The Next Chapter

Hello wonderful humans who followed my rambling thoughts through this blog over 2015/16.

A lot has changed since I last wrote, for one I now live permanently in the Greece on the crazy little island where this story began.

It has taken some time to get back on the writing wagon but at last I am back, just in a slightly different location. You can now find my future ramblings here –https://fromgreecewithlove.wordpress.com/

It is a new chapter but it’s more less just the same nonsensical thoughts of a Scottish girl on a Greek island trying to make sense of the world.

I hope to see you there!

Peace and love x

Advertisements

The Times They Are A’Changing.

For the last year, From Scotland With Love, has been my own personal outpouring of thoughts whilst witnessing a humanitarian crisis upon Europe’s shores. It began as a place where I could ramble away my most innermost feelings and perceptions on sleepless nights to try and make sense of the realities I couldn’t believe I was really witnessing. I was surprised and touched when people began to follow these ramblings and used my words to help raise awareness of what was happening on this little Greek island.

 
Since I first sat down to begin to try and tell this story over a year ago, I have lived the best of times and the worst of times. There are no words that can truly sum up what this year has taught me or shown me but bearing witness to this time in our modern history will stay with me forever.

 
At this point, it is time to move on to the next chapter in my personal story. The last post I wrote for this blog – September 29th 2015/2016 I feel is the best way to end this chapter, as it sums up a year as a volunteer, standing in solidarity through the good times and the bad. I have met the most incredible people on this journey and I found myself not only friends in Kos but a family. I will remain here, supporting refugees, but in a different capacity. I hope to continue writing, but in a time of transition and new beginnings, my writing will also move to new avenues.

 
I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who supported me personally over this last year, but more importantly to everyone who supported the cause of solidarity. In difficult times when hatred becomes louder and more outspoken, it is more important now more than ever not to forget about the plight of refugees and migrants, who we cannot forget are human beings, people who find themselves with these labels but who deserve as much from this life as you or me.

 
We are all human beings and we all deserve to be treated as such.

 
I’m not closing the book, I’m just turning the page.

 

Peace, love and solidarity to all!

 

Thank you.

September 29th 2015/2016

One year ago today I set foot on the island of Kos for the first time. A few weeks previously I had read an article in the Daily Mail that had sickened me so much as a British Citizen that I had booked a flight to Kos, somewhat spontaneously, to try and lend a hand in whatever way I could in the refugee response. I intended to stay a week or so, and yet here I am a year later. This is the story of then and now, as I saw it, as I see it. 

On the evening of September 29th 2015, a budget airline flight touched down on the tarmac of Kos airport and an anxious little red head from Scotland stumbled out. After a reasonably overpriced tourist Taxi to the main town, she found herself being welcomed by a very friendly hotelier, who advised there were many volunteers staying at his establishment and that everyone would be more than happy to help her find her feet. As she dumped her bags down in her apartment, she had just sat down upon the bed to take a breath when there was a knock at the door. She was greeted by the smiles of two fellow international volunteers, a cheery Austrian and a lovely Swede who asked if she would like to go down to the port to find out about the Night Shifts, so she would have an idea what to expect. She gladly accepted this kind offer and strolled off down to the port, with visions of headlines and horror swirling in her mind but an enthusiastic smile fixed firmly on her face. Before midnight on September 29th 2015, this girl was already searching for the victims of a possible shipwreck after an empty boat had washed up ashore. She found out the next morning the bodies of a young family had been found in the water.

 
From that moment on the girls life would never be the same. But this is not the story of this girl. I may be this girl but this is not my story. This is the story of Kos.

 

One year on since the day the girl arrived, the island is trying to move on from the events of the last year and the way they have chosen to do this is to sweep the refugees under the rug, wipe away any evidence of what happened here and do as much as possible to make the issues disappear, out of sight, out of mind.

Here are the pictures of now with the stories of then, although you may not see anything now, this story should not be forgotten.

 

THE PORT

One year ago today, this stretch was the very public face of the refugee crisis in Kos. Tent’s lined these streets, filled with people who had made the journey across the sea from Bodrum to Kos. There were never enough tents so many simply slept on the streets. In the mornings, lines of people could be seen waiting for something to eat, the local baker would open the back of a truck and give whatever he had. Solidarity would be there with boxes of donated breakfasts visiting the tents and making sure everyone had something to eat. In September on any given day there could be anything from 500-1000 making the port their temporary home, in the previous months this number was much greater.

 
In the evenings Solidarity volunteers would again be there for food distribution, handing out sandwiches which they had prepared during the day. It wasn’t much, but it was something and of course it wasn’t all about handing out food, it was about the human connection. There was always a laugh and a joke, some terrible attempts at learning Arabic, Urdu or Farsi and the general feeling that we were all in this together in the real spirit of solidarity. It was not the charity of giving to the poor, it was sharing what we had with those that in need but on a level, as an equal with mutual respect and dignity.

 
And when the sun went down, the arrivals would begin. Groups of volunteers would gather around big plastic bags filled with donated clothes and blankets, biscuits and water and would wait patiently to welcome people to Europe. Volunteers were the first point of contact. The boats did not arrive here, generally, they would arrive at two beaches, both approx 5 km from this point. From the shore the people had to walk to the port to register, this is why the volunteer base was here as a central point, but volunteers were also at the beaches on patrol or to try and give lifts to the most vulnerable, the injured and the old that could not walk the 5km to the town. There was no support from the government, there was no on the ground support from NGO’s overnight. The first and only response at this point was from the volunteers.

 
Many people arrived with nothing but the clothes they stood in, many of those clothes were completely soaked through from the sea. Volunteers had little to offer, but the most important thing they had was humanity. All night, every night they were there, with a smile in the darkness.

 

 

THE PARK (THE JUNGLE)

 
Here today stands an Archaeological park but one year ago today this was a makeshift refugee camp which was home for the majority of the single men. MSF (Medicins Sans Frontiers) erected large tents which were designed to hold around 30 people but they were overcrowded with many, many more as there were simply not enough shelters. There were very basic facilities available in the park such as toilets and showers, not enough for the number of people residing there but MSF tried their best to provide what they could in a hostile political situation with a very, very unsupportive Mayor.

