What I learned about the refugee crisis from a visit to Greek Islands

Part 1: MakeSense global refugee effort
Part 2: Why we need to build a safer passage to Europe

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Day 1: Brainstorming Big ideas

The journey started with a 12h ferry trip from Athens to Lesbos. During this ride, I gave an overview of some Berlin-based RefugeeTech solutions I came to know through MakeSense’s Refugee Cause Month and we spend some time brainstorming and imagining solutions for refugees which we would experiment with the day after. Some of these ideas include a chartered plan to transport refugees from Turkey to Europe, a wifi hotspot in the shore of lesbos and a blockchain-based digital identity platform.

Day 2 : Grasping the scale of the issue

In Lesbos, we met with some of the local NGOs and visited the two main refugee camps. “Karatepe” which is dedicated to Syrians and “Muria”, a former prison transformed into a camp for all the other nationalities.

Day 3: showcasing practical solutions

After a meeting with the Mayor, I went to visit “Village of All Together” a self-organised ad volunteer-run refugee camp. It focuses on the elderly, sick and disabled. On that sunday afternoon, I still recall the down mood that reigned across the camp. The volunteers were just coming back from the funeral of a 5 years girl who drowned in the sea two days prior.

Lessons Learned

Let me conclude what’s already a long read. Lesbos was invaluable in its teaching. Some of the most important lessons I learnt are as follow:

  • The worse is yet to come: sadly, setting foot on European land is not the end of the plight for migrants. They still have a long and tortuous journey to go through before reaching their final destination (which is Germany or Sweden in most cases). This is made worse with winter coming and some EU countries closing borders and imposing harsh sanctions on migrants. Human right abuses in Europe are a red line we should not bring ourselves and our governments to cross. We ought to maintain a high standard of respect when dealing with migrants. Providing basic needs in a dignifying manner is of paramount importance!
  • Volunteers fuel solutions: I noticed volunteers from all over Europe who came to give a hand for a week or two, sometimes even for months, leaving behind everything and standing on the shores of Lesbos from 8 am to sometimes 1 or 2 am in order to welcome and guide the migrants. I suspect an ever-increase (ever-increasing) wave of volunteers to hit the shores of Greece. However, most of the volunteers I talked to, who spend (spent) more than a month in the Island, were overworked and overwhelmed. If you are willing to volunteer, that’s great — organisations such as “A drop in the sea” can help. Make sure you coordinate with the local organisations so you can maximise your impact.
  • The viable solutions are at hand. This was the most astonishing. As much as the issue seems total and unshakable, after few hours on Lesbos, you understand that the solutions are actually well-known and accessible. We need to ensure a safe passage to Europe through safer means of travel or enable host countries to process refugee applications. This is not impossible, it just needs the political will and vision that many of our leaders will only retrieve if they are reminded and pushed by their electorate.

Conclusion

In conclusion, as the situation is unfortunately not improving, it incumbent to us the citizens to sort out the mess (or perhaps ‘it is up to us, the citizens, to sort out the mess). Either by volunteering on the ground, pushing our politicians to make the right choices or supporting the myriads of projects working with refugees.

  • Challenge 2 : Making sure asylum seekers and refugees can access their basic needs and information (short-term issue)
  • Challenge 3: Create a positive environment for refugees and members of the host society to meet and create together (long-term issue)
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makesense est une communauté internationale de citoyens, d’entrepreneurs et d’organisations qui résolvent ensemble les défis sociaux et environnementaux

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