Two gunshots. A face full of tear gas. The prayers start. Escape.
This week we witnessed camp burn, we saw a riot escalate into a furnace, and we feared for the lives of those we love. This week has been hard.
On Monday afternoon, while we were on shift, a riot broke out in camp. Two shots ringing out across camp told us that this was more serious than the normal, daily fights. Minutes later, tear gas flooded into the lower levels where I had been working. Panic was imminent and even getting out of the area was a struggle. 10 minutes later, as our whole team were gathered outside camp, we watched as a column of smoke rose from the centre of camp. “Info: halas” reported one of our coordinators, using the frequently heard Arabic term to tell us that the EuroRelief hub was ‘finished’.
Thankfully no one was seriously harmed, but chaos reigned in camp for hours after the riot started. As details emerge, resolution is still far away and repetition is likely. The riots started as a protest against the system, in particular against the detainment and deportation of a Haitian man whose appeal had been rejected after only 2 days, without proper consideration. However, many believe that action such as this was inevitable and that this was just the tipping point.
Felt by all, frustration is the most dominant emotion in camp.
Frustration at the system: that so many POCs’ asylum applications are being rejected, that Europe has closed its borders, that friends and family are being deported back to the hellish situations they have fled from. Frustration that the next step on their journey is a promise of even more waiting in even worse conditions. Frustration that despite the injustices they have already experienced, they are still treated unfairly. Frustration that we can’t give them an isobox to themselves, despite the chronic illness their elderly parents are suffering or the five young children they nurse. Frustration that they’ve been waiting for 5 hours in the heat for us to house them after they were kicked out of new arrivals when another boat of 100 arrived. Frustration that they are treated like animals, shepherded here and there, told to wait in line for someone else to determine their fate.
Frustration that we, who help, have lost our ability to help: the EuroRelief information hub, tailor, printing services, clothing hut and storeroom were all destroyed. We have lost the vast majority of our resources. It is frustrating that the actions of a few have detrimentally impacted many. As those working in concordance with UNHCR, we often receive the backlash from governmental decisions. There is an increasing divide of ‘us’ and ‘them’, where we are grouped with the military, police and other officials. We each came to serve those living in camp, yet have somehow have become the enemies of some of them. Although the riots weren’t targeted at us, it is probable that the burning of our base was intentional.
Frustration at a lack of resolution: we have been warned that this will probably happen again. Any valuables we have left should be left at home, cautions should be taken, but fires cannot really be prevented. I am left questioning if anything has changed since last year when weeks after I left, a blaze ravaged camp, to this week when fire once again caused destruction. What solution is there in a situation that seems utterly hopeless? When doors to Europe are closed, and atrocities at home were the instigators of the journey, where do these people turn? We have POCs returning from Athens because conditions there are even worse than they are here. Thousands are stuck in Greece with no hope of ever moving on. No hope of life getting any better.
This week has taught me many things, but none more clearly than that there is only one solution to this problem: Jesus Christ, who gave even more than these people so that we can have hope.
When words fail to express my cry to God, I always find that David has written adequately in the Psalms. Psalm 55 is a pretty accurate expression of this week for me, especially the days immediately after the fire:
16 But I will call on God,
and the Lord will rescue me.
17 Morning, noon, and night
I cry out in my distress,
and the Lord hears my voice.
18 He ransoms me and keeps me safe
from the battle waged against me,
though many still oppose me.
19 God, who has ruled forever,
will hear me and humble them.