 
The park was also where lunch would be served, hot meals were prepared by a small German volunteer group who fundraised to have a local hotel prepare food daily. All food distributions were carried out by volunteers and usually a couple of refugees volunteering their translation skills as at this point there was no translation service or staff available outside of the UNHCR asylum law advisors who worked within the police station.

 
The jungle was not a pleasant place to be, after a few busy nights it could become extremely overcrowded and the mix of nationalities and cultures being forced into such close proximity with issues like food shortages, clothing shortages and many having to go barefoot due to limited donations, created tensions.

 

 

THE POLICE STATION


Outside now everything seems calm and quiet but one year ago today, at any given moment, hundreds of people could be seen waiting outside for the next steps of their registration process so that they could move on to the next stage of their journey.

 
The registration had three stages. Firstly when someone arrived in the night from a boat they had to register before 5am to take the first registration document with their number which was generally referred to as the “small paper.” Once they had this they had to wait anything from 24 hours to 4/5 days depending on how busy the island had been for arrivals, to have a formal meeting within the police station to take the “big paper.” The names and numbers would be put up on a board every day outside the station to see who would be able to take their paper that day, some people had to wait longer than others and although it was denied officially there was a hierarchy of nationalities which upset many people. The “big paper” then allowed the people to leave the island, providing they had the funds for the rest of their journey. The ferry to Athens left daily and cost around 54 Euros.

 

One year ago today this police station was also home to unaccompanied children who were locked up in dirty cells without adequate food or sanitation with adult prisoners. The human rights violations that were committed within these walls were so great it is almost impossible to believe it really happened in a European country in 2015.

 

 

THE LIGHTHOUSE

14470886_1456998780982087_217625082_n
Now this lighthouse is exactly what is has always been, a lighthouse on a picturesque coastline but one year ago today this was beacon which led the way for many across the Aegean sea. The distance is not far from Bodrum in Turkey to Kos, at it’s closest point it is around 6km.

 
On this day, one year ago, this coastline was scattered with life jackets, many of which were fake, manufactured in an illegal factory and when cut open could be found to contain materials such as straw and paper.

 
In Turkey, the people would pay their smuggler anything from 800 to thousands of Euro’s, then some were given life jackets, some were real, some were fake and then they would be sent of on their journey usually headed towards the light of this lighthouse. Some smugglers drove the bigger, more expensive and safer boats across, would throw the people out somewhere near the coast so as not to get caught and would then head back for the next trip. The smaller boats and dinghy’s were usually driven by a reluctant refugee, many of whom had no experience of powering a boat. The boats were of such bad quality many engines broke down before they reached the shore and people had to try to paddle or would float in the sea for many, many hours before they found help. Sadly we are all too aware of what happened to the many boats which could not withstand the journey and sunk on the way, even in such a short stretch of water so, so many lives were lost.

 
When the boats did make it to the Lighthouse, they were usually greeted by a line of cars from independent volunteers and groups who wanted to provide the first response. The beach here is not particularly rocky like the televised scenes in Lesvos so there was rarely ever a need for anyone to have to go into the water to guide the boats in. People would wait in their cars with binoculars to try and spot any incoming boats and then would prepare some blankets, water and possibly high energy biscuits. When the boats landed on the shore they would check everyone was OK and then guide them to the registration point at the port.

 
This was a very emotional time for many refugees as they first set foot in Europe, there were many tears, many smiles, many hugs and religious gesturing. This was also a very popular place for photographers and journalists as upon the beach there was real human emotion in it’s purest, rawest form.

 

 

THE FERRY DEPARTURE

img_3447
This busy ferry port was witness to some of the most moving moments for many volunteers on the island. Every evening this was a place which was charged with emotion and the hussle and bussle of people preparing to take the next steps towards their new lives.

 
Solidarity was there every evening distributing warm jackets, good quality shoes and backpacks for the long journey ahead of those leaving the island, many of whom were heading across Europe to Germany.

 
After the chaos of the last minute distributions, this was where many people bid farewell to those they had met as they first arrived in Europe. In the few days people waited on their registration it was very easy to build friendships and the ferry farewell was always a very bittersweet moment. Families which had first been met after the trauma of the sea, could now be seen smiling and excited about their new life, their new start, but many of us knew that the journey after Kos was not an easy one and that although we were happy to share their smiles we worried that the dream of Europe was not the reality they were about to face.

 
As the ferry departed, everyone stood on the top deck and shone out a light in the darkness from their phones out to wave goodbye.

This was a year ago today when hope still existed on the Aegean Islands.

 

NOW – THE REALITY OF EU FUNDED “HOTSPOTS”

 
On September 29th 2016, today, the situation for refugees has changed dramatically since last year. Over the course of the last year, borders slammed shut, governments built walls and fences, dodgy deals were made, propaganda ran riot and in the middle of all of this the humanity was lost, those who the consequences would affect the most were forgotten about.

 
This is now the reality in for refugees in Kos. The EU funded “hotspot” which promised a safe, short term home to those trying to seek asylum in Europe, but in reality, it opened as an under funded (who knows where the money went), unsafe, long term detention centre for anyone who arrived on these shores. Originally built with the capacity to house 800 people, this facility currently has approx 1300 residents, around 1000 housed within the containers in the main compound and the rest in a camp outside in what was built as a staff car park but became an unsanitary mess of a camp for single men deemed as migrants. When the facility opened it was a closed detention camp, now many are free to move in and out of the facility providing their papers have gone through the registration process but with nothing to do with this free time many just wander around the roads outside of the fences during the days and then return again in the evenings. Instead of being a short stay facility, due to the sluggish asylum process in Greece, many have been housed here for many months as no one can move on from the island. As conditions worsen and asylum claims delay and delay whilst more and more people are squeezed into this facility, it is a powder keg of tension.

 
Small children live behind razor wire and walk around amongst the broken windows left from fighting which happens in the nights. Unaccompanied children live in what can only be described as a cage, locked inside for “their own protection” from the rest of the residents of the camp. Pregnant women hope that their asylum process will move fast enough for them to give birth and raise their child outside of these fences but know deep down how unlikely this is in the current climate.

