refugee crisis in lesbos, gr |

Lesbos, Greece, March 2016

Lesbos is a small greek island, located in the Northern Aegean Sea, only 15 kilometers away from the Turkish coast. These last few years it has been the preferred docking shore for thousands of migrants coming from the Middle East and Africa.

Its local population is of about 89,000 people, with a maximum capacity for refugees of 2,000. Since the beginning of the crisis, over 590,000 refugees have arrived. On average, since January 2015, 1,300 arrivals per day, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan, Irak, Iran, Pakistan and Morocco (source: UNHCR).

Since the EU­Turkey deal (March 2016), the number of arrivals has drastically dropped and many camps have been closed. When we were there, there were still three working sites ­ managed by independent NGOs ­ and one registration camp, where only United Nations bodies, Frontex and international NGOs (i.e. the Red Cross) were allowed in.

When peo​ple ask ‘​How was it?’ it is always hard to find the right words to answer. We witnessed humanity at its worst: awful living conditions, torn­off tents, kids with wet clothes looking for their parents ­ and kids who lost them before arriving here.

But we also witnessed humanity at its best. In the smiles of the people, in the food volunteers made from scratch every day, in the activities set up for the kids, in the clown that showed up every day for an impromptu show. All this wonderful work was offered by people who, like us, just gathered some money and came here and lend a hand.

We only stayed a few days, but it felt like years. Leaving was the hardest part. Our clean city shoes had became muddy from the camp, and they felt heavy as we walked to the airport gate.

Impossible to ignore how we lucky we were to be able to go back home. On our own terms.