When Arne Martin Thingnes arrives at the refugee camp of Moria in Lesvos, in early December, he has walked 2,700 kilometers. He wanders the “refugee route” through Europe, but from north to south. The refugees who came across the sea from Turkey to Greece traveled further north in Europe on the country road, about the same route as Thingnes now walks the reverse way.
Arne Martin Thingnes, who is retired, has embarked on the four-month hike to show solidarity with all refugees who are stuck in refugee camps in the south. After the EU-Turkey agreement was signed in February 2016, Turkey must prevent human trafficking, the refugees who have nevertheless arrived are being detained in Greece, and Europe has closed its borders. In practice, this means an accumulation of refugees in Greece, where in October 2019 there are now approximately 90,000, and in the islands alone more than 25,000 people are displaced.
In the beginning of this week, Monday October 7th, Arne Martin has walked for 56 days, he has had eight rest days and averaged 28 kilometers each day.
– The longest I’ve walked in one day is 39 kilometers. I’m not going to repeat that. I have found that 25-30 kilometers a day are the maximum when I walk almost every day, says Thingnes.
The route, distances, and daily goals are carefully planned.
-I’m totally on schedule with the plan. My feet and the rest of the body are in great shape. Has gotten better and better over time, says a brave wanderer.
He left southern Norway in the summer sun almost two months ago, continued to travel through Denmark, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and is now in Slovakia. He has walked in idyllic, peaceful landscapes, but has also had to make his way on heavily, busy roads.
He walks almost every day, in all kinds of weather and with changing temperatures. It has gradually gotten colder. The autumn has also come in southern Europe. And there are two months left of the solidarity march.
How do you maintain your motivation?
– I keep the motivation up by staying focused on the goal of the march. After all, I have in mind all the cruel things that have happened in the Moria Camp while I have been on the road. It motivates me to contribute with what I can, and to focus on the humanitarian disaster taking place in refugee camps in Greece.
I was also very motivated by the great enthusiasm for the fundraising campaign I started for refugee children. It warmed my heart very much. Also, I am motivated by all the nice and encouraging messages from everyone who follows me on social media.
On his journey through Europe, Arne Martin Thingnes has met people who show interest in the project and will contribute, in various ways.
– The most special thing I have experienced so far must be Torben in Denmark, who would not have me pay for the accommodation in his apartment. He gave the accommodation as his contribution to the project. Besides, I was given a choice of a miniature walking stick that would give me 10% extra energy when I wore it. I carry it with me all the time. The story behind it was a Native American tribe who had always found that it was the one who had a walking stick of a certain length that arrived first. And not only that.
When two days later I discovered that I had forgotten my lightweight jacket at his place, he drove 40 km to return it to me, says Arne Martin.
– Another special experience was perhaps the interview with “Falster Folkeblad” in Denmark, where the journalist and photographer came out and met me on the road and walked with me, while they interviewed me and took pictures. Very enjoyable experience, Arne Martin emphasizes.
Do you meet refugees? If so, what do they say?
– I haven’t met that many refugees along the way. It was the meeting with the Syrian owners of a restaurant in Kristiansand, some refugees in Copenhagen that I spoke with, there was a Syrian refugee who offered me a shuttle in Rostock and there were the refugees I met at the refugee cafe in Berlin, says Arne Martin.
He adds that he has been pleasantly surprised many times – and then it is very often about wonderful hospitality and helpfulness.
-I got more faith in people during the trip, he says.
What has made the most impact on you so far?
-What has impressed me the most during this walk is that people I meet mostly have very positive attitudes when I talk about the solidarity march. I remember, for example, the young receptionist at the Hotel Bohemia Inn in Turnov. The hotel had a reception bar and the room came with a glass of wine in that bar. There weren’t very many other guests in the hotel, so we sat and talked about the solidarity march for quite a while. She was very interested and would follow me on the Go for IT page. The same with my Airbnb hostess in Oranienburg. She was also excited about the project. I hardly got out of there in the morning. Also, the hospitality of volunteers that I have been fortunate to stay with. Some very nice people give a lot of themselves for the refugee cause in one way or another, says Arne Martin.
Rest and health
Fortunately, he has not had to sleep outside, but has spent the nights in many different ways: in private homes, with friends, family, people who have worked as volunteers in Drop in the Ocean, or who are connected to the organization, people who have been active in refugee work both in Denmark and in Germany. Also, he has stayed at Airbnb places many times, in youth hostels, in camping cabins, in guest houses, hotels, motels and Bed and Breakfasts. Generally where there is an opportunity.
Have you gotten sick along the way?
– I’ve had a few illnesses along the way, including heartburn after the day I walked 39 km. It lasted a whole day and then it is simply not possible to walk at all. Besides, I have had a troublesome urinary tract infection for weeks. I was home in Norway for the weekend when we celebrated my wife’s 60th birthday, I saw a doctor and had a double penicillin cure. Today I have just finished the second course and not until the last couple of days have I noticed any significant improvement. Walking around three miles a day with urinary tract infection is not pleasant, to put it cautiously.
Volunteer on Lesvos
When the crowded inflatable boats overturned on the beaches of the Greek islands, Arne Martin was there, as a volunteer for the Drop in the Ocean.
– I was at Lesvos in early December 2015 and in February 2016. Both times for a week or so.
Four years later, in December, he returns, but this time he meets the refugees in the Moria camp, not on the beaches. Various media channels have conveyed the drama and the tragic deadly fire last week. We have seen demonstrations and despair among the people in the crowded camp, with miserable living conditions. Professionals from humanitarian organizations, such as Drop in the Ocean and Doctors Without Borders, have pleaded with Greece and Europe to intervene and improve the situation for the people of Moria.
What do you think of all this?
-I’ve been following what happened in Moria while I’ve been on the road. So I’m anticipating to see what it’s like when I get there, to see the situation with my own eyes. One thing is for sure, that it has become even worse than when I was there in February 2016. Even then it was bad and crowded and people lived outside in tent camps. But now there are 2-3 times as many refugees. It must be terrible and inhumane conditions there.
I hope, of course, that my march can help to open up some people’s eyes to this terrible humanitarian disaster so that they can again influence the politicians in their countries to pursue a more humane refugee policy and accept more refugees, so that the camps can be emptied.
Arne Martin Thingnes is not unfamiliar with long walks and knows well what he has set out on. He has three pilgrimages behind him.
– In 2012 I went Camino Francaise as it is called. Perhaps the world’s most famous route 800 km from St. Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. On Monday, October 7th, it’s been exactly seven years since I started that Camino. Also, I attended both Easter 2015 and Easter 2017 Camino Portugues. Both times from Porto to Santiago de Compostela, but two different routes. The first trip I went the original pilgrimage inland, while in 2017 I went a much newer route that runs along the Atlantic much of the way.
Is this journey also a form of pilgrimage for you – do you feel a kind of “calling”?
– Yes, maybe. My strong commitment to refugees and people who are hurting is also rooted in my Christian view of life. “What you have done to one of these little ones – you have also done to me.” This is the first and greatest commandment. But there is another thing that is just as great: You must love your neighbor as yourself.”