 
The facility and camp is run by the military and the police with the help of the few NGO’s willing to work inside a system such as this. Very few voluntary organisations cross the gates of this place and those who do generally wish they had not. There is no humanity and there is definitely no solidarity.

 
Few staff members try to do their best and provide any kindness they can in this environment but they are few and far between and it is not easy in a place filled with frustration and sadness.

 
The people who risked everything in the rubber dinghy’s traveled to Europe for a safe life, a life they could live, being left in this limbo is not living.

 
Outside of the “hotspot” there are a few charity funded apartments for those who are seen as the most vulnerable but there are not enough and it is not easy on this island to find landlords willing to cooperate with refugees or NGO’s. Over 100 unaccompanied minors also live outside in supported accommodations, many of whom have been here for 6 months or more with no information about what happens next.

 

There is then of course the issue of the unregistered, those who manage to reach the shore without being caught by the Police and Frontex patrols who do not want to be deported so they live hidden in parks and abandoned buildings. With no place they can openly ask for help as they are illegal,  they are desperate, cold and hungry and there is no one legally that can assist them. This is a very worrying consequence of the EU Turkey deal.

 

The Refugee Crisis in Kos is now heard but not seen. The “hotspot” facility is many miles away from the main town in an attempt to keep the issue as hidden as possible to the outside world. The locations where the story of the last year played out have been wiped clean as if nothing ever happened. What happened here on these shores, on the ports, in the streets was far from OK, it was a terrible situation but somewhere in amongst the chaos there was an essence of human spirit and a hope for something better. Now what happens here and on the other Greek islands is nothing short of torture for those who did nothing wrong other than try to live.

 
I hope with all my heart that humanity is restored to these islands one day, and I hope it will be one day soon.

14372057_1260890497274554_6401690260070591832_o.jpg

From Scotland with love x

 

 

Many thanks to Robert Mehlan for the Featured Image of volunteers on the port last year.

 

 

Volunteers – We’re All In This Together

It is no secret that volunteers were there when nobody else was when the little boats began arriving on Greek shores. It is no secret that volunteers were there when thousands of people made an unofficial border camp in Calais their home. It is no secret that volunteers have been the first responders on all fronts of Europe’s, “Refugee Crisis,” but as many people find themselves realising they have been involved in this for a year or more, perhaps this is a good time for some reflection as a whole.

 

I want to share some of my own thoughts, my own personal views coming from the perspective of professional Volunteers Coordinator in a previous life and as a volunteer for a number of small and large organisations for most of my life.

 
I myself have been volunteering supporting refugees on the Greek island of Kos since last September, I arrived as many others did as an unskilled independent volunteer with a little pot of fund-raised cash and the will to help where ever I could in solidarity with both refugees and local Greek people. I very quickly was welcomed into the hearts of the locals of the solidarity movement and a year later find myself here as one of them, almost as a local, but at the same time I am not. I find this position interesting as it gives a perspective somewhere in the middle of the locals vs foreigners debates I see cropping up. Today, I feel prompted to write something which I do hope people do not take offence to but that can open up a discussion about what a volunteers place is within the refugee response.

 
When I woke up this morning I read an article in the Independent accusing the “young female volunteers” in the Calais jungle of having inappropriate sexual relationships with refugee residents of the camp. It was prompted by a heated debate which has been active within forums for many weeks now, a debate I have been following as it is a discussion which within an NGO would never have to happen as these relationships are quite obviously wrong from a professional perspective, but is there a difference when it comes to volunteers? My personal opinions on this aside, I was glad when I first seen this as I believe it is an important discussion within the volunteer community about appropriate behaviour, but then I saw how negatively this was being received outside of this community. It seems this article has created a very nasty backlash of a blanket accusation that all young women became involved in volunteering for sex and attention, which of course, as a young women, I find hugely offensive and completely missing the point of the discussion. The article does, however, raise the very important point that volunteers are individuals and that in this crisis, no one was checking up on who we were, what we were doing and what our purpose or reasons were for being involved. When I was a Volunteers Coordinator, I would never have let anyone near the vulnerable young people I worked with unless they had been on a six week training course and had completed a police check, at least, and yet on Greek beaches, unchecked, people were holding strangers babies and changing young kids out of wet clothes. But in this emergency response there was trust and I know that the majority of people involved were deserving of this trust but at the same time, we should all remain awake and vigilant to things we see which are not OK when people are placed in these positions of trust.

 
Interestingly, this article has now prompted suggestions of censorship within groups because you never know who is reading what and what journalists can take from discussions on open Facebook groups. This idea of censorship is something I noticed yesterday in another islands information page where a local Greek was trying to explain a situation and was, constructively, criticising some international volunteers behaviour. They were suggesting that comments they made would be deleted if they did not buy into the “back patting” of international volunteers who sometimes seem like they are involved more for media publicity rather than silently getting on with the nitty gritty like the majority of the local Greek volunteers. I don’t know the background behind this particular debate but it is something I can most definitely relate to. We all know that volunteer who showed up at a beach and grabbed the nearest baby when they knew there was someone with a camera nearby but we don’t all know the locals who have spent almost every day for more than a year now running around doing all the jobs that are not so headline grabbing but are necessary. I see this issue very clearly as an international volunteer, no matter how long I have been here or have been involved I will never have the same knowledge or understanding as the true locals here. At the same time though I think it’s important to note there shouldn’t be a locals vs foreigners situation, all there needs to be is a mutual respect which is gained by listening. If a crisis happened in the town you have lived your life in and people who have never been there before start telling you what to do with no prior context then I’m sure this would frustrate you, but the fact is everyone can benefit if we all just work together. If we can stand side by side with refugees from any country and proclaim that we are in solidarity this must also extend to the locals of Greece and of France who have been helping this cause probably for longer than you and who understand the situation better.

