Friday, March 4, 2016

Notes from Kastellorizo-Some Thoughts on Working with Refugees in Turkey and Greece

My last blog post criticized the New York Times for its insensitivity it showed to Syrian refugees in a recent article on swimming tours taking place between Turkey and Greece. Obviously, as refugees are dying in these waters, the lack of reference to this was an outrage. 

A dear friend of mine Shellie Corman, who is a long term resident in Turkey and who has been involved with helping Syrian refugees for years, is currently on the Greek island Kastellorizo organizing aid for refugees, just a short way from the Turkish city of Kas. I asked if she would so kindly write something for my blog. I thank her for agreeing to share with her thoughts about the state of the refugees and the work she and other volunteers are doing.  

 Notes from Kastellorizo

After watching the refugee situation and getting involved with some groups helping refugees in Istanbul for the past few years, I decided to come over to the Greek side to work directly with arrivals coming from Turkey by boat on their journey to what they believe will be a better life, or at least a safer place for now.   Here is what I have seen and learned in the past few days on the ground.  

I arrived here from Kas, Turkey with a group of foreigners that all volunteered to help distribute donated clothing to people who either left everything behind, lost their things at sea, or arrived soaking wet.  We outfitted numerous families, many of them with small children in warm jackets, pants, socks, shoes, hats, and had some lovely personal interactions which I think is also important to people that must feel totally abandoned by the world.     

I quickly realized that on this small island, population 200, there was a resistance to the refugees.  They are overwhelmed by the stream of arrivals, mostly Muslims, and looking so different to what they are used to seeing.  After 3 days here we were woken up at 3:45 a.m. with the news that  the clothing center was on fire.  It was quite obviously  arson.  Thousand of euros worth of clothes, shoes, hats, gloves, pampers, hygiene products etc. went up in flames.

Here is what I have seen and learned by being here.   The arriving refugees are so varied in terms of countries of origin, economic levels, education levels, age. ( from 1 month to 80 years old). Tribal people, doctors, shepherds,engineers,  Sunnis Muslims, Shiites , Yazidis,  Christians and many other layers of society  all  thrown into the same boat, no pun intended.  

There had been a sleeping hall which was closed down by the mayor a week before I arrived, the clothing distribution center was burned and so virtually there is very little being done on an organized level for the arriving refugees.   A very sad time in history for humanity. We have not learned from our past mistakes.


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