Before I left Atlanta I was asked how we would know that what we were seeing in Greece and Serbia was typical and real versus a show put on for our trip. I was very certain then and know for sure now, that such a false display would be impossible. The size of this problem and numbers of refugees would make pulling off a hoax like that harder than solving the real problems!
Late yesterday we learned that a ferry would be delivering refugees to Athens early today. So, early this morning our CRS delegation arrived at the port in Athens in order for us to see the docking of the ferry and observe the humanitarian aid provided to those arriving. When the ship arrived, a steady stream of Syrian and Afghan refugees flowed toward the buses that would take them to the border of Greece and FYROM (Macedonia). The vast majority of the refugees were families; comprised of men, women and children. A few single men were traveling and the occasional woman or man with a child or two, but the clear majority were families.
As they made their way, members of Caritas Athens stopped them to ensure they had cold weather clothing for their journey. It was cold in Athens, about 32 degrees and colder up north. Most families needed hats, scarves, gloves and in some cases socks and shoes.
Diapers and other hygiene products were also provided along with water. The refugees collected what was offered to them and we observed something intriguing. Despite the fact the refugees have almost nothing, they refused any item offered if they already possessed something similar. For instance, if we approached a young mother and offered her a hat and she had one in her bag or in a coat pocket, she would refuse the one offered. No one took an item that they didn’t need. It would be easy to ask for and get several pairs of socks or gloves but no refugee did that. They took just what they needed. In fact, in some cases they had to be convinced of their need, being unaware of the freezing temperatures awaiting them in the north, Also, the refugees were grateful and expressed thanks to the aid workers each time they were given something. There was no sense of entitlement among them or demands for anything. The presence of Caritas Athens was not anticipated at all. The process was orderly, efficient and effective.
As of this writing, these 1,000 – 1,500 refugees, men, women and children of all ages should now be almost at the border so they may cross into FYROM and continue their journey. We fly to Serbia tomorrow where it is possible we may encounter these same people as they continue their quest for a place away from war and persecution.
Tomorrow I will blog about a family we met who told me why they are refugees, described their dangerous travel just to get from Syria to Greece and shared their hopes for a better future.