On the night of June 13th a boat capsized outside the coast of Greece. There might have been as many as 750 people onboard. 104 men survived. It´s assumed that all women and children were inside the boat when it sank. How many and who, we will never know.
There is no reason to celebrate that right now more than 103 million people have been driven away from their homes. 103 million destinies who cannot see any other solution than to abandon their homes, families and – most often – their countries. For many this is the very last resort to give this one life a final chance.
And let it be perfectly clear: Most of them have no desire or wish to come to Norway. Most who are driven from their homes stay in their country or flee to neighboring countries. Still, the number of refugees coming – or trying to come – to Europe is at a record high. The number of people dying on the way is also at an all time high. The number of dreams dying on the way is innumerable.
The survivors, who make the strenuous journey through deserts, across steep mountains and across the Mediterranean Sea in miserable vessels are not welcomed with open arms and aided along the way. Most often they are placed in plastic barracks, “tenthouses” or in huge storage-tents sporting the logo of a Norwegian supplier along side up to fifty other unknown people of different origins and culture. This is their home for an uncertain future.
In Greece, where Drop in the Ocean has been working since 2015, the challenges keep piling on. Since most of the humanitarian organizations has left in recent years, we experience huge lack of health and legal aid as well as food-distribution within the refugee-camps. Furthermore, most often there are no professional translators, which is especially critical regarding medical and immigration matters. Other inhabitants in the camps are often being used to translate when dealing with matters of life or death.
Most recently it has been reported that hundreds of people in Lesvos are no longer eligible to receive food or bottled water from the authorities. This applies for refugees who have been granted or refused asylum. The authorities want these people out of the camps and this has been common practice since summer of last year in most of the camps where we are now providing essential aid. The lack of food is quickly creating conflict, riots and dangerous situations.
It is fully understandable that people who have been processed, should not take up space for new arrivals, but they have nowhere else to go. There is no one providing them with housing or jobs outside of the camps. They are completely left to themselves in a foreign land. Furthermore, in many cases, they do not even have documents allowing them to move around the country.
Those who have been rejected asylum, are not being deported as we do in Norway, but end up as homeless and paperless without any rights whatsoever. Their only way of getting money is by working illegally to make enough money to pay smugglers to get them to another country where they can start the process once again. We still observe “taxis” picking up people outside the camps to take them to the nearest border-crossing. Meanwhile, Europe has agreed on the controversial Dublin-agreement that enables countries to deport refugees back to their first country of arrival in Europe. Chartered planes are no longer filling with sun-seeking tourist, but are returning people with no legal rights back to the very first country they arrived in. Human beings are reduced to pieces on a board in a failed attempt of European corporation.
We are talking about a distribution of burdens in Europe when we are dealing with refugees. The burden being a human being! Children, fathers and mothers having survived are now seeking safety. As soon as the touch ground in Europe, they are considered a burden. If we continue to refer to refugees in this manner, Europe will continue its competition of which nation can be most strict and least humane. Who wants to carry the extra burden?
It is long overdue that we start seeing humans as the resources they really are – the need for survival, right and safety will not go away any time soon. Humans will continue to flee countries of conflict. Humans will continue to seek out places where basic human right are being maintained. Humans who are hungry and cannot find food, will continue to seek out placed where they can feed their own family. Humans from areas soon to be flooded, will continue to seek out safe places.
As long as we keep talking of a distribution of burdens, no one will welcome these humans with open arms or find use for their competence, abilities or experiences.
I recently returned from Bosnia Herzegovina where Drop in the Ocean is working inside a refugee-camp in Sarajevo. Here I met a Kurdish 17 year-old “Sarah” who lived in the camp and had recently joined our team of volunteers. In fluent Greek this girl told me that her family had been in Greece for 4 years, but had been rejected asylum and therefore wound up paperless. Both “Sarah” and her younger sister, who loved attending school, had to quit and the family saw no other option than moving to another European country. In addition to Kurdish and Greek, “Sarah” is fluent in English with an American accent, Turkish, Farsi and Arabic. Her dream is a job developing green energy.
To me, “Sarah” is a resource in every way! And we meet so many people like her in all the camps we work in. Humans ARE resources by nature. Resources can become a burden if they are stripped of all opportunities for development and utilizing their abilities.
Hundreds of thousands of resources, carrying with them important experiences for Europe and the world, are currently looking for new places to settle. We should be lining up to take part in their story. The only requirement should be affordable to Europe: Safety – Justice and human rights.