 

 

Which brings me on to the next issue I cannot get out of my head. Last year when the movement of volunteers began, locals, internationals, everyone was responding to emergency situations in places where NGO’s and local councils had not reacted quickly enough, but now this situation on a whole has changed. Now less and less of us are spending our nights watching for boats but we are supporting camps, starting integration projects, and apparently as I have seen on more than one GoFundMe, fundraising to support prisons with blankets and food. I pass no judgements on what people choose do if they believe they are helping, I was here when the borders were open, I was here when they closed, I was here before the EU Turkey Deal and I’m sure I will be when it collapses but all of these things led me to a difficult internal battle about what I could do when people became prisoners of the state and where the lines blurred between helping refugees and helping governments and authorities to do not so nice things. As I said I do not pass judgement, I know where I stand now, but perhaps it is good every now and then to stand back and take a breath and reflect on what a volunteers place is. Is it really an independent volunteers place to be furnishing Greek prisons?

 
We came here to help those in need, I think it’s important sometimes to stop and think who are we helping sometimes.

 
Also last week saw the Secret Aid Worker article published in The Guardian which, myself and I’m sure many, many others related to about the failings of NGO’s in Greece. I am not anti NGO, far from it, but the things I have seen over the last year destroyed any faith I had in many of them , not all, some NGO’s have been excellent but many of them should be utterly ashamed. It seems now that many of them are established here in Greece and they have the funding, millions and millions of funding might I add, yet they still rely on the goodwill of volunteers to carry out work which really they should be doing. Volunteers are very much being taken advantage of in this sense, and I think also this is something which needs to be addressed. Volunteers should not be guilted into carrying out work which an NGO has been funded to do, can hire staff to do (which in Greece is incredibly important), but chooses to ask volunteers to do because they will do it because “they want to help.”

 

 
Thousands of international volunteers have been active now in Europe for over a year. I have seen with my own eyes how important their presence has been. Without them I do not know what would have happened but I think it’s necessary to admit not everything that has been done in the name of volunteering has been positive. I know myself I was in situations way above my head which I did not know how to handle and yet there was no one else there so I had to handle them, and now I can admit not always in the best way. I always tried my best, which I am sure we all have, but we have not always done the best. First do no harm is key here, and I think this is a mantra we should all be living by as we continue on.

 

 

Right now we find ourselves in very difficult times. The rise of fascism is very apparent and it’s voice is getting louder and louder. The threats grow and the attacks become more common and more violent. As volunteers we are vulnerable and we must stick together and keep ourselves safe. The issues I raised in this are simply thoughts I have been having that I wanted to get out of my head as I see these issues being used within the volunteer community to attack others and to break morale. We need to have these discussions, but we need to respect each other and have them so we can improve our response, so we respond to the needs, so we can fill the gaps as we always have. We are not heroes, we have not been sent here by whatever deity you worship to save the world. We are just people, doing what people should do, in the hope that in our time of need others would do the same for us.

 
Let’s stand together, let’s respect each other, and please let’s be honest.

 

 

I am honoured to be a part of this community of volunteers who were there when nobody else was, and I send my love, strength and support to everyone who over this last year seen things they never imagined they would see and lived experiences they never imagined they’d have in their lives whilst supporting those Europe turned their back on.

 

Alan Kurdi, One Year On.

It’s a year ago today since a picture woke up the world. A picture that made everyone stop and look. A picture that made those “swarms” we were warned of into something that had been left out of the narrative, a picture that reminded us that a refugee crisis was a human crisis.

People stopped. People thought. People cried. People organised. People acted.

A picture of a tiny lifeless body, not the first and most definitely not the last. A picture that we could put a name to, put a story to, that we could relate to. What if that was our child, our brother, our cousin, our friend? This child was a life, not a statistic.

This picture created an outcry. Everyone knew this could not continue. This had to stop.

There was a movement, an incredible social movement from the town halls of sleepy Scottish towns, to the “Jungle” of Calais, to the beaches of the Greek islands and every where in between.

But where do we find ourselves a year later?

The little boy from that picture and his brother climbed in a dinghy in an attempt to reach Kos, where I have spent most of the last year. I can tell you now, that although you may not have seen any pictures or know their names, there were many, many more children lost attempting that same journey. The boats never stopped.

Hundreds of people continue to die at sea trying to reach Greece and Italy, this has never stopped.

And what happened to the children that survived, who made it to Europe for a new, safe life. Well now, they are held in overcrowded detention centres, behind razor wire fences. Lacking education, lacking dignity, lacking respect, lacking hope. Now babies are born into Europe’s makeshift prison camps.

Now they are forgotten, now they are ignored. The outcry has become a whisper.

Today we remember the little boy, all the little boys, the little girls, the babies, the men and the women who lost their lives in those boats because they truly believed the sea was safer than the land.

Today please let us not forget that this crisis is not over.

A Ramble On My Ramblings…

Today, for the first time since I started writing this blog almost a year ago, I decided to go back to the beginning and read it start to finish. In the tradition of how it all began as sleep deprived ramblings, I thought today would be a good day to reflect. I don’t know why I’ve never gone back to the start of the story, I guess if I am completely honest a part of me was a little scared to remember. I, of course, still have all the memories of the last year in my mind, but there’s something about reading the words, feeling all the feelings I felt when I chose to record those thoughts in this blog, that scared me.

 
I have said from day one this blog was never set up for any purpose rather than an outlet for my rambling thoughts and hopefully, possibly a way to create a bit of awareness through said rambling thoughts. I have been utterly surprised and unbelievably humbled by how many people have read my words and so moved by those who have used it to help spread awareness in their own ways. I still just see it as being a bit of a disjointed collection of sleep deprived rants and streams of consciousness so I am so touched to find out that it has been used in so many productive ways by dear friends and even the odd stranger to spread the message that we are all human beings and we all deserve to be treated as such.

 
The last few weeks I have been back in Scotland doing a job which requires meeting a lot of new people and the question of what I do with my life has come up so many times. This is the longest time I’ve been back in the UK this year and I have, along with almost everyone I know, been waiting for the last year to really catch up with me. The response, “that sounds… eh… difficult,” has come up so many times over the last few weeks and although I have tried to shrug it off with smiles in an attempt not to completely kill casual light conversation – yes, they are right, it has been difficult.

