How did you spend Christmas?

457eb5238cd7f28655abc78f62a70278_L

Two young migrants rest on several life jackets after landing on the coast of Greece

By Adrian Hawkes, Special to ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)

My wife Pauline asked our friend Zrinka Bralo c what she was going to do for Christmas. Zrinka lives in London, England, a city of 300 languages, and has done so since 1993 she is a journalist from Sarajevo and has been involved with refugee and human rights since she was exiled in 1993.Krinka_Bralo_Adrian_Hawkes

She is executive director of the Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum in London. She served as a commissioner of the Independent Asylum Commission, the most comprehensive review of the UK protection system and is a winner of the 2011 Voices of Courage Award by the Women’s Refugee Commission in New York.

Zrinka is no longer a journalist, though you would not think that from her Facebook reports on her Christmas. She says: “I consider work to be therapy. It’s really important to get some sense of self-worth from doing things. So then I went to Amnesty International and learnt more about asylum seekers and refugees. And I finished a Master’s degree at LSE in Media & Communications. That’s when I realized that I didn’t want to be a journalist any more. My work now – at the Migrant & Refugee Community Forum – is interesting and inspiring. There are no ordinary stories. I meet people from Syria, Rwanda and Zimbabwe.”

Migrants_arriving_in_Greece_Adrian_Hawkes-2So Pauline asked Zrinka how she was going to “relax at Christmas,” and she was told, “I will go to Lesvos in Greece and see if I can help the people who are coming over from Turkey on those small boats.”

So then, after she arrived on this Greek island, we asked her to send us a report on how things were going at Christmastime there. This was her reply:

Migrants arriving in Greece Adrian Hawkes“It is raining like crazy in Lesvos tonight and people who got soaking wet arriving on boats today have not been able to dry up at all. I met a great crew from Zagreb on the beach today. They are working with unaccompanied minors in Moria camp and came out to help on the beach. It was truly humbling to see the efforts to of one American lifeguard from the Dutch Boat Refugee Foundation to save a life of a man who was so hypothermic that he slipped away and stopped shaking.

“The lifeguard undressed the man in the back of the car and then he took his clothes of and hovered over the sick refugee to keep him warm until the ambulance arrived. The lifeguard is so understated in his heroic efforts that I dare not mention his name as I have not sought permission to do so and have a feeling I might embarrass him. I am not easily humbled, but I truly was today by what this young man did. The best of humanity in action.

“The Moria family compound was full of wet and hungry people. The little volunteers’ office where I am making baby bottles became a changing room for crying wet children. It was like a beech rescue situation. Volunteers were doing their best to keep people warm and give them dry clothes and food, but a handful of volunteers, who were all soaking wet too from the stormy rain, just cannot cope with the enormity of the task of helping 700 people and children settle in what was a detention center with 30 to 40 per room with 8 bunk beds.

Migrants arriving is Lesvos Adrian Hawkes“The rooms are clean with the lingering stench of institutional bleach, but the mattresses are disgusting and there is a lingering smell of a public toilet. Some families leave and opt out for a night in the tent. My back seized up, so I had to leave early tonight, and still can’t shake off the cold, the wetness and the guilt for not doing more. What is happening to these people constitutes inhumane and degrading treatment. ‘J’accuse …!’ the entire world and the EU governments in particular! The good people of Lesvos excluded – they are impressively helpful and tolerant and I cannot even imagine what it would be like if a million people arrived to the UK.”

Zrinka went on to say, “I am still sticking with my policy of not taking photos of people in distress, especially children. I am also finding it increasingly difficult to restrain myself when I see other people hugging children off the boat and pulling out big lens cameras and sticking it into the terrified children’s faces. But that is another story. I leave you tonight with my rage, my guilt and a few photos of the fake life jackets I struggled to pull off tiny children this morning. I am bringing some of them back to send to our UK Prime Minister with a letter I will soon share with those of you willing to take some action. Good night from Lesvos where ever you are!”

Migrants_arriving_in_Greece_Adrian_Hawkes-2Fake life jackets Adrian HawkesIncidentally, recently police have raided and arrested people working in factories in Turkey making these “fake life jackets” to sell to the people. The UK-based Newspaper, The Guardian reports that police allegedly seized 1,263 lifejackets filled with non-buoyant materials from an illegal workshop in Izmir that employed two Syrian children, according to Agence France-Presse and Dogan news agencies.

The raid came in the same week that the bodies of more than 30 people washed up on Turkish beaches, having drowned in their attempt to reach Greece. Some of the dead were pictured wearing lifejackets, leading to suspicions that they may have been fake. (See: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/06/refugee-crisis-turkish-police-find-factory-making-fake-lifejackets-izmir).

Well that does not sound like a peaceful Christmas around the fire to me, but it does make me ask the question, “What should we be doing to stop this terrible displacement? This awful holocaust.” I am doing what I should; are you?

Photo captions: 1) Zrinka Bralo. 2) Migrants arriving. 3) More migrants arriving at Lesvos. 4) Fake lifejackets