We have not blogged for a while, truth be told it is hard to write about living in paradise when we see the growing human catastrophe around us. When we moved to the Aegean, to western Turkey we had no idea of what was to come, no idea that those plans to see Homs, Aleppo, would never happen. No idea that we would start to witness the tragedy of Syria and the Syrian people.
We are not exactly wealthy but we are comfortable. We can afford what we need and many wants. We are hardly Levantines partying whilst the country burned, but it is tough being comfortable when we see the desperation of people. We give to the refugees, clothes, blankets, shoes, we hope it helps a bit but we know that here in Turkey they are transient, on the move.
This weekend we were on Samos, easy for us to get to. It costs 55 Euro return. On Samos we saw abandoned lifejackets and inflatables, not the number we saw on Lesbos, but an indication of what is still happening, We saw families, women, children, infants who had made the crossing at night, at the mercy of people traffickers, at the mercy of the sea. We saw lifejackets drifting in the water, hopefully washed off a beach. And now, back home we are seeing pictures of children who did not make it across those few kilometres from Turkey to Greece.
On a point of principle we are not going to share photos of the dead. If anyone wants to find them they are all over the media, all over Facebook.
These desperate people pay upwards of 500 Euro per person, to make that life threatening and sometimes tragic attempt to reach Greece. One step in a journey to northern Europe, one of the riskier steps, but the journey remains hazardous, fraught with the dangers of being in the hands of other traffickers, all of whom have to be paid off on the way. It is estimated that making the entire journey from Turkey to northern Europe journey costs more than 5000 Euro.
We are not going to get into the why travel? Why flee Syria? We can look at causes at a later point in time. Right now, what needs to be done is to address the human catastrophe. To put it simply, if you lived in a city where someone drops barrels packed with nails and explosives onto the street where your children are playing you would not remain. If someone threatened to rape your daughters at gunpoint over points of theology, you would not remain. No sane person with the means to escape would not try.
The reality is these are people, people fleeing almost unimaginable horror, people who have dignity, people who want to have a better life, to support their children, to have education, to work, to earn money, to contribute. The reality is they are going to try to get to northern Europe because it is there that they see safety, and a chance to hope, to live. The reality is that they are going to get there or die trying.
We have seen compassion, compassion from Turks, compassion from Greeks, compassion from expats and other migrants like ourselves. No doubt there are those further north on the terrible journey who try to help. At the same time we are told of the shocking events, not the deaths at the hands of the smugglers, but razor wire fences, dragging people off trains and marking them with ink, closing borders and railway stations. At the same time we hear the rhetoric, the “rampaging hoard” at Calais. The whipping up of intolerance, of hatred. The sort of xenophobia that after the Holocaust Europe vowed to never allow to happen again.
In these days of Europe it seems only Germany has taken on the gravity of the situation and truly tried to reject the politics of the 1930’s.
I am going to make this request, to everyone in Turkey and the EU who reads this. Pressure your government to allow these desperate people to travel. Pressure your government to take down the border control, to allow people to pass unmolested. Pressure your government to follow the example of Germany and scrap the Dublin Protocol (this is the one which says people must apply for asylum in the first country they enter). Pressure your government to allow movement without stamping passports – by all means scrutinise, but there is no need for a stamp. And just as importantly, spread the message, share, and share again.
Be successful, if the borders are opened, then nobody will die in the sea, or in the back of a truck. Nobody would be forced to scrape together 5000 Euro for a trip I can do for 100 Euro. Nobody risks death. End this human catastrophe.