We see in the news what happens in those countries where refugees come from – Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia and many more. And then the news tells us what effect this immigration has on our country, our culture, our future. I had the privilege to meet many refugees on their difficult journeys to safety—to new homes. Join me on the next segment of our four part mimycri journey.
On December 30th, 2015 it was dark, cold and windy on the Aegean sea between Cesme, Turkey, and the Greek Island. It was another night spent sitting with a fellow volunteer in our small stuffed car. We surveyed the horizon through night vision glasses, trying to make out whether the small lights we saw were fishermen, the coast guard, or a passenger boat of refugees. We tried to keep all potential boats in our view and talked with each other to stay awake.
I checked one of my phones to find a text from a number that had reached the refugee network in Turkey— and I received coordinates from a Turkish number with Arabic text. The news read that two boats had reached the shore but they had no idea where they were, where the next town could be, and that they were wet and cold from the passage. Approximately 45 women, children, and men had just made a most dangerous journey across the sea, in the middle of the night, riding merely 50cm above the surface of the water.
We were lucky to find them quickly and joined them in a small store. The local shop keeper welcomed in the group and helped us in the drying, warming, and feeding the new arrivals. They then set out to register at a nearby camp.
Left behind was a pile of lifejackets and the rubber boats, crashing against the rocks with every wave.
On that night, roughly 900 people made their way from the shores of Cesme to Greece.
I was one of many independent volunteers along the “Balkan Route,” assisting refugees during difficult times as best as we could. A question that we all answered frequently was, “What motivates you to go to a foreign country and help strangers?” Here was my answer:
Having read many news reports about the crisis, I could only imagine what situations people would have to be in if they would put their families lives at risk to make such a journey. I friend of mine had gone to the Serbo-Croatian border to help, and as summer break approached, I made the quick decision to join. I had time and energy but no funds, but soon a large network emerged of donors that supported our efforts. We worked alongside state organizations and NGOs with bigger budgets, and we tried to fill the gaps in the “system.“
As refugees made their way from Greece further up into Europe and I have the privilege of helping them along the route. In southern Serbia, I helped distribute basic needs such as food and water to refugees without shelters. On the Greek-Macedonian border, I joined a team that built a kitchen to cook and serve up to 2,000 meals day to transiting individuals. I traveled to Izmir and Lebanon to further support and witness the journey these families, men, women, and children had endured.
After 6 months, I returned to Germany, carrying with me my experiences of politics, cultures, and others. Though I witnessed the tragedies migration brings with it, I also beheld so much kindness, support, and humanity.
It was during those nights where I became part of some of the migrant’s journey and they a part of mine. Watching rubber boats come ashore and remain empty, became a testimony to the risk all of its passengers had taken. Today, I look back upon my time along the Balkan Route and am reminded of each person’s story of hope for a better future. Now as a part of the mimycri family, I understand my role as continuing to tell the stories of people who risked so much by boarding a rubber boat and sailing towards better lives.
Their lives are a part of mine, and mine a part of theirs.