Something I have wanted to write for a while about our wonderful holiday in Lesvos. Something I have been thinking about a great deal. Something that has been on the news. Something that was in the Guardian just after we got home.
I think we all know by now that there are more displaced people in the world than there have been at any time since the Second World War. A lot of those people are trying to get into Western Europe. Thousands and thousands of people every day are getting into inflatable dinghies in Turkey and making their way across the sea to Greece.
Skala Sikaminia, the very charming little fishing village where we stayed on Lesvos, is about five miles, as the seagull flies or the inflatable dinghy rides, from Assos in Turkey. Riding from Mytilene to Sikamenia on our very expensive motorcycle we saw somewhere between five hundred and a thousand people walking. Most of the people walking were young men, young men of military age, young men in smart jeans and smart t-shirts, carrying very little. There were some families. Some very young babies. But most of the people we saw were young men. Many of them smiled and waved as we rode past on our very expensive motorcycle.
It is a long walk for some of them. 65 or 70 km. Though some are landing at Mytilene harbour. We saw people sleeping in patches of shade by the side of the road, we saw people sleeping in the road. People who were clearly exhausted from walking in the heat. We did not take photographs. Our feeling was that to take photographs would be to compromise their dignity. We are not photojournalists, just individuals and bloggers.
On the beaches we saw tattered remains of the dinghies. The outboard motors, apparently, are being salvaged by the locals. They are worth something. We saw piles of abandoned lifejackets (good quality) – clearly not worth the trouble of salvaging. We saw torn up paperwork – Turkish work permits, papers confirming refugee status. These displaced people are abandoning their own identities in order to find themselves a future in Western Europe. A lot of the young men we saw are Syrian, but there are some from Afghanistan and Pakistan. All seeking out a better life.
It is hard to know what to think or what to feel. Lesvos itself is hardly rich. The people there, on the whole, are sympathetic to the plight of displaced humans, but have a limited amount to give. We saw people from the dinghies in the restaurant where we ate, we saw them in the corner shop, buying water and cigarettes. The people in the shop told me that they feel sorry for the displaced people, but they can’t really cope with the influx. We also saw them walking.
They walk to Mytilene where they get papers and a ferry to Athens. I don’t know where they go from there. I don’t know what they hope to find or whether what they hope for actually exists.
There are terrible things afoot in this world. People run from those things. People run to what they perceive as a better life for themselves and for their families. People put themselves at risk to achieve this. This has always been the case.
But, right now, there are more displaced people than at any time since the Second World War. Where will those people go? What will become of them?