For many years Greece has been a stopping point for refugees coming from various places in the east on their way to Europe. For some, it becomes their final destination – their new home. I’m sitting in a small restaurant run by Syrians who have learned Greek and now make their living selling hummus, falafel, and shawarma to the locals. (And their occasional Canadian customer who makes them laugh with his much-less-than-impressive Arabic.)
For others, it’s nothing more than a stopping point. Since the start of 2015, over 1,000,000 refugees have traveled to Greece, mostly by sea, often with nothing more stable or secure than a rubber dinghy carrying 20+ people. Their end goal is not Greece, but usually somewhere else in the European Union (often Germany).
Yesterday I got a chance to meet some of these people. I had heard that, in preparation for tourist season here in Athens, the Greek government began removing refugees from the public areas and ports where they have been for months, and had relocated them to less public places. One of those places was an abandoned airport miles which had been re-purposed as a refugee camp, miles from the main tourist areas. I found the place on Google, and made my way there. After about 4 hours of searching, after getting to where I thought the camp would be, I finally found it.
This camp has roughly 2000 people, split off into 4 different areas. I could only see the one area, as there were police guards preventing non-official access to the other sections. I tried to strike up a conversation with a few of the refugee men, hoping they knew some English or had picked up some Turkish when they came through Turkey. After that failed, I tried a few words I knew in Arabic, and they looked even more confused. I eventually asked, “Syria? Iraq?”
“No, no, Afghanistan”
Oh… that’s a different ball game. What language to they even speak in Afghanistan?? Urdu? Afghani? Regardless, I don’t know it. (Turns out, it’s Dari, which is a dialect of Farsi, which I do know a few words in… but that’s besides the point) He did manage to communicate to me that many of these men, women, and children had arrived here about 3 weeks earlier. A little later an older man with some English walked by, noticeably confused by the tall, long bearded, increasingly sunburned man that was walking through his camp. We struck up a conversation, and I explained that I was just wanting to see what was happening with refugees in the city, and if there was anything I could do to help.
He explained a bit about the camp, and in a sad and resigned way said, “We are in a very bad situation right now. We don’t know what to do, or what will happen next to us.” At that point, he needed to leave. I thanked him for sharing, and he left. I hung around a little longer, and also left shortly after.
I hope to go back at some point before I leave (now that I know where I’m going 😛 ).
My whole time I was there, however, I had the lyrics from a song going through my head.
The song is For Today’s “A Call to Arms”.
[I’ll warn you ahead of time, this is a metal song. It’s loud and may be offensive if you don’t like that style of music. However, it has powerful lyrics, and the hearts of the guys that wrote and play it the song are amazing, and in my opinion, definitely worth giving a chance. You’ve been warned. 😉 ]
The whole song is a powerful piece on the West’s response to poverty. The line that kept standing out to me when I was in this camp was this:
They may be forgotten, but they are still not gone.
If we can meet their needs, we can find the peace that we’ve been chasing all along.
Where do we go from here?
While I was here, I also came across a group of Christians doing what they could to help refugees in Athens. The Helping Hands ministry has been running for about 9 years, and is showing love to all the refugees they’re able to, feeding them, clothing them, and giving them medical aid, as much and often as they’re able to.
They’re doing great things, but there’s still so much more need. These guys are helping hundreds of refugees every week, but thousands of new refugees are coming into the country during that same amount of time, getting stuck in camps and other situations they have no control over.
This isn’t a problem that we can just wait on and hope it goes away. We all need to get involved. Whether that’s through refugee sponsorship, through supporting groups on the ground through praying and financial donations (groups like Helping Hands or the Ankara Refugee Ministry), or coming out here yourself to be the hands and feet of Jesus at the front lines, we all have a very real role we need to play in this.
So, we have a decision to make. What are we going to do?