By Peggy Gish
Daily, we are in contact with strong and resilient refugees, here in Lesvos, Greece, who are reaching out to serve and help others around them. But even more families have been deeply traumatized by their initial escape from violent situations and crossing the Aegean Sea to reach this island. Some had family member die on the trip. Children are traveling or locked up, separated from their families. Many are losing hope.
On one day alone last week, 6,500 refugees, from 40 boats, were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, trying to reach Europe. Of those, 462 arrived safely on Greek Islands. An estimated 3,165 have disappeared or died crossing the Mediterranean or Aegean Sea this year. Since the beginning of the EU-Turkey deal in March, the number of refugees in Greece has jumped from 5,538 to 60,042 people (12,120 on the Greek Islands), overcrowding the reception camps. Many of them are built in former warehouses or military camps, which are in reality detention centers, and offer inadequate or poor food and medical care.
Even though you care, you may already be tempted to stop reading. And this is just a tiny view of the whole picture. But it can feel overwhelming. There is so much need, so what we can do about it feels like a drop in the sea. And feeling helpless to know what to do about it, can lead you to feel numb.
So are there things we can do?
Yes, but there are no easy or conclusive answers for those who can’t go personally and help. Here are some small, beginning suggestions:
- Don’t stop caring about this and other humongous problems and let yourself grow numb. Taking action is an antidote for despair.
- Keep informed through alternative media that give more balanced reporting.
- Don’t let the negative views of refugees, fueled by bigotry and fear, lead you to think of refugees as a threat or a problem. Instead, see them as people who share the same basic human rights as we do, and who have need the compassionate hand of friendship.
- If you are religious, pray—in your way. This may even lead you to knowing what to do. Go deep into your resources of faith to give you strength and hope for the long-run.
- Give financial support to the many credible organizations and volunteer groups on the ground. (See the links below)
- Explore, with your local group, how to sponsor refugees in your own community.
- Find ways to educate others in your community with teach-ins, call-in talk shows, writing letters to the editor, film showings, sharing reports over social media, organizing public vigils or street theater to dramatize the plight of refugees and the structural injustices that contribute to the refugee crisis.
- Find and work with organizations in your country that are doing advocacy work or are pushing your government and its agencies to make policy change concerning refugees. Work for policy changes concerning military intervention in countries that create the chaos and violence which force people to leave and risk their lives in order to survive. This may include work to stop drone warfare, military interventions, selling or providing arms to governments and militias, or to advocate for diplomatic approaches that support nonviolent movements in the places of conflict.
- Vote in candidates who have a kinder approach to caring for refugees and a less militaristic, aggressive approach to global conflicts.
Working for change is hard and complex work because so many of the solutions require the political will to end the conflicts. Yet, we do what we can do, because we care and are not ready to give up and give in to the spirit and structures of greed, domination, and cruelty that seem to control major powers in the world. We do not give up, because we have a vision of a world that shares its resources and cares for the weak and vulnerable. We keep working because we must.
**Just a few groups you can support financially:
Mosaik Support Center, a welcoming space for refugees and locals in Mytilini, Lesbos, which offers legal and social aid, as well as language and creative education. www.facebook.com/mosaiksupportcenter/
Lesvos Solidarity runs Pikpa, an open refugee camp in Mytilene, Lesvos. It is a self-organized, autonomous space run by volunteers and is built on the principle of solidarity. http://www.lesvossolidarity.org/index.php/en/
Calais Kitchens. It feeds thousands of refugees and supplies a network of volunteer-run kitchens in the refugee camps in northern France. https://www.facebook.com/calaiskitchens/