I'm on the night boat to Lesbos and should get there in about 7 hours. Two days ago when I got to Ancona I had no clue which boat to get on... Either the one for Igoumenitsa to get on a bus to Thessaloniki and then head up to Idomeni where there are 15000 refugees camped out next to the Macedonian border, or the boat to Patras to take the train to Athens and then another boat to Lesbos. It's a tough call because the situation is not as crystal clear as it seemed to me a month ago when I decided to come to Greece. When I decided to come, Lesbos was swarming with volunteers and international aid organizations that, to me at least, represented the open arms of human decency, bearing the fruit of compassion and welcoming war-torn families into a better world. Nobody asked these volunteer organizations to be there but they still came in great numbers to help refugees get off boats, feed them, warm them up, give them clean/dry clothes and help them find their way into a legal framework that was ready to accept them. That situation got turned on its head last week!
'Europe' doesnt really know how to accept all these refugees. It has a little bit to do with racism, a little bit to do with security, a little bit to do with concerns about integration, and a little bit to do with all the myths that drive a european dialog which is always about who is being unfairly asked to do more. The long and the short of it is that there is no coherent plan on what to do with an extra million or 3 million or 6 million people. The land route beyond Greece is closed and the feeling I got from talking to Greek people so far is that the country is in such a sorry state that they can't possibly help all these people even though they would love to. They feel ill-equipped to serve as Europe's waiting room.
In order to deter more migrants from entering the EU irregularly (not illegally because irregular entry into Greece is not a criminal offence!), the EU made a deal with Turkey where they paid them 3 billion euros in order to take back new irregular migrants from Greece. The next 72000 arrivals are meant to be sent back to Turkey if they don't have a valid case for an asylum claim. The agreement presumes Turkey to be a safe third country and therefore anyone coming from Turkey irregularly will not have a valid asylum claim. Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross, the UNHCR, and most of the major NGOs that have been operating in Lesbos and along the refugee trail are opposed to this agreement because of Turkey's human rights record, which is pretty bad. Turkey is not a party to the geneva convention and their human rights record is arguably proof that they don't provide a similar level of protection and therefore aren't a safe third country. In order to protest this new agreement, all the big NGOs made press releases to this effect and stopped working in Lesbos, I guess because they didn't want to have anything to do with sending people back to Turkey.
Knowing that all those organizations pulled out makes it very difficult to know if coming here was the best thing I could possibly do! I have another friend who came to volunteer with the starfish organization and she left the island after less than 24 hours to go to Idomeni because they had just stopped training new volunteers and were relocating most of their operations to there. That got me thinking about whether I should be going to Idomeni instead. I was looking at Idomeni on the map on the way from Ancona and couldn't understand why everyone wants to go through Macedonia at that exact point if they are so un-welcoming and the door is so clearly shut. There are a lot of other land routes to the rest of Europe and the only reasons I've heard so far about why nobody is taking them seemed fairly speculative and also a bit racist and I won't bother repeating them until I have a better idea about that place I've never been to. All I know is that it is a pressure point drawing a lot of media attention, and my gut feeling is that since it is a veritable media circus, it's being stage-managed in order to tell any number of compelling stories about Europe's failure to respond to the refugee crisis, about the squalid conditions people are living in, about how stupid the volunteers are for helping people cross borders illegally, about how unruly the refugees are when their protests interrupt the lives of Greek people who have done so much to help them, about how terrible the macedonians are and so on. At this moment, I don't understand that place and the idea of going there scares the crap out of me.
For now I'm not going there because while I was at the port in Ancona trying to figure out which boat to get on, I got a message from the guy who runs the CK team, which is the group of volunteers I was planning on joining in Lesbos, and he said there were still boats coming every other day, that they expect them to keep coming and that they still need my help. Thankfully that message seemed very clear to me so I buried all the feelings that were twisting my intentions into convoluted knots and made my way here. Today I'll make my way up north, meet the gang, and start getting a sense of what is going on. If it's all quiet on the eastern front, I'll keep moving. Anyway, now you have a friend on the ground over here. I'll do my best to send songs, thoughts and pictures whenever I get connected.