This is a personal account of the refugee rescue and relief effort mounted in the island of Lesvos, as I experienced it during my days of volunteer work on the island’s North coast in October of 2015. All the characters and events are real, improbable as some may appear to be. The same goes for the main dialogues, even if naturally I could not remember exact words or the time sequence of their occurrence. Names have been mostly changed to protect the privacy of individuals. The reason for my anonymity is to avoid usurping, upending or in any way attaching my name to what has been, and still is, an immense collective effort by many rescue and relief workers on that coast of despair. Most of them have done (and still do) so much more than I did. Moreover, before any of us arrived there from other parts of Greece and the World, the people of Lesvos have always stood there, doing it all alone. In a story repeated in other Aegean islands, local fishermen plucked refugees from often unforgiving seas, at all seasons, villagers treated them in their houses, village squares, small taverns and cafes as best as they could, many years before this vast river of human desperation registered on the radar of much richer European countries to the north. Finally, while there are individual refugee stories, theirs is a picture unavoidably blurred and incomplete. This is simply because of the dynamics imposed on us from facing wave after wave of refugees arriving on the coast. All that remained at the end of a day was a smile there, a fragment of a story here, a sad faraway look, longing eyes looking East, fragments, just fragments of a canvas painting a much larger drama. I hope someone writes about it one day in all its multi-layer scale, maybe a refugee that once passed through Lesvos or some other island of North-East Aegean, and stayed among us to restart her life in peace in Greece or elsewhere in Europe.
With the exception of this paragraph, and ‘A note to the people of Europe’ at the end, this account was written well before the sexual attacks in Cologne, the multiple terrorist attacks in France, Germany, and Turkey. After these events, with the political climate shifting decisively towards fear, scattered racists events, I abandoned any hope that publishing this account could do anything of significance against such a dark and still rising tide. The exit of the UK from the EU, and the ascent of D. Trump in the USA, spurred to a great degree by stoking immigration fears by people that should be in a circus rather than any serious political arena, are the most recent demonstration of it. At the end, I decided to go ahead, if only to bear witness to some extraordinary events and people, as my Norwegian friend, a nurse would put it. My now modest hope for this little book is to reinsert into the ongoing debate taking place across Europe regarding these historic refugee movements and settlements an element that has been slipping away: our shared humanity. It is what brought us to the North shores of Lesvos during that tragic Autumn of 2015, and what kept us there when even the blue sea became grey and dark with fear and despair.