 
I will be back in Greece in a week, walking back into the ever changing, ever more difficult situation there. I do now have other reasons to be in Greece than when I first arrived there, I have my own personal reasons, but at the heart of it all is still that I am in a position where I can help and I want to help those that Europe turned their backs on. We are all human beings, we all deserve basic human rights, basic human kindness and I still want to stand side by side in solidarity with those who are still being denied this even after all this time.

 
Reading back my own little personal story of my insignificant role in this entire crisis was… difficult. It’s very easy to stick everything in a box and lock it up in the back of your mind, but if you keep pushing more and more into that box eventually the lock will break. The old saying that you have to help yourself before you can help others is fundamental when finding yourself in such an overwhelming situation, and I think it’s very easy to forget that doesn’t just mean looking after yourself physically, but looking after yourself mentally.

 
This last year seen so many every day people put in positions they were completely untrained and under-prepared for. The benefit of the grass roots movements responding to the humanitarian crisis was that people were treated as people and their needs could be met on a human level without bureaucracy. The issue with grass roots movements was that the majority of those on the ground on the front line had never had any training on how to cope with the trauma that surrounded them. It didn’t matter if you spent a day, a week, a month or a year in Greece or Calais or anywhere on the route, it changed you and that affect is lasting.

 
I have been extremely lucky and have the most incredible solidarity support network and friends who know when I want to speak, when I want to cry, when I want to laugh or when I just want silence. But I worry that not everyone who stepped into this situation has this. If there are any fellow volunteers out there reading this, please know we all have difficult days, there is nothing wrong with not being OK about everything, you don’t have to always shrug it off, what has happened over the last year is so far from OK, witnessing that will undoubtedly have an affect and there is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. In reading back all the entries in this blog I can recognise the days when I was definitely not OK.

 
At this point last year, I was doing exactly what I’m doing today. I had just finished my August festival contract and was wrapped up in a blanket treating my exhaustion with chocolate and Netflix. But last year, I would never have just had a conversation with my boyfriend about the 1300 refugees trapped on the island of Kos as if it was just any old conversation because now, that is just my every day. At this point last year I was naive, I had no idea that I was just about to read a Daily Mail article that would make me so angry that I’d book a last minute flight to the island of Kos to see what was going on with my own eyes, to try and do anything I could to be useful to support the locals in supporting the hundreds of refugees arriving every day. Last year, I had no idea what the year ahead would hold, a year I will never forget.

 
Looking back on it all, reading all my thoughts and rambles makes it clear to me that I am very different from who I was at this point last year, but not in some kind of gap yah cliche of an OMG life changing experience. I’m still me, I’m just a me that see’s the world in a different light.

 
I still can’t believe that what is happening in Greece is still happening. On a global scale I can’t believe all the horrors are still continuing.

 
We are still very much living in a time of crisis, but it is not a Refugee Crisis. It is a crisis of humanity.

 
Nothing gets better, it all just keeps getting worse but the only thing we can do is be better.

 

 

I hope next year I can read back on words documenting a change for the better and that I can shed a few more tears of happiness than sadness, in a world where we have stopped hating and started helping. I can only hope…

 
Thank you to everyone who has ever read any of my ramblings. I can’t describe how much your support and love means and I’ll endeavour to keep documenting my nonsensical thoughts for as long as I can. Thank you.

Perspective

The Edinburgh Fringe festival, the biggest arts festival in the world. A festival that makes and breaks careers, a festival of excess, sleepless nights and one too many overpriced pints in makeshift venues across a city that comes to life for one special month of each year. The Edinburgh Fringe is my favourite place in the world in August, it doesn’t matter where I am or what I am doing I always find myself here.

 

This year is a bit interesting for me personally as it was during this festival last year that I began thinking about taking a trip to Greece, not expecting for a moment that I would spend most of the next year living on a Greek island as it experienced “Europe’s Refugee Crisis.”

 
So much has changed this year, so much has happened and to be back here seems almost surreal. We are all here again, all doing the same things, even though the world is very different.

 
What is the old saying about art imitating life?  Well, culture is represented in it’s art and being in the centre of the biggest collection of arts for a month is an interesting way to see how the world is reacting to everything that has gone on.

 
So far it feels like we are all very firmly in denial.

 
This is the longest period I have spent away from the island of Kos since last year and it is very difficult to adjust to a place that has the luxury of living in ignorance. Brexit Britain is definitely a different place to when I left, the fear and anger about the future is tangible yet contradicts itself with an overwhelming sense of hopeless apathy. Everyone feels like they have to do something about all the mess of the world, but no one knows where to start and no one believes anyone will listen or anything will change so what else is there to do but do nothing.

 
This is a feeling I can completely understand, I have felt like this many times in Kos, when you see the same horrors being repeated over and over again and nothing ever changing for the better, hopeless apathy is an easy state to slip into. But I have come to realise that doing nothing doesn’t get you anywhere, funnily enough!

 
We can’t change the world, we can’t fix all the mess, we can’t stop wars, we can’t change the corruption in our governments and in our media, but something we can do is change our perspective. We can realise that it’s not about changing the world, it’s not about the big stuff, it’s about the little things, that’s what we can change, that’s what we can do.

 
I mean this not to preach but simply that when we all feel so collectively hopeless, just by doing something, anything we can make ourselves feel somewhat better and in turn make things better in the spiraling disaster of our modern world.

 
I sit here in a place of such disproportionate privilege, I do everything to not be “that” person who just because they have been somewhere or seen something feels the need to constantly press their experiences and opinions on others but at the same time it’s difficult to have been somewhere and seen something and to say nothing.

 
In all honesty, I never really talk about what I have been doing this last year outside of this blog. Of course people will ask me, but I try to keep my answers short and sweet as generally most people become incredibly uncomfortable, incredibly quickly. Those who love me and share my views on the world worry that this crisis will have left me in some fragile state that the tiniest comment may shatter me into a million tiny pieces and those who do not share my views don’t know how to continue a conversation when a part of them believes what I’ve been doing is the cause of every bad thing in the world from their friends unemployment to ISIS.

 
A dear friend of mine has told me it’s important to keep writing and keep talking about what is going on because here, nobody has a clue anymore. To anyone in the UK, it would seem that the “problem” was fixed, there was only ever media coverage of a few of the dead, which people mourned for a moment but then quickly they became the next days chip papers, but no one ever found out or cared about what happened to the living.

