We went with a group of friends to Skala Sikaminias, north Lesvos, 8 miles from Turkey, a ride out with fellow bikers, for a spot of lunch. This is what we saw.
In less than 3 hours more than 24 small inflatable boats, all overloaded, filled with men, women, children, infants. Many with poor quality lifejackets or inflatable vests. They had risked the 8 miles of open sea, across a shipping lane, in what on that day was good weather, with equipment not fit for purpose.
We saw one boat get into difficulty. The outboard failed. Fortunately close enough to shore to be seen and fortunately the wind assisted in helping them. A small boat went out from the village and helped, got people closer to shore. A human chain formed. All got safely to land.
We saw another boat get into difficulty on rocks, people dashed out to help.
We saw a boat being piloted into the small harbour by a fisherman in his boat.
We saw those on shore help their fellow human beings reach safety.
We saw the villagers of a small fishing port, dependent on the sea and tourism doing what they can. But frustrated. How do the occupants of a village with less than a few hundred people cope with this? How do they keep the cafes and tavernas open, how do they make a living? But, they helped, even if only to get people to the shore and on their way to Mitilini, not one said build a fence, not one said send them back. Their view was, we will help, we will do what we can, but we need help as well.
A reporter their asked us if as tourists we were distressed. We said no, not as tourists. Yes, distressed as human beings. The reporter saw something more interesting so we were saved more questions.
We saw men, women and children. Ashore, smiling, happy faces. No doubt relieved to have made the incredibly dangerous and expensive trip across 8 miles of open sea. Relieved to have reached the EU, to perceived safety, to a perceived chance to build a new life and not be dependent on charity. To have escaped whatever they are running from.
There was incongruity about it all. The tiny fishing village with more people arriving in three hours than the entire population of the village, and knowing this happens day after day, week after week, month after month. Our hugely expensive toys, Harleys mostly, gear left on saddles, draped over bars, people passing through with their entire worldly possessions in a small backpack, looking, pointing, smiling.
We give to charity, money, clothes and stuff. We asked a volunteer worker there what more we could do to help. He said this. He said, no matter what we do, people will come, people will try to reach Europe. He said to go back and tell your government to open the borders and let people pass.
Winter is coming, the storms will come, the sea will become far more dangerous. And yet, if we do nothing, people will still try to come, the body count will rapidly rise. Opening the borders is not a perfect solution, it is not going to solve a crisis. It will do one thing and one thing only, the most important thing, it will save lives.
So please, if you read this, if you value human lives, go to your government, tell your government to open the borders, to let people pass.