Today at 8 o'clock the "Big Fish" left for Athens like it does every day. Cars and passengers and trucks got on the ferry like they do every day. Some of the passengers used fake IDs that they bought for a lot of money like they do every day. Like every other day, some were arrested or denied access to the boat, and some of them got the ride to the mainland that they had been dreaming of. And like every other day, one of the trucks which had been sitting in the port all day waiting for the boat to arrive had been broken into and had some people in the back of it who couldn't afford a smuggler and took matters into their own hands. Today there were three of them. They knew it was a refrigerator truck but thought that 12 hours in the back of a meat truck was a fair price to pay for a chance to sneak further into Europe. The friend who closed the door behind them and stayed on the island had left it unlocked so that once the boat started moving they could make their way up to the passenger deck. They had no idea that the driver would lock the open door when he did is routine check before boarding the ferry. They had no idea that there wouldn't be enough air in that cold space to last the length of the journey, or even the first 2 hours for that matter. Right now they are very luckily still alive because my friend is a rose and I am his rat.
When they realized they couldn't get out, they didn't know what to do. When they started feeling short of breath, they started yelling for help and banging on the walls but by that time the vehicle deck was empty and nobody heard them. Two of them passed out and the third, realizing that he was next, called my friend as we were sitting and drinking coffee on his balcony after dinner. For the sake of anonymity, I'll call him the rose because his name means flower and his tireless dedication to others makes him one of the most beautiful living things imaginable. He hardly sleeps because he is always on call. He is a community leader in Moria and everyone from his country knows that no matter what problem they have he will sort it out for them. He very calmly took the phone away from his ear and told me someone had just contacted him from a container on a ship somewhere off the coast of Chios and I thought it was hilarious. He told me two other people on that container were unconscious and the mood shifted. Is it life or death? Yes. I'm calling the coast guard. Good. And a little while ago I called them back and they told me everything is OK and anyway I'll have to talk to them tomorrow when they start investigating how on earth I'm connected to three dudes half-dead in a meat cooler in the middle of the Aegean sea. Fair enough.
I want to share this story because it highlights a very basic element of the refugee crisis which is causing thousands of needless deaths: there is no safe legal passage! In order to apply for asylum, you need to already be in a place where you are not allowed to go. Even in the face of this massive migration the international community has done nothing to rectify this paradox. A lot of people ask me what they can do because they are so far away and the answer is always so much more than we can do here on the border where we offer band-aid solutions to the deepest wounds in the international order. Wherever you are, you can lobby your xenophobic governments and push them to start accepting asylum claims right there in the places people are fleeing. If people could simply go to any embassy and start telling their stories there, the smuggling rings would be completely disempowered. If you could simply walk up to one of Europe's land borders and say "Please help me" then we could stop reading headlines about capsized ships in the Mediterranean. But for all of the lip service that is paid to supposed efforts to help victims fleeing war and persecution, there is no great push to lift the barriers which impose this life-threatening journey on would-be beneficiaries of international protection. Shall we not use a bit of common sense and move our lifelines within arms-reach of those who are so desperately grasping for them?