They come by the boatload. The announcement made in pre-shift briefing: “a boat came in this morning”. I still can’t figure out if this is good news or not. Each boat means that camp becomes more crowded, that resources are stretched further and that more people face the exasperating wait for papers to Athens (or the agonising news of deportation); but it also means that more people have successfully fled horrific situations, that more people have reached the next stage in their plight for a new home, and that these people are now guaranteed food, clothing and shelter while they’re in our care.
The only exception is when that first sentence is followed by “not everyone made it”. Never is this good news.
The new arrivals tent is fast becoming my favourite area of camp. Exhausted, refugees arrive bedraggled and confused. Being one of their first points of contact is an honour. They just long to sleep, knowing little of the months ahead when they’ll have all the time in the world to rest.
Their gratitude at being provided with food, clothing and bedding is refreshing.
Kaely and I spent Sunday fitting clothes to the children in new arrivals. Seeing both parents’ and children’s faces light up as they received small bags of fresh clothing meant the struggle of communicating names, ages and shoe sizes was completely worth it. This work reminds me how incredible, brave and resilient these people are. These are the survivors, weary from their battle, grateful for the respite.
Yesterday I heard a man ask the police “which island are we on?” A lot of these people hand over money for the boat ride without even knowing where they’re headed, trusting a promise to get them in to Europe. Their relief to see people bearing the UNHCR insignia is evident. Some families asked Kaely and I for photos to send to relatives to show that they truly had made it to the camp. Others greeted old friends and family members through the fences with clasped hands, gushing words and falling tears. For most new arrivals, relief is the overarching emotion. For many of the refugees this day is one they’ve dreamt of for a long time.
They are yet to be worn down further by the struggles of camp life.
مشكلة كبيرة (mushkilat kabira) is the most commonly heard phrase in camp. It means ‘big problem’ in Arabic and is the preface to anything and everything. EuroRelief, food, blankets, clothing or just camp in general are all ‘big problems’. After the POCs become accustomed to being provided for, the gratitude mostly wears off. It’s all become ‘normality’ for them. Instead they are upset when they are refused extra or routine is disrupted.
Many POCs have been in camp for countless months. Some talk of returning home because they have given up hope of ever making it to mainland Europe. They too are tired. They are tired of waiting, tired of the repetitive daily pattern, tired of fighting; for food, housing, citizenship. They are tired of life and the injustices that have been thrown their way.
The refugee life is not for the faint-hearted.