 
Those who are left in camps languishing with no hope, given the most basic shelter and food, just enough to stay alive but with no sense of a life, all over Greece. Those still trapped in Turkey considering taking the dangerous journey across the Aegean where, if they make it to Greece, they will be held in detention and become prisoners. Those still trapped in war zones, those starved and held under siege, those working in the hospitals that are being blown up by those who we were told were going to fight the “bad guys,” the children trying to survive a war they were born into and have known nothing else.

 
People are committing suicide in Europe’s camps. People are still drowning in the Aegean. Turkey is NOT a safe country.

 
And yet… the day to day everyday of blissful ignorance goes on. I get it, it’s all a bit too much, it’s better just to focus on what we can control. Go and see your favourite stand up and shut yourself off from the world in a sweaty bunker somewhere in Edinburgh, go about your normal every day life, stay away from the news, stay inside the comfort zone. It’s very easy to do.

 
Since I came back a few weeks ago I have completely detached myself from what has been happening in Greece, I chose the luxury of blissful ignorance for a while to try and reset and get a bit of perspective on it all. I’ve been spending a lot of time in sweaty Edinburgh bunkers laughing away all the cynicism.

 
Living in blissful ignorance has been… well… blissful but it is weighed down by an incredible sense of guilt followed by a disbelief that people can live like this permanently. By ignoring, by closing off, by pretending something isn’t happening doesn’t mean it stops happening. The guilt I feel accumulating after a few weeks of self indulgence makes me wonder how on earth people do this for their entire lives, just pretend that everything is fine. We are all on this crazy world together, we need to care outside of our own personal bubbles.

 
I’m not saying everyone should immediately give up the day job and move to Greece and dedicate every single waking moment to the plight of others. I’m just saying, be aware, don’t just close your eyes. Read an article, sign a petition, donate a few quid, give a few hours of your Sunday afternoon to your local clothes sorting event, go to a welcoming event or cultural exchange, go to a protest, if you’re on holiday in Greece leave a pair of shoes before you leave at a collection point, or while you’re there give a morning or afternoon or even a few days to a local Greek Solidarity or volunteer group, spend a weekend in Calais, spend a week in Athens in a squat, spend a week in Berlin and meet those who made their new lives there. Do something, no matter how big or small, let’s all do something.

 
We can all be armchair warriors, but we can’t spend forever sinking deeper into the apathy and hopelessness nestled in a comfy couch cushion. If we just keep on doing the little things, the things within our reach, all those little things add up.

 

 

But, if you do choose to stay in the bubble of blissful ignorance, that is your prerogative. I’m sure nobody will judge you, but history might.

 

 

Remembering…

 

Memories are funny things, they sneak up on you when you least expect, making you feel want to have a little cry in the middle of dinner or making you burst out laughing when you are with company who would have no idea what you were talking about even if you tried to explain.

 
Now, nine months after I first arrived here expecting to stay a week or two, I more or less live in Kos. I now surround myself with people mostly who are from Kos or who have lived here for many, many years before the refugees came last year. The island for them is different, it is their home, a home with many memories before the crisis, as well as memories from the year. For me, I have no previous reference point. For me, I arrived and my first night here I found the boat from which two children and their mother drowned.

 
Over the last year, everyone has witnessed things they never thought they would have to in their lives. The locals of this island, along with the other Greek islands, have taken on so much trauma, so much pain, so much sadness. And on top of this now many of them have to bear witness to refugees, who they have dedicated the last year of their lives to helping, be locked up and detained where either due to legal questions or personal morals they cannot help in the ways they wish they could.

 

Now as you wander the streets of Kos you would have no idea what happened here. Every trace of last year has been wiped away, buried, in an attempt to forget. Now all you will find is a typical tourist destination, streets lined with sunburnt northern Europeans and Greek waiters touting for trade in a year where an island that thrived on tourism has seen great losses.

 

If you flew to this island today and spent your day in Kos town, you would have no idea that refugees had been here, never mind the fact they still are here, over 700 refugees are still here, but the majority are in a detention centre miles out of town, out of sight, out of mind.

 

Now when I watch the tourists cycle along the promenade, I remember when tents lined these streets. I remember the day of the storm when the makeshift camps were completely flooded and everyone was trying to seek shelter under the arches of the police station, when we were all knee deep in dirty water, together all trying to find a solution when a young Pakistani man offered me his jacket, the only jacket he had, because the rain had soaked through mine.

 

I remember sitting out all night, almost every night, upon that port, nervously waiting for whatever that night would bring. I remember hundreds of faces I met upon that port. I remember the hundreds of stories I heard upon that port.

 
I remember the night a woman was alone crying hanging up her soaked belongings along the benches beside the beach saying she was waiting on her children. Everything was completely wet through and there was no sign of her children. I remember a dear friend jumping frantically, in tears, out of her car telling me her son had just found a drowned child. I remember embracing her whilst looking at the lone woman still hanging up her belongings and feeling every part of my body ache. I remember the feeling of relief when the woman was reunited with her children and almost immediately after the sinking guilt of feeling relief that it wasn’t her child, but it was someones child.

 
A friend took me for coffee a few weeks ago, when we arrived at the coffee place by the shore I realised I had been there before but never during its opening hours. As I looked out to the beach there I remembered watching the police pull out a gun on a suspected smuggler in front of over a hundred terrified refugees. I remember the man being thrown into the police car while his son lay screaming in tears on the ground. I remember the bus journey into the town with the son sitting in the seat next to me sobbing uncontrollably all the way.

 

At a local hotel we drive by often, which has its own small port, I remember the night 300 people arrived in one boat. I remember the family we tried to squeeze in the car as we crossed our fingers the petrol would last to town as it had all happened so quickly. I remember that same night trying to locate a lost family on the island via a volunteer in Spain, the son of the family in Germany and two Greek Solidarity friends driving around the island searching. I remember the happy messages across our little European network when they were found safe and sound.

