It’s been hard to see the negativity coming out of the western press for so long. We live here in the Greek islands, not quite the front line of the refugee crisis like Kos, Lesvos or Symi.
Refugees come through here daily from the smaller islands on their way to Athens and on into the rest of Europe. Some stay a few days, others a few hours. We make sure they have clothes and food to help them on their way.
Occasionally a boat drifts off course and lands on our beaches. Last week 144 arrived unusually with a smuggler on board. He was arrested. But this is the largest of the Dodecanese islands with army lookout posts and enough resources to deal with smugglers. They don’t land here very often.
In April another boat came our way and this time crashed with the loss of a man, woman and child. It had approximately 100 on board, including Elizabeth who’s story I told here. But her story and their deaths made no difference to the rhetoric coming out of the press.
There have been many children drowned off our shores, but one small boy who was photographed on a beach in Turkey has, after 5 years of war and people dying to reach here, at last woken the world up.
In what way has the world woken up? It’s been a week since that boy died and what has the world actually done? There have been messages spread around social media of support. Good. But the boats are still coming.
There has been a show of support for the refugees arriving in large numbers in Germany. Good. But the boats are still too small for the number of people on board.
Governments have relented to the pressure put on by their own people and decided to accept more Syrian refugees. Good. But the smugglers are still making huge amounts of money off this crisis.
The hashtag #savesyriaschildren was trending on Twitter in the UK. Bloggers were donating money and posting pictures of their own children. Good. But people are still drowning to reach here.
When and how are the smugglers going to be stopped? Until they are stopped and those fleeing war are given a safer way to reach our shores this tragedy will continue to happen. Until there is a way for people to register as refugees in Turkey and take the legal ferry or air routes to Europe this will not stop. The numbers of those coming is not going to get any less.
Lets not forget that they are paying far more for a dangerous dinghy than the ferry would cost. On average the cost of the illegal journey is over €1000. I checked on line this morning and a one-way ticket on the fast catamaran from Marmaris to Rhodes would cost just €42.
This morning I’m off to join a few other expats as we start an initiative to provide a rucksack with the basics to help the refugees on their journey. You can check out what Helping Hands of Rhodes are doing on Facebook and support us.
But also start writing, emailing, and tweeting lets stop the smugglers and stop people dying on these shores. I’ve got a new hashtag for you #stoptherefugeesmugglers lets see if this can make a difference.
I know that many of you posted pictures of your children heading back to school this week, now repost and add the hashtag #StoptheRegugeeSmugglers . This young girl arrived on our island a week ago and her father was more than happy for me to take her picture. Anything he said to help others.
There has to be a way to stop the smugglers.
Update: On September 11th this was posted on Facebook:
This life jacket belonged to a man, a woman, or a child trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe. Written on the jacket are messages of love, prayers and the phone numbers of friends and family to call in case they should die.
Imagine for a moment having to wear this jacket. What would you write? And to whom? Share this and tag the people you would contact with your message.
Help us spread our appeal to European leaders: ensure legal and safe passage. Immediately. #SafePassage