Greece as it happens – Refugees on Symi.
Adnan (not his real name) studied for a month at university in a Syrian city before the trouble there forced him to leave the town and his course. He was studying for a degree in French literature. For the next two years he lived in a village with no electricity, no running water and no internet, before escaping into Turkey. In Turkey he learned to speak some of the language while he made his way to the coast. He already spoke good English. One night, he and fourteen others escaped Turkey in a small inflatable boat. He was in the company of men, women, children and a pregnant woman. They were half way to Greece when another boat appeared from nowhere and men in masks attacked their boat, stole its engine and slashed the inflatable which then sank beneath them.
Adnan, a freelance photographer by then, lost his Nikon camera, and his other camera along with all his possessions apart from his phone and what he was wearing. He was able to call the Greek coastguard but there was no reply. He managed to call some friends in Turkey and, after two hours in the water, help arrived from the Turkish coastguard. He was taken back to Turkey. A few days ago, after some time had elapsed, he tried again and this time arrived safely on Symi where he has been with around 400 others waiting for their papers to be processed.
On Saturday, he was at the Symi refugee aid station waiting for some laundry to come back. The clothes he was waiting for were all he had, and a volunteer had taken them to be washed; one of the things the volunteers do if they can. He told me he didn’t want to stay in Greece but wanted to complete his studies in French Lit somewhere in Europe. While we were talking he was also translating for his friends and others who came for clothes, water and toys for the children. Adnan was, I would say, no older than 21.
This was on Saturday morning and we were there helping out for only a few hours. In that time what I noticed people asking for (that we didn’t have) were clothes for men (though clothes for women and children are also needed, there was very little for the older boys and men), and also sun tan cream for the children, soap and basic washing supplies, shampoo, body wash etc. All things that you might have if you are finishing up your holiday on Symi; the kinds of things often left behind in properties. The holiday and washing items I mean, though I do know some men are prone to leaving their trousers lying around after a holiday. Least said…
And also on Saturday, I had two emails in giving support for the work of “Αλληλεγγύης Σύμης – Solidarity Symi” the charity set up specifically to deal with the crisis as it manifests on the island. Their Facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/solidaritysymi And you can get involved, if you want to, by donating to the fund here: http://www.everyclick.com/solidaritysymi/info (£4,435 raised by Saturday, that’s 63% of target).
And, if you are on Symi and want to help out you can also offer to volunteer at the aid station, the old post office building by the police station. While we were there two visitors came in to see how they could help and signed up for a short shift on a future day, and another visitor dropped off some end of holiday items and clothes.
If you wonder what you have to do, it’s not difficult. We helped with giving out water, answering questions, letting people come and check through the donated clothes, sorting out the donations and putting them out – once word got round that there were some toys there was a bit of a rush of under sevens calling in simply for something to play with to relieve the boredom – we also helped tidy up, cleaned the loo, and gave out what provisions were available. So, nothing strenuous or nasty and all very humbling. And everyone, even those who can’t speak English, are so thankful that we are doing something.
For full information see that Facebook page and to arrange to volunteer contact Wendy Wilcox via Symi Visitor, or, if you’re on Symi call (+30) 695 730 2565, or call at the old post office.