Here is the next chapter of my story and I'll start it by saying that I now regret not having written it all down immediately because the situation seems to change with every passing moment!
Last night when I got to the beach I was anxiously scanning the sky for a shooting star in order to make a very calculated wish. I arrived late, having rushed down to Moria in the evening when the news finally reached me: "the refugees have taken over Moria!" The daily fights which break out in the 400 meter-long food line were exceptionally bloody and riots had started later in the day when police allegedly beat children as they were trying to break out of their safe play-zone. The police fled the camp to regroup and one registration office was burnt to the ground as all out war broke out between rival groups. Nationalism is rife even in this grey zone where everyone waits to know if they are inside or outside of Europe's legal prerogative. By the time I arrived, the access roads were blocked by riot police and my presence felt awkward at this morbid hidden spectacle. Four of us drove 45 minutes home in silence, confused and sad on our way to take up our posts on the night watch.
On an abandoned beach amid suffocating darkness my phone started ringing with a call from a friend on the inside. Her distressed voice told me that a group of men holding rocks and other crude weapons were outside their tent threatening to kill everyone inside and burn the tent to the ground because they hadn't joined the fight against the police, who were now nowhere to be seen. They had all of their possessions in hand and were frozen in fear until the rocks started flying. Then there was a lot of screaming on the other end of the phone and it went dead.
Glowing with pathetic fallacy, as I was making my way down to Moria to figure out what happened, the waning gibbous moon rose red along the horizon before me and I feared for the worst. I got hold of another friend inside Moria who told me some had fled, and riot police had filled the camp shortly after and subdued this second uprising. The ones who left Moria weren't answering, the car was out of gas, and my phone was blinking low battery so I made a short logistical pitstop in Mantamados and waited for a sign. Finally it came: "Scott we're in Mytilini, next to the two little boats!" This made no sense to me but I kept driving down the coast and the blood moon kept hanging ominously on the horizon over the water and we called back and forth trying to figure out where the meeting point was.
The plan was to find them wherever they were and bring them up to one of the transit camps where we normally bring people after the boat landings so they could wait out the unrest and hopefully stay within the confines of the delicate legal process which they are entangled in. Technically, that would have made me a human trafficker with very good intentions and luckily it didn't come to that. I found them with a volunteer for another NGO part way between Moria and Kara Tepe and another NGO with a big van stopped, too. I thought I was coming to pick up a couple people but it turned out there were 16 of them, very traumatized by the violence they had witnessed and fled from and very confused about where to go next. Anywhere but Moria, anywhere they would not be found by the police and taken back to Moria or deported for having escaped, anywhere with food, anywhere they could sleep through the night in peace. As a group, we did our best to go over the options and decided to head up the road and try our luck with the man in charge at Kara Tepe.
When he saw our party arrive he had this funny look on his face and told me, "You never sleep!" as I tried to go over the details, which were relatively uninteresting to him - he just wanted to meet his new visitors. He told them in English that his camp was for vulnerable people, which has a legal definition that includes single women and families. He asked if any of them were families and we translated and everyone was pretty confused. Some of them took off further up the road toward Mytilini immediately. He elaborated on the concept of family and demonstrated by taking the hand of one woman and placing it in the hand of one man and making a gesture of welcome. We explained the ruse in French and it caused quite a lot of confusion and everyone kind of scattered up the road. I felt really lucky to have already had a musical bond with all these people because we had this level of trust and when I ran off after them to explain what was going on they were willing to listen.
A lot of them have quite reasonably given up hope on the justice system which is meant to be protecting them and they felt they might be better off trying their luck with smugglers who could get them to Athens where they would not be held in places like Moria. I honestly don't know enough about the situation there or their legal status as asylum applicants who have arrived after the 20th of March and even though 'smuggler' is a scary word, it is hard to believe that these black market entrepreneurs could do worse than the Greek interior ministry at safeguarding the very basic principle of human dignity. At the same time, they would be stepping outside the horrific legal battle they are meant to be waging for international protection with the hope of re-entering somewhere further down the road. This would either be in Athens with Greek authorities who might not sympathize with the plight of everyone in Moria, or further on in another European country which means finding more smuggler routes through the Balkans or across the Mediterranean and thereby placing their fate beyond the bounds of law and order once again. This is the dilemma we were all considering on the side of the road at 2am!
In the end, everyone made what seemed to me to be the best choice, which was to accept the exceptional invitation to Kara Tepe where they would sleep 4 to a room instead of 40, where three meals are delivered to their door each day (and even one delicious midnight snack to welcome them), where the toilets are kept in a way that you come out cleaner than you entered, where there are activities for kids, and where people are treated with the respect they deserve while they wade through this arduous process. I wasn't sure how much I liked or trusted the man in charge until he took it upon himself to put his own neck on the line and accept new visitors into his camp in the middle of the night to give them a safe place to weigh their fates and rest their minds. At one point while we were checking everyone into what I affectionately refer to as "Hotel Kara Tepe" somebody used the word refugee and he quipped back: Why do you use this word, my friend? Who decides who is a refugee? Me? You? No, nobody does. Don't trouble your mind with such complicated words. What are these people doing? They are traveling, so they are travelers, and now they are my visitors. As everyone went off to their new temporary homes, I thanked him one more time for his help and he thanked me for helping to take care of his visitors, and I walked away convinced that finally there was one official on the island who really cared about travelers.
Special big thanks to the volunteers I met on the side of the road with my friends in the middle of the night! Like everyone else in this story, I don't want to mention you by name, but I do want the world to know that this late night rescue mission would have been impossible without your dedication to all of our traveling friends we haven't met yet. You are the light!