Last month, on the spur of the moment, I was looking at flights for Greece. This idea had long been in my mind. All the people I see arriving, all the images we are shown in the news: how does it look like in real? Do they have enough people to help? Can there ever be enough people to help? Do they have enough people reporting on what is happening?
I always thought about humanitarian work as something one had to do very far away from home. Because home is so safe. This is a naive assumption, as plenty people also need support right here, and that has not started with the “refugee crisis”.
As a journalist I have been talking about this crisis quite a lot over the past months. Yet something really bothers me about it. The refugees are not the ones creating the crisis, we are. By not letting them reaching our shores safely. You can see the Turkish coastline from Lesvos, can’t you? I haven’t been there, I will figure that out in a week’s time. But if you can see it, how comes one would rather spend billions in trying to prevent people to cross that tiny space of water instead of making sure they cross safely. Or better even, simply allowing them in the first place the luxury we are, here in Europe, all entitled to: a safe passage to point A to point B without needing to undertake a harrowing trip to the Greek Islands? Why have 17 children died yesterday at sea and at least 28 adults with them? What is the point in allowing such a shameful waste of life to happen? We can’t say we don’t know, not this time round, can we?
That’s because of all these questions that I felt the need to go see by myself, to not turn a blind eye. Here in Berlin volunteers are still active, trying to protect migrants from the cold. The cold temperatures first and foremost, but also cold hearts that allow them to suffer from the cold in the first place. Cold selfish souls who call for the closure of the borders. The same cold souls that don’t give a damn whether people fled war, and who can’t understand the concept of risking everything in a bid to secure a better life for your children. Upon reading some comments and some news, seeing that more and more refugee shelters open, but more and more are being targeted by extremists, one word comes to mind: obscurantism. Dark ages. Dark times. But also, crucially, defining times for humanity. How can you advocate humanity and let that happen right in front of you? Isn’t now the time to stand and work, really hard, at a better world? How can it be a good world for a selected and lucky few only?
Everyday in the subway I see refugees, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups of friends or families. More often than not, carrying along all their belongings. They look around, with wide, and tired, ever so tired eyes. They’re dirty, still, and don’t wear clothes that can protect them for the unforgiving winter temperatures. Each time, when I approach them and ask them if they need help, my heart breaks when I see their eyes first showing fear, then suspicion, then fear again, before they realize that they’re alone in the world anyway and that they have to take a chance to trust a stranger if they don’t want to be left to fend for themselves in a world that is entirely and overwhelmingly foreign to them. In a bid to reassure them I often flash my “Refugees Welcome” badge at them, and more often than not that’s enough to reassure them, but ill-intentioned people could equally print such badges. When is it ever the end of the journey for the refugees I meet? When will they ever be allowed to feel safe again?
As I’m getting organized for the trip to Greece, I read the latest posts and comments on the Facebook group used to provide information to new volunteers: “I just met a woman with a torn muscle in her wrist, from all the CPR she performed”, “Pictures of corpses are no longer accepted”… I wish it were a joke, and I try to brace myself for the storm of emotions that will most likely follow.