You may forget
but let me tell you
some future time
will think of us
Sappho (c. 613 B.C.)
– Greek poet living on Lesvos
Lesvos, Greece – 10km from the Turkish boarder
Standing atop van, vigorously waving an orange life jacket over his head a handsome Spanish lifeguard takes a quick selfie, then refocuses on the horizon. Below him 6 of his fellow life guards dressed in neon yellow and oranges, human pylons, circled up to form a target for refugee boats. 10 or so photographers, a strange mix of seasoned pro’s, bloggers, amateurs and artists, mill about the life jacket covered beach. In the distance the Coast Guard cutters of Greece and Turkey troll by absently, in the foreground orange life jackets glint on the black of imitation zodiac puttering to us. Rumors is the orange life jacket go for more, 125 euro and up but most are fake, overpriced placebo’s. Thankfully Turkey clearly visible 10k away, as refugees usually pilot the boats themselves on the normally calm, transparent Aegean sea; a playground of the rich. The air is filled with stones clacking together as the Spanish lifeguards, Scandinavian volunteers, British doctors and the photographers surge forward clapping and cheering, prompting the passenger to cheer. Squeaking rubber against the smooth stones, signals the decent, babies and children are whisked off first, as the rest one by one out the front into the sea of helping hands and emergency blankets. Laughing, crying, praying, pulling out phones, calling family or taking selfies, men, women, children finally out of the hands of human traffickers. After landing they walk 1-5 kilometers of winding dirt road running the coast to the bus stops to take them two one of the two transit camps, Oxy or Skala to get food and water, dry clothes and a bus ticket to the refugee camps of Moria and Kara Tepe for processing and ferry passage to the mainland.
On the look out for boats, the arrivals are endless, day and night. the rescue is a patchwork of well meaning agency’s with varied levels of experience and scope that can lead to friction.
Scouring the shore strewn with life jackets
on the beach a boat cruises towards shore.
Night on the beach, this is a lucky landing surrounded by life guards and jet-skis. Many night landing are received by a handfull of smugglers, there to recover the engine of the boat.
A familiar scene on the beaches of Lesvos, emergency blankets swaddle distressed children as the aid workers mill around.
Fresh off the boat paramedics use smelling salt you revive, a woman battles hypothermia and shock.
“The Albanian Mafia, in its entirety, constitutes one of the highest crime generating elements in the world … The massive logistics to almost anywhere and the syncretic nature of Albanian crime has facilitated its establishment outside of the mother country and its integration with the local criminality, exploiting the opportunities inherent in the entire compatriot network.”
–Wikipedia Albanian Mafia
As the last of life jacketed step off the boat a handful of rough hewn swarthy men immediately begin slashing the boat, pulling out the make shift floor boards and lugging the outboard engine onto the back of a pick up truck. Just another day at the job for the Albanian Mafia henchmen, normally narcotics traffickers but due to market conditions have become human traffickers, adapting their logistics chain to fill the demand, each person on the boat is paying $1000-2000. The smugglers Crossing at night is much riskier; the refugees are more shaken and dazed or hysterical. At night the Albanians would sit by bonfires on the beach, drinking taking phone calls, flashing lights then finally going meet the boat, sometimes the only people there to greet them. “They are doing the job the coast guard should be doing” a Greek Coast Guards officer told us.
Afghans told us you could book your passage from online, a one time fee to be passed through a network of smugglers and onto the shore of Europe. Trafficking networks have always existed but now they are being flooded with legitimate war refugees with legally protected status unable to find safe passage because the legal political systems are unable to find solutions forcing them into the hands of smugglers. IOM reports that over 3000 people have died crossing to Europe. If the refugees were given status trip from turkey to Greece is simple, ferries make the journeys everyday, safely and legally, at 1/100th the black market ticket price.
Just off the boat, this woman prepares for the two mile walk to the bus pick up.
Spanish life guards waiting for boats at dusk
Media madness on the beach, a mix of pro’s, amateurs and artists giving the scene a surreal feeling, comfort and suffering such close quarters.
Children are picked out of the boats first and passed on shore for a quick check up and wrapped in blankets.
A local farmer makes his way through a crowd of freshly landed refugees on the 15km stretch of beach where 90% of the refugees land. Lesvos is an simple island covered olive trees, the staple of the economy, and monasteries.
The arrivals are emotional moments, finally on European soil there is a sense of relief and feeling of welcome.
“Wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men…because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.”
–Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 100 Years Of Solitude
100 years ago Albanian Muslims, absorbed by Greece after the Balkan war, were deported to Turkey in a religious cleansing/population swap, scattering the Albanian diaspora over the Balkans and uprooting 1.2 million Greek Christians back to Greece on the same trade routes running from a Turkish genocide as the Ottoman Empire crumbled. 100 years later, the conditions are much the same, massive ethnic tension, war and reports of genocide, the fall out of other wars that destabilized the region. Ending the war is a clear solution to the problem, easier said then done but till then the handling of refugees with dignity and humanity through legal channels creating safe passage. Fiscal pragmatism is the key to creating new routes of passage, money will always create access Europe in ability to allow access only empowers the existing back channels, empowering those networks to wreak further criminal havoc in our world. All this money and human potential is passing through the most economically fragile country in Europe, why can’t this be harnessed to help lift the Greek economy out of the mire.
Morning at Camp OXY, a transition camp where people are fed clothed and put on bus’s to processing camps near the main port.
In the OXY transition camp, grand parents traveling with grand kids in a desperate attempt to salvage a future for the next generation.
Every method imaginable is used to protect children and goods from the cold and wet on the 10 km passage from Turkey to Greece.
Dusk at Moria Camp. Families outside the camp fence huddle around open fires in olive orchard.
Outside camp Moria. Where to bite when you are 3 apples deep after waiting in line for a half hour to get the fruit? The shock was evident in the faces and actions of the children.
Outside of Camp Moria, Swedish aid group gives out evening snacks.
The Paris attacks rocked our trip to the Lesvos, our whole crew has family there. That day we spoke to refugees none of them were callous to the suffering or said “welcome to our world”, but instead seemed deeply saddened and concerned. They are doctors, lawyers, people with smart phones, people like you fleeing a genocide and collateral damage of a war the whole world has a hand in. Daesh will not go so quietly into the night. Attacking Paris, stirring the bee’s next of NATO while casting doubt on the refugees work to create more of them but giving them less places to go. Deash wants to see the end of western civilization, to see us burn, to see backlash against refugee by Europeans. As Europe closes it’s boarders, xenophobia spreads and refugees cry to be recognized and protected by laws the Europeans created to protect Europeans after world war one. A century later, all has been forgotten, the new refugees of our new proxy world war; only today the world is watching live, leaving clever comments and heartfelt likes on facebook; making us all complicit to this crime against humanity
“What has come to light is neither nihilism nor cynicism, as one might have expected, but a quite extraordinary confusion over elementary questions of morality—as if an instinct in such matters were truly the last thing to be taken for granted in our time.”
― Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil
Red cross tend to refugees as the smugglers strip the boat anything valuable. The smuggling route is a established, they have simply switched merchandise.
On the bus to the port to catch the boat to the European mainland, the last leg of a harrowing voyage out of war.