“We must do something.” That’s what Erik-Jan, the one who initiated this trip, thought after reading yet another shocking story about refugees drowning in a sea not too far from home. He gathered two of his friends, Arjan and Hindrik, to make concrete plans to offer help on Lesbos. When Hindrik – my brother in law – invited me I didn’t need much time to think it through. Even though I’m not sure what to think of this whole refugee situation, in all it’s complexity, I know I don’t agree with the way children and mothers and fathers have to risk their very lives on a ten kilometer long boat trip to arrive in my Europe. So I went with the three guys; to offer help wherever needed.
We were on Lesbos for six days. Prior to our trip we connected with local NGO’s and people who already had been on Lesbos to volunteer. Even though these connections were very valuable with arranging a lot of stuff before our departure to the island, they didn’t get us to where we’d spend most of our time.
On our first morning we drove to Oxi, a ‘busstop’ we had passed on the way from the airport to our hotel in Eftalou, up north. It must have been around midnight when we passed by. With the rain coming down heavily it was tough to see what this place was about. Everything wet and glistening in the bright light of two or three light towers. Some silhouettes looking for a shelter in the rain. The following morning we drove back to find out more about this place and to see if we could be of any help. It turned out we could and for the majority of our time we stayed in Oxi.
Oxi is called a busstop, because it’s not allowed to call it a camp. It is, however, much like a camp. In Oxi refugees will get dry clothes, sandwiches, a blanket, and, if they’re lucky they find a spot in the big tent to stay during the night. When they’re too late they have no other choice than sleeping under the stars. With a lot of organizations focused on offering help right at the coast places like Oxi don’t seem popular to volunteers. Which is incredibly sad. Only a few days after we were home we heard of the death of two very young children. In Oxi. Just waiting in line at the ‘busstop’.
And yet you’ll still find joy and a lot of relief in Oxi. We hear about the dreadful situation in Syria all the time. Families from Afghanistan come from a country with two governments, a place that has been terrorized for decades. For them Lesbos means hope and safety. This adds up to the strong contrasts you find on this Greek island.
Shivering cold yet secure and hopeful.