 
I remember the little boy playing beach volleyball with me and his wonderful laugh whist his parents, exhausted, rested after a traumatic night. I remember the kindness of his father days later when he approached me, peeled a banana and handed it to me with his hand on his heart. I remember we had no common language except respect and love, the most important language.

 

I remember meeting a dear friend as he first arrived in Europe, sadly I also remember the unpleasant German tourist who told him he wished he had drowned.

 

I remember going home for a break and sending my friend who was still in Kos a silly message one morning to get a reply that she was busy helping the police identify the dead from a horrific shipwreck.

 
I remember sitting in the middle of the busy car park as a ferry was loading and the little girl doing my hair before she started the next leg of the journey to Europe as the first of the borders began to slam shut. I remember another little girl who I had found days before, who had lost her mother on the journey and was sleeping outside in nothing but a string vest, come up to me in that same busy port car park and show me she was still wearing the jumper I had given her before she boarded for her next uncertain step in Europe.

 
I remember so many things, so many little moments. Many heartbreaking but also many filled with smiles and happiness. If I were to record them all, I don’t even think an epic novel would be long enough.

 
Before the borders closed there were many more happy moments. I remember after the EU Turkey deal meeting the first family to arrive on the beach here, with an armed Frontex officer standing over them. I remember the blue lights escorting us, watching us every moment as we drove them into town. I remember at that point knowing I could never welcome anyone on a beach again in these circumstances.

 
I remember entering the police cells in Kos and seeing almost 30 people cramped into tiny, dirty, cells in a complete human rights violation. I remember the hands reaching out for water. I remember the cries for help.

 
I remember when the hotspot opened. How we had hoped it would be a safe place for people to stay until their asylum applications could be carried out and how in reality it opened as a prison, under funded with completely inadequate facilities.

 

I remember the days when we had hope. I remember the days we fought for safe passage. I remember the days we fought for basic human rights. I remember when we became exhausted as it didn’t matter how loud you shouted, no one was listening.

 

Over the last nine months, the plight of refugees has changed dramatically from one day to the next. When I first arrived here even the Hungarian borders were open. I watched as each border closed. I watched as each nationality was banned from crossing. I watched as humanity got lost in politics. I now watch as refugees are swept under the rug.

 

Europe’s faliures have been unbelievable. I will not forgive. I will not forget.

As I reflect today, I think about how different this all could of been.

 

There is no “them” and “us”… There is only us.

 

 

I realise this post is very I, I, I as a reflection from my own personal memories but this is not about me, in this I am nothing but merely a witness to something which should never have happened and should not still be happening to human beings.

 

The Power Of Social Media

Social media has played a huge part in Europe’s “Refugee Crisis.” Social media has been central to so many stories, social media is the reason many people became involved in supporting refugees and social media is also the reason many refugees found their way in the safest way possible to a new life in Europe.

 

Social media has also been a place to share the harsh and violent realities of the refugee journey. From pictures of dying children in Syria to pictures of drowned children in the Aegean facebook became flooded with horrific images to the point that now these images have become so normalised we have become numb to what we are seeing. I know that until this morning I very much had.

 
Of course every picture of a dead or dying child is heartbreaking but when you are faced with a newsfeed full of horrific images on a daily basis you begin to filter out what you are seeing. This is a sad reality, perhaps a coping mechanism but all the same a sad fact that you have seen so much it no longer shocks you.

 
But this morning I woke and reached for my phone to feed my daily social media addiction when I was faced with an image of a dying child. But for the first time in a while this picture I did not filter, this picture was not just another dying child but a dying child with a face I recognised. I did not feel numb upon seeing this picture, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.

 
The first time I saw this face was a few months ago. The first time I saw this face was when I peeled back the blanket this child was wrapped in by the shore when he first arrived in Europe. The first time I saw this face it was blue, unresponsive, still. The first time I saw this face I thought he was dead, but he was still with us, just.

 
I have seen many things on these shores, I have met so many people and experienced so many unimaginable situations yet the image of the little boys face wrapped up in that blanket is one that has never left me.

 
That morning, which still feels like yesterday, I spoke with the child’s parents and it turned out that this child had a serious undiagnosed medical condition, around a year before this point he had just stopped responding. He had been a normal, happy child and then all of a sudden he could no longer move, could no longer smile and could barely breathe. For the family, they had no idea what had happened to their son but their priority was to try and get him to Europe to save him.

 
Last night I was catching up with volunteer friends and we were talking about families we had met on these beaches and some had news of the new lives of those who had managed to travel through Europe before the borders closed. It reminded me of so many families I’d met here and made me wonder what had happened to them.

 
Then this morning I found out what had happened to this particular family.

 
After I left the young boy to get medical attention and in the care of UNHCR and other NGO’s I never saw him again. I had checked in to find out what had happened after he had been to hospital on the island and although he had serious medical conditions, he had survived and they were doing what they could for him, but then I never heard what happened next. I assumed his case had been taken on by UNHCR and that they would have tried to find him medical support and they would support the family in their next steps in Europe. This family arrived after the Balkan route had closed so they were essentially stuck in Greece, however in special cases families can be relocated and I had hoped this had happened. Although a part of me had seen how sick this child was and did not know if the trauma of this journey was something he would survive. I thought I would never know what happened to the little boy whose face is firmly placed in my memories.

 
This morning, I saw this little face again in a social media campaign by volunteers in a camp near the Greek/FYROM border. This time I saw this little face lying on the floor of a tent in a camp where he has been since he left the island. The campaign was begging for a specialist doctor because the boy was dying and they did not think he would survive much longer. I met this child in February, it is now almost June. He has been living in a tent in an outside camp all this time and has been unable to access specialist medical care.

 
Now he is the face of a social media post about a dying child.

 
I don’t know how this family have ended up in this situation. I don’t know how they have been surviving in the makeshift border camps which have terrible living conditions. I don’t know how they have kept this child alive or why they have not had access to the medical support they needed. I don’t know what happened between the day I first saw that face to this morning when I saw it again but all I know is that somewhere along the line this child was let down.

 
Could I have done more? I don’t know, perhaps. Should the agencies that came into contact with this family have done more? Absolutely. Should this child have ever been denied the chance of a better quality of life because of EU Policies and closed borders? Absolutely not.

 
I don’t know now how this story will end but I hope the next time I see this face it will not be as another picture of a dead child. I hope the next time I see this face, it is a picture of a smiling family who have received the help they need for their sick child but I believe the reality here is that it is too late.

 
This child is not the only child with a story like this. I read stories like this often and many with very sad endings. Seeing this has reminded me that each picture of a dead or dying child has a story, it should not be filtered, I should not allow myself to be numbed to this.

 

 

With the difficulties now facing those who want to support refugees, with the political situation, with hotspots, with an environment that forces us to decide whether we are humanitarians, activists or a personal balance of both,  I fear we are looking at the big picture but forgetting the individuals caught up in this mess. We are losing our focus. We are forgetting about the people we came here to support.

 

 

I am still trying to find where I fit in this new situation but today I got a stark reminder of the human side of this crisis.

 

 

I have seen the power of social media in highlighting emergencies and getting help to those in need, I just hope social media uses it’s power today to support this child and his family before it is too late.

 

They Say A Picture Can Paint A Thousand Words…

They say a picture paints a thousands words… Unfortunately I cannot take a picture of one of the worst examples of inhumanity I have witnessed so far in life so here is a thousand words to try and a paint a picture…

 

As you enter the police station of Kos, be sure your greeting will not be welcoming. You may even be lucky enough to bump into someone from Frontex, dressed like something from a sci fi film in tight black ops style uniform. You won’t get a smile but you will sure be intimidated by the weapons they are toting on their hip. The police station itself from outside looks like quite a grand old historical building but within it is run down with a feeling of a sleepy, small town local authority which in normal circumstances wouldn’t have huge amounts of crime to deal with.

 

As you walk through past the office you are faced with an open courtyard with a few bits of rubble lying around from an improvement which will probably never be made. You wonder where the cells are as you look around this small, dirty square, imagining there surely must be a door to a corridor somewhere to enter a building where people are being detained. But then you hear the voices, you see that the square is surrounded by openings in the walls, barred up and filled with faces.

 

Three cells can be found within this “prison” each only a few square metres wide. Within the cells conditions are almost indescribable. There is no access to clean water, no access to hygiene facilities. These “cells” keep the people locked inside but the bars leave them open to the elements, if there is heavy rain, the cells will be wet. If it is cold, the people are cold.

 
Then there is the number of people living in each tiny, dirty box. Up to 30 people can be found in one of these cells, up to 30 in a cell which would not be fit for half, or even a quarter of this number. People do not have beds to sleep on, just a few blankets and a cramped overcrowded impossible living situation.

 

When looking at the dirty, crumbling walls. When seeing the damp, dank, dark reality of these wholly unacceptable conditions it is almost impossible to imagine this is happening in modern day Europe. Back in October these cells hit the headlines for holding child refugees in such medieval conditions – Refugee crisis: ‘Orphan’ children locked up in ‘medieval’ prisons alongside adult criminals on Greek island of Kos – The Independent 14th October 2015

The conditions are worsening, the cells are filled beyond capacity now as everyone who enters Greece is effectively a prisoner.Thankfully children are no longer held in this appalling situation but vulnerable human beings are.

 

Food is a debatable issue. When the EU Turkey deal first came into action, everyone was unprepared, including the authorities. Access was granted to volunteers to provide basics like food and water. Although fundamentally everyone disagreed with the situation and didn’t want to participate in going into a prison , it was a situation where if no one did then those trying to survive this hell wouldn’t have food or something to drink. Therefor volunteers prepared and delivered food through the bars to the desperate people trapped inside. This all stopped around two weeks ago though when access to the prison was denied. Now no one can really see what is happening. There is no guarantee the people are receiving food of any nutritional value or enough to drink.

 
Day and night, for the indefinite number of days or weeks the people are held here before they are moved on to the next stage of deportation, the prisoners wear the same set of clothing they receive when they arrive on the island. When people arrive on the shores wet, volunteers are still able to give dry clothing before the people are locked up. Those clothes are all they have.

 
When you woke up this morning, did you have a shower? Did you take a fresh, clean pair of underwear from your drawer and choose your outfit for the day? Or have you been wearing the same set of clothing, unwashed for the last ten days? Clothing you have slept in, that you have lived in day in, day out?

 
The crime the prisoners committed to be subjected to this inhumanity – not being European.

 
The people locked up in Kos are trapped in these holding cells 24/7. There is no escape. No opportunity to see anything but the bars that hold them.

 
The holding cells of Kos police station are supposed to be for men. But this week, ten women where thrown into this disgusting mess. Forced to share a tiny box with men.

 
Medical care is basically non existent, MSF due to their position on the EU Turkey Deal refuse to enter any detention facility so the responsibility is up to the police… I wonder every day how long it will be before someone dies in these conditions.

 
There is one cell in particular where the barred window is so small, making the cell so dark, that all you can see is the hands of the inmates reaching out, you cannot even see the faces of those souls inside.

 
It makes me think of the RSPCA adverts about animal cruelty…bear with me on this. You know the adverts where a dog sits in a pool of its own excrement, in a surrounding of pure neglect. Or a group of abandoned kittens, squashed into a tiny cage, where there are so many in such a small space they cannot all survive and the sanitation is so horrific you almost feel like you can smell how terrible it would be through your TV set.

 
Well what is happening here is worse than any of these adverts. The smell is worse than anything you could ever imagine. Somebody would go to a jail for a very long time if they treated their animals like this.

 
But wait… WE ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT ANIMALS! WE ARE TALKING ABOUT HUMAN BEINGS!

 
Human beings are supposed to have rights but human rights most certainly do not apply here.

 

Human beings are being treated worse than animals and there is no consequence for those allowing this situation to continue. The people who should be arrested are those treating people like this, those who implemented a dirty deal without ensuring those detained would have access to basic human needs and rights.

 

But what can we do when no one is listening?

 

The prison of Kos is just one example of human rights violation currently being ignored daily in Greece and throughout Europe.

 

It is hard not to give in to the feeling of utter hopelessness when faced with such a hopeless situation.

 

When will this end? When will humanity start being human again?