In a few hours I will make my way to the airport to fly to Greece, which as far as I’m generally concerned, whether in the midst of a crisis (refugee, economic or otherwise) is one of the best places to be in Europe. Unless, apparently, you’re someone fleeing persecution. My perception of this paradise was shattered when images of dead babies washing up on sandy shores appeared on my television screen. I’ve studied international law, I’m halfway through an LLM in human rights, I’m not ignorant of how population movements work and the risks people take. I come from a country where ‘Stop the boats’ became some kind of sick national slogan that was shouted out at any opportunity to justify a breathtakingly cruel policy. When baby Aylan washed up on a Turkish beach I was horrified, but not surprised, and sceptical over how long international outrage would last.
So I’m not naive, but this is Europe, this is the richest continent in the world- and children are dying in the arms of volunteers and aid workers because they don’t have enough blankets to wrap hypothermic babies in when they are pulled out of the water. The people rescuing, feeding and clothing these desperate individuals are volunteers and already struggling locals. And I just don’t understand how that is possible. If there was a massive earthquake in the Med tomorrow (yes, realise that is unlikely, but humour me) the EU would mobilise in seconds with supplies, aid and support. Why is this not being done now? For a union that is supposedly built on the principles of humanity and the European Convention on Human Rights, it’s really doing a piss poor job of responding.
And as I lay on the couch drinking wine like some kind of gluttonous Cleopatra, watching the TV and getting fired up as I usually do about why doesn’t someone do something- I realised that I was laying on the couch- and watching TV- and getting fired up. And that wasn’t helping anyone.
I’ve long been concerned with the plight of refugees. Since high school when a rather eccentric history teacher used to open every class by denouncing John Howard’s breach of international law, I cared. And as I learned more and more, I cared more. I don’t believe these people are any different to you or I, or that in their position we would do anything differently. I believe that when you are afraid for you life, it is human nature to grab the people you love if you can, and to run. I believe that if someone I loved had a chance to escape and for whatever reason I couldn’t, I would tell them to go. And I believe that sorting these human beings into more or less deserving or legitimate categories of refugees dehumanises us all.
So I decided to go and speak to these people myself. In the hope that maybe one person will hear their story through me and put themselves in their shoes. Almost immediately I was overwhelmed with support from people all over the world. People who I haven’t spoken to in a long time, people who I haven’t known that long at all, and people who I’ve just met, but who were so quick and willing to offer support and encouragement in any way that they could. Proof that anyone who tells you spending the majority of your time and money on travelling for the better part of your 20s is wasteful and you should get a safe job and buy a house, has absolutely zero idea what they’re talking about. I am humbled by how many amazing individuals I know. Many of you have asked me if you can contribute, and while I thank you from the bottom of my heart, it was always my intention to self-fund this experience. Donations to help the people of Lesbos and volunteers help the refugees can be made to the amazing team at RefugEase.
When I met with a colleague at work before I left this week he cocked his head questioningly and asked me if I really knew what I was doing. And the answer is a clear no. But I’m going to do it anyway.