Egonne Roth



Refugees in Lesbos Day 2

Posted by Egonne Roth on September 26, 2015 at 1:15 PM


The next day we had to return to Mytilene to return our rented car. Again as we drove along the main road we saw the groups of mainly young men walking. We decided to drive a different route into town and discovered the route took us right past the camp where the refugees were taken to register.

I saw a young woman who looked exactly like one of the daughters of the paralysed woman in the wheel chair but I could not stop to talk to her. I felt wretched. Would I ever know what happened to them? Once we were in the town we had to be in the midst of the refugees as the car rental office was near the port.

We literally had to step over people lying and sitting on anything they could find to get to the office. Across a small courtyard was a café packed with mainly Syrians and sitting close to the door was a young man looking so forlorn that I could not turn away. I bought a coke and sandwich and offered them to him. Eventually he took only the coke and the owner told me someone else had bought him sandwiches earlier. As we had not eaten lunch I decided we could enjoy the sandwich ourselves. Yehudit had completed the business with the car rental man and joined me at the café called “Art and Coffee”.

We ordered the best coffee frappes I have ever had and talked with the waitress, a lovely young woman called Marina. She told us that for months the place was regularly packed out by the refugees who mainly drank coffee or coke, ate the most basic sandwich and sat resting there while they loaded their cell phones: the café had provided an extension cord with half a dozen electrical points for that purpose. I was amazed at how gracious and kind both she and the owner were. These were not customers who were buying meals and expensive drinks and moving on but were literally camped out there until they could figure out what to do next. Even though there was a sign saying no toilets I had been told to ask and the owner would probably open up for us, so I did. “I am terribly sorry,” the waitress said, “but with so many people the whole system has packed up. You definitely can’t go in there.” The tiny twitch of her nose told me exactly why not.

We decided to move on and walked to the port to take photographs of the hundreds of people camped out there on the tarmac. There were no ablution blocks and few water points and it was hot and smelly. As we were about to cross the road, I literally pumped into a young woman coming round the corner. I stepped and was about to apologise when I recognised her, “Seba?” Like a long lost daughter she rushed into my arms and would not let go, only to hug Yehudit. We tried talking but her English skills were not enough. I caught sight of a young man watching us and asked him, “Do you speak English?” He did and for the next 15 minutes he interpreted for us and we got Seba to understand where we were from, that we were always in July / August in Germany with the family and that if she had by next year July made contact with me via Facebook we would drive to find and see her. He translated and she kept hugging us. I got him to explain to her that we taught Arab students who could translate the Arabic for us – the main thing was to keep contact. She expressed the hope that we would be in Germany sooner – she expected to be there within a week! The stories they have been told by the smugglers are astounding. We took photos together and then she went off with some people she knew. We asked the young man about his exceptional English – he had learnt it in Syria where he also came from and he felt confident that he would be able to learn German very quickly. I am sure he will – Malik is bright and determined. Like Seba, he believed that they would be in Germany soon. He did ask about the border situation and we tried to give him good hope. He also promised to keep an eye on Seba. He expressed surprise that we had told her we were from Israel and immediately advised us to be careful whom we told. “Not everyone here is informed. Also there may be ISIS people among us – who knows? I think Europe will soon have problems. Not everyone is a real refugee. There is my father. He and I came alone until we can make everything sure before we send tickets for my mother and sisters. We did not want them to come with us on this dangerous journey.” We asked where they had landed and how they had got to the capital. “I don’t know the name of the place but we walked about sixty or seventy kilometres. I can no longer feel my legs,” he said. I gave him my name and said to contact me via Facebook when he could. He promised he would.

We crossed the road and began to walk through the port area taking photographs and seeing what was happening. The gypsies had moved in with their car filled with bottles of water – I did not ask how much they were charging. Their children moved along refugee families and began begging – something we have not seen a single refugee do. As we’ve been travelling in Greece now for several years we have learnt to recognise the gypsies who come mainly from Bulgaria and exploit the present situation for their own good.

People greeted us and told us where they were from – often without us even asking. One young man had an exceptional grasp of the language and soon we were in a deep conversation. He was a Kurd and when he heard we were from Israel he also warned us of possibly unfriendly people. “But,” he said, “we Kurds know that the Israelis are our friends and we know that if the Muslims would start working with Israel there would be no problems in the region.” I was a bit astounded and asked what he had done before embarking on this journey. “I studied literature but my real desire is to become a film maker in Germany. He showed us a USB hanging around his neck. “This is video material I bring from Syria – I want to make it into a real documentary to show the world.” I asked his name. “Gunewa,” he told me. I said I hoped I one day would see it in the newspapers telling me he had made it. For some reason I did not give him my name or invite him to look for me on Facebook. “Smooth talker,” Yehudit said as he moved away. “I hoped you would not give him your name.” We moved on taking more photos. At the Hellenic Seaways office there was a queue waiting to buy tickets and near the gate giving access to the ferry due to take refugees to Piraeus a shuffle seemed to be developing.

“Those are the Afghans,” someone told us. “The Syrians who have been registered are the people standing in the queue waiting to buy their tickets in the correct manner. There could still trouble here.”

We decided to move on: we were the only white women among a sea of refugees, a large percentage of them Afghani young men. Also we were still looking for a toilet and knew there was not one close – our noses told us so.


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