Retsona Refugee Camp

Today we visit a refugee camp in Greece, one of three dozen together holding about 65,000 (known) refugees, forwarded from detention centres and now on the transfer lists awaiting invitation from the receiving EU countries. 

We visit the home of a Syrian surgeon and two of his friends. One has left his family behind in Iraq after his three brothers were murdered; the other brought his son on the same boat with the surgeon (at gun point) and is hoping to one day join his wife in The Netherlands. We sit together in the makeshift extension they have built from canvas and pallets; that hangs from the “IsoBox” portable dwelling that provides a room with their three bunks, a sink, and a shower room. 

We learn that these cabins are funded by the United Arab Emirates and I start to wonder how much is going on that is not known or reported, at least not loudly enough to reach my own ears?

We exchange introductions, watching video clips on each other’s phones. I show them my granddaughter standing up alone for the first time this week. They show me a long dream-like clip of the two friends walking and swinging the small boy in a large green hillside here in Retsona. It is a very moving vision to see the child pictured, growing up and making memories of what for him is normal life; without his mother, and far from home. 

So young to be a survivor of a great adventure, crossing waters where hundreds can die in a single day. So young to be facing a complete uncertainty of opportunity. Will he one day find an education? Or work? Acceptance and belonging in any society? Will he lose his fear of strangers?

We learn of the journeys by boat that will scar their memories for life. We’re