Two young refugees lie by a makeshift shelter in Kos. Demotix/Monika Skolimowska. All rights reserved.
After seeing images of children’s bodies washed up on European shores in an attempt to reach lands that they believe could protect them, I made a decision to go to one of the main receiving islands: Kos.
My reasons for going are two fold: first to provide essential supplies to people that desperately need basic support, who have arrived after long arduous journeys with nothing. Secondly this is an attempt to influence the narrative; from one where it is over sensationalized and paints us as powerless, to one where we have the means to help in the face of system failures. I will not bring back lives that were lost, nor will I change larger issues such as the crimes of people smugglers, but it does not mean I cannot have a positive impact on this abominably dark situation unfolding on our doorsteps.
Size of problem
Amnesty International has called the current global refugee crisis the worst since World War II, when most of Europe had been torn apart. What this means globally is one million refugees in desperate need of imminent resettlement; four million Syrians destitute or in appalling camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt; over three million refugees in sub-Saharan Africa; and 2,500 people drowning while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 (that is roughly 10 times the population of the village I grew up in).
As a part of this vast movement of people, resulting largely from instability and conflict coupled with globalization, Europe is seeing unprecedented numbers of individuals trying to reach its shores in the hope of refuge. In 2015 over 340,000 migrants have been detected as trying to cross its the borders. The main points of entry are Italy, Malta, Spain and Greece. The summer months with their good weather have brought particularly high numbers, with 50,000 reaching Greece alone last month alone.
The majority of refugees coming to Europe are fleeing from countries that are war-torn, and have oppressive dictatorships and religious extremism. People need us: Europeans and our state establishments, to grant them a safe place to live - temporarily or otherwise - and basic amenities for a safe life with dignity. But the governments of Europe are failing them and will continue to fail them.
The right to leave one’s country and seek asylum are both within the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet there is no legal and safe way into Europe as a refugee, forcing thousands of people to risk their lives and safety trying to enter.
Once inside Europe, the situation often remains dire. Due to lack of resources, infrastructure and badly thought out action, in August authorities on Kos (Greece) locked 1,000 undocumented migrants in a cramped stadium under the burning sun with no water or shade. In Calais, France, the police play a regular game of cat and mouse, destroying refugee shelters, chasing them away from the only place they call home and beating them. Men, women, children and grandparents sleep dirty in the streets of Europe with little to no access to food, water or sanitation; walking thousands of miles by foot to get to a safer place as government after government refuses them refuge or safety.
The reason that governments will continue to fail refugees and asylum seekers is complex and multifaceted. However, it is important to have an overview of the major reasons to understand why the governments will continue to not react in an appropriately humane manner.
In the past few decades, particularly in the aftermath of 9/11, Western governments (mainly, but far from restricted to, the USA and UK) began to reconceptualise the undocumented migrant as a threat. To make this happen, all people crossing a nation’s borders unmonitored were put in the ‘danger category’ alongside terrorists. Terms like “illegals”, “aliens” and “swarms” have continued to serve as a strong means to further dehumanise them. At the same time, the development of an extensive, all controlling and highly lucrative security industry was taking place. Incredibly lucrative actually: is estimated that the “homeland security” industry may have reached $141.6bn.
With the freshly dehumanized “illegals” came the development of the European Union’s Security Research Programme (ESRP), which received at least 1 billion Euros a year, and focussed on determining (bodily) threats to European citizens, which included the movements of ‘threat groups’, like the undocumented migrant, which also encompassed the destitute refugee. Thus the came the securing of Europe’s land and sea borders, and great spending on defence. This included, for example, Greece and Spain spending an estimated combined 70 billion Euros on border security technology, like boats, drones, fences and surveillance to keep migrants out.
With the financial turnover of securing borders and the dehumanising of undocumented migrants: from Sub-Saharans to Roma, alongside the economic crisis which crippled many migrant receiving companies, in particular Spain, Italy and Greece, governments have, and will continue for the foreseeable future, to put their own interests before refugees.
In the face of this inherit disregard of, and lack of support for, refugees arriving on our shores, someone must address this critical issue.
With this, I will be travelling to Kos in September. With a population of around 31,000 inhabitants, about 600 refugees arrive on the island every day. They have no stable access to water, food, sanitation or other basic amenities. As a 29-year old Scottish women living in Berlin, I have the great luxury of holiday time, enough money, and freedom; which is more than enough to help. I will be meeting up with a small network volunteers there who try their best to influence the situation in a positive way: distributing food, water and other necessities.
Necessities bought with the funds I raise might include water, food, nappies, shoes for someone who has trekked thousands of miles and may face thousands more, or sun cream to protect sea-salt dried skin against the 40degree Mediterranean sun. I will see what is most needed when I am there. Buying it in Kos will also be a small contribution to the local Greek economy which desperately needs it.
Going to Kos will not stop the people smugglers, amend any conflict or reason for fleeing one’s home country, nor will it solve the greater institutionalised problems and attitudes. This will be a far, far greater challenge. But what I can do is provide some essential relief and support for the guests coming to our lands, who desperately need it. And along with, this, inject some vital humanity into their lives.
I am not the only one doing this. Since making this decision I have been informed about people travelling from across Europe to Hungry and across Greece. There are flows of people taking supplies to the camps in Calais from across North-West Europe. Pockets of locals in Italy, Spain and Greece are doing their best to help migrants that are arriving in their part of the world. The network is small, but it is growing.
Through such acts we can normalise and encourage the idea of support and solidarity in and with communities receiving migrants. In doing this, we can begin to change the rhetoric that spans the spectrums of racism, sensationalism and helplessness, to one where we reclaim the situation in a humane way. I hope me going to Kos, along with all the other efforts being made across Europe, inspires action and solidarity for others to do something similar. We need to shout louder, get more connected, and show both society and the authorities- through our actions- that this is how we want to treat refugees.
Currently, the wave of grassroots support is small but strong. It is now time to make it strong, vast and loud.
You can visit April’s fund raising campaign here: http://gogetfunding.com/essential-supplies-for-refugees-in-kos/