to Lesvos the refugees are welcomed by the local volunteers who provide water, clothing and food every day. All the donations are from people all over the world. The volunteers are doing an amazing job.
Meeting Eric Kempson was very inspiring as his family is organising all the help for thousands of refugees who arrive from Izmir on a daily basis, and have been doing this work for many months. However, while I was there, I did not see any of the larger international aid organisations providing any help. The only ones providing support were ordinary people, and some smaller charities from Denmark, Sweden, and Germany. It made me wonder – where are all the larger aid agencies?
We went to meet Eric and the team of volunteers as they look out for boats early in the morning. The volunteers have been working tirelessly without any government help. Approximately 3,000 individuals arrive each day.
As we walked to the beach to find Eric and his colleagues we noticed a boat reaching the shore. I will never forget that moment. There were around 50 people on the small boat including women, babies and youngsters. The only other people around us were taking pictures then leaving. My friends and had only just helped the refugees to reach the help point when we saw two more boats reaching the shore! It was heart-breaking to see the children shivering from cold.
Standing on the beach, I tried to keep myself strong while witnessing hundreds of people moving helplessly in front of my eyes, however it did not work. I cannot understand why people have to go through all of this suffering and pain. Why? Why do the innocent pay for something they have not caused or created? Why can we not just end the war and stop all the pain?
As I continue to ask these questions, thousands are leaving their homeland in search of new life and future for their children. As I am writing this and as you are reading, thousands are crossing the sea knowing there could be death at the end of their journey.
The war in Syria started in 2011, however for the world to wake up to the plight of the refugees, we had to see the image of a little child sleeping at last in peace on the shore of Bodrum, Turkey. The war did not only destroy concrete homes and buildings, it also destroyed families and thousands of innocent lives. The war caused the innocent to flee their homeland leaving behind the taste of their food and their memories of happiness.
Throughout my education I have been reading cases about human rights violations and how states show their responsibility to react when there is a refugee crisis. This, however, is not implemented in reality.
As I am writing this, I know that around 400,000 refugees will cross from Izmir to Lesvos in the next few months. Knowing this makes me angry. Knowing that people will continue to die as politicians try to figure out how to settle 20,000 refugees in the UK in the five years until 2020 makes me angry. This is why we have to say enough is enough and do something about it. I no longer want to witness innocent people getting off tiny blacks boat on the shores of Lesvos with fear in their eyes without food and water.
Except from being angry and emotional all the time during my visit in Greece, I have also seen the power of the local community. I have seen how we can continue to unite in difficult circumstances to help those who are in need. I have seen the power of working together in Greece as ordinary people collected donations from the local community and donations from across the world. We have to continue fighting against the system which creates the war. We have to continue donating and helping those who are in need, as I do not want to see innocent children pay with their lives for something they have never caused.
Pinar Aksu is originally from Turkey and has been living in Scotland for the past 13 years. She has a BA in Community Development and is currently involved in many different community projects in Glasgow and Edinburgh - Xchange Scotland, Active Inquiry and World Spirit. Her twitter account is @pinar_aksu5