Dublin City of Sanctuary volunteer and mentor, Almut Schlepper, volunteers with refugees in Greece. Below is an account of Almut’s experiences and impressions.
Hope you are all well in these autumn days.
This afternoon, after a morning of teaching I was just wondering what to do with the rest of the day, as it was raining for the first time.
So we went to a nearby cafe beside the sea, Ute, the pastor from Berlin, who works in clothes shop, Nektaria , the Greek doctor and Handan,( which meets ‘smile’ in Persian) a young volunteer from Frankfurt. Even as we relax over a cappuccino the topic of refugee is never far away. So we talked about the volunteers waiting at the shore to help when so many boats arrived in 2015.
Next moment we saw a small motor boat approaching the shore and people jumping into the water. Handan, who works with an organisation called Camp fire and does night watches on the shore, was the first realise what to do. She ran into the water and started picking up the children. In doing so she actually cut her foot badly on the rocks but luckily she was the only one injured. By and by about fifteen adults and ten children landed, so it was only small rescue operation. First we had nothing but our arms to give the women and children a warm hug, needless to say they were not the only ones who cried. Their first move was to ring their family and take photographs which was totally understandable but frowned on by the police. Some prayed. We had to assure them that they had arrived indeed on Lesvos.
Normally the volunteers on night watch would have supplies but we quickly got blankets, dry clothes and toys from our nearby camp. After the initial euphoria, reality set in. We had to call the coast guard who collected the refugees in an unmarked coach. I wonder do they know what is ahead of them? They will be taken to the notoriously overcrowded Moria camp ( 12 000 now )and it will take a couple of months or even years until their asylum claim is processed.
They were privileged as they came in a small, fast boat and made it past the coast guards , even in daylight. Between 1 and 20 September the Turkish coast stopped and returned 206 boats with 7440 refugees. Last week 38 boats made to Lesbos, carrying 1449 refugees ( Aegean Boat report)
They were also lucky that none of the refugees could be identified as the one in charge of the boat. Otherwise he could be charged with trafficking and face 25 years in prison.
As we tried to come to grips with the event and our emotions the cafe owner was anxious that we clear away all the life jackets. That was the least of our problems as they will be turned into bags in the Safe passage workshop.
It made me aware that it does not matter how many shocking photographs you see, how many moving articles you read – nothing prepares you for being confronted with the reality. I admire the young volunteers from organisations such as Campfire and Lighthouse Relief who give up their comfortable bed to be prepared for the arrival of boats.
Arriving here ten days ago I got a very heartfelt welcome from all the residents and volunteers. I think those who knew my story were so relieved to see me alive and well.
Again there is a lot to do. I have a couple of classes with the usual fluctuation of students so I have to be flexible all the time. Apart from the teaching I spend a lot of time just listening to their stories. I wish I could write them all down.
After lunch I am normally too tired to teach but sometimes I am on duty cleaning the kitchen which hard work cleaning the large pots There are also various workshop, crafts in the women’s space which I am hopeless at, women’s exercise class which I skip, jam sessions which I replace with the choir.
Sorry this mail got a bit long but I just had to get it off my chest.
Thank you for listening
Arrivals in Greece