A group of 2nd and 3rd generation Palestinian refugees came into our lives in the middle of March. A friend had just returned from Greece where she had been working to help unaccompanied refugee children. While there, she met this group of 8 Palestinians, the youngest is just two years old. She was touched by their story and inspired by their courage. What this group had endured to get to Greece was horrific and degrading. All their precious money had been stolen.
They are now destitute and would be sleeping on the street if a few of us hadn’t been helping. But we can’t afford to carry on doing so. They are desperate not to be forced into the refugee camp which is even worse than the one they escaped from. There are more than 20,000 people crammed into a space built for 3,000 in Moira Refugee Camp. In the words of a Doctor working there, it is a place of violence, deprivation, suffering and despair.
We are asking people to donate to provide shelter for them at this time of need. Please read their story and, if you can, please give anything. Thank you.
“One night, after we had been in Turkey for six months, we were taken by mini-van to a remote forest near the coast. There were eighteen men, women and children crammed into this tiny vehicle. When we arrived, it was so dark we couldn’t tell how many others were already there - our ‘family’ group of eight kept close to one another."
"At 1:00 am we were told to lie on the ground and be still, no lights, no mobile phones. We had to wait in silence for the smugglers to arrive."
"We were anxious and fearful, not just about the journey ahead of us, but because we had been in situations like this before, once when the smuggler we had trusted with our precious money had suddenly shouted that the police were coming, and we should scatter into the darkness. Lost in the countryside we never saw the smuggler again, or the 4,800 US dollars we had paid him – every refugee will experience loss, exploitation and robbery at the hands of the authorities or smugglers."
"At 4:00 am the smugglers arrived and we had to carry all the equipment for the sea crossing: Petrol, the outboard motor, the deflated rubber dingy. The steep coastal terrain was hazardous in the darkness."
"At 6:00 am, it was still dark when we were finally on the beach of the small cove, the inflatable was made ready and loaded. We still had no idea exactly how many of us there were, but it was obvious that it was too many for the size of the dingy – men, women, some very young children and even babies."
"We were lucky because the sea was calm, but it was dark. Then, no more than 50 meters from the shore, we were shocked when the smuggler who was operating the motor transferred to another boat. He told us that the lights in the distance was the town of Mytilini, to travel straight ahead and we would come to Lesvos. Suddenly we were alone. None of us had any knowledge of outboard motors or navigation. But, close to 7:00am the sky began to lighten as dawn broke and we could see in the distance the island of Lesvos."
"A Greek coast guard vessel had seen us and alerted the authorities who were waiting on the shore. The propeller of the engine broke on the rocks as we neared the shallows and we climbed into the sea to get to the shore. It was 9:45 am. The authorities counted us and we finally discovered that there were fifty seven of us.”
This group of eight Palestinian refugees arrived on the island of Lesvos, Greece on the 1st March 2020. This was the very last vessel to arrive. Most of this group had spent months in Turkey awaiting a chance to reach Europe. They had not known each other before their paths crossed in Turkey. But they banded together and became a family unit to support and protect each other during their journey. The group is young. Four of the men are aged between twenty two and thirty two. One woman is thirty two and her daughter is two years old. Another woman is twenty three and is married to one of the men. The oldest member of the group is thirty five and from Gaza.
One commented, “Yes, if we were not Palestinians, united, believing in better days to come, we would have perished long time ago."
Most of the group had fled Yarmouk, Damascus in Syria – a Palestinian refugee camp that was torn apart by opposing sides in the civil war that started in 2011. Yarmouk has been completely decimated and many have fled to refugee camps in Lebanon. The individuals in the group were determined to make the perilous journey to Europe via Turkey. Which is how they all came to be standing wet and cold on a beach that March morning on the Greek island of Lesvos.
“Two members of the group are women. They continuously cry with worry about their situation. Small amounts of food are provided by an organisation, so we try to reach a supermarket to do shopping with the little money we have. We have tried to find work, but without success – a situation made worse by the Covid pandemic.”
“Some of the group have family in other European countries, but they have not received their papers and therefore are stuck in legal limbo as they don’t qualify for family reunification. Some of those families in Europe who had been working sent us money, but because they have lost their jobs due to the Covid pandemic, that help has ended. Sumud in Arabic means resilience and we are trying to keep strong . . . we keep thinking what shall we do, what shall we do, the rent, the food . . . this is a big problem, it is very stressful.”
“We came here because we don’t have any life. We need to make a new life. We want to work and integrate into society. We are not asking for special treatment – just for humanity. We are not coming here as tourists. There are wars where we come from and we don’t have any place to go back to. Where we are from people have no money for food because of war. There are no human rights there, so we want to come to Europe, to live in a democracy and have the opportunity to make a better life."
"To all those who have done their best to help us, on my behalf and on behalf of everyone in our group, we thank you all at this very difficult time we are in. We are trying to keep smiling, to keep joking, to be optimistic all the time.”
Palestinian man from Gaza (35 years old)
- Jessica Svetal
- Una Chambers
Organizer and beneficiary
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