The Ghosts of Refugees Past

December 23, 2015                                                                       FOREIGN POLICY

SYKAMINIA, Greece — In a scene repeated nearly every day in this small fishing village on the Greek island of Lesbos, a Coast Guard boat had recently pulled into port and unloaded a group of wet and frightened refugees who had just been rescued from the sea. It was 10 p.m., a cold wind was blowing, and the newcomers were shivering. But it wasn’t long before one of the caf├ęs neighboring the port opened its doors so the group could take shelter. Not long after that, several women arrived to quietly distribute dry clothes to the children.

As the refugees made the long uphill walk to a reception center for migrants, they passed an olive press that’s over a century old. Exhausted as they were, it’s unlikely the refugees inquired about the building’s history. But if they had, the locals would have explained that the olive press once housed desperate refugees, much like the present-day newcomers from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The only difference is that the earlier migrants were Greeks — the ancestors of most of the very people assisting today’s refugees.


Syrian Refugees in Greece: “We Don’t Have Peace in Anything”

November 23, 2015                                                                     THE INTERCEPT

I MET SIMA FARAUATE, 27, at the entrance to Kara Tepe refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos a few days after the terrorist attacks in Paris killed 130 people and unleashed an anti-immigrant backlash across Europe.
Sima Farauate, a 27-year-old Syrian refugee, stands by an old olive tree at the Kara Tepe transit camp on the outskirts of the city of Mytiline on the Greek island of Lesbos, November 19, 2015.
Photo: Heidi Levine for The Intercept
She and her husband, Amaas, had just survived the dangerous sea crossing from Turkey operated by smugglers that has been the main route for refugees and migrants seeking safe haven from ISIS in Europe. For around $1,000 each, they had been transported to the coast by bus from Izmir, Turkey, kept hidden in an olive grove overnight, then jammed into a rubber dinghy with 45 other refugees. Once their boat reached Lesbos, they walked to a reception center along the coast and then a bus transported them 45 kilometers over the steep terrain of northern Lesbos to the camp near the capital city of Mytilene. “I’m so tired,” Sima said. “So tired.”

I could imagine that she was, and not only because of the boat trip. The young couple was from Aleppo, which has been devastated by the ongoing war in Syria. Sima told me they couldn’t survive there any longer. “It was impossible.” So they walked three days from their home to cross the border into Turkey. “We walk all the time. This is our life now.”


How one Syrian refugee wound up bringing his dying wife with him to Greece

 November 28, 2015                                                                                PRI'S THE WORLD

When the boat arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos, his wife was dead.

Some 100 refugees have died trying to make the treacherous crossing from Turkey to Lesbos, including more than 60 on one tragic night in October, when a trawler sank in high seas. The dangers are well known, but people keep coming. More than 725,000 refugees have arrived in Greece by sea this year alone — 425,000 of them at Lesbos.

An Iraqi man mourns his wife on the beach on Lesbos on Oct. 15, 2015.
Credit: Alison Terry-Evans
 After having spent two months on the island reporting on the refugee crisis, I can remember countless scenes of vulnerable people being rescued. Every single day, dozens of boats are launched and many of them flood, or the engines fail and they drift at sea.

Or they make it to shore, only to smash against the rocks. People end up floating in the water in fake life jackets holding tight to children and infants as body temperatures plummet. It’s a race against death as the Greek Coast Guard, Frontex, local fisherman and a network of NGOs and lifeguard groups and volunteers respond again and again, day and night.

If it weren’t for their heroic efforts, the death toll would be drastically higher than it is. But some situations are so terrible that they transcend even the possibility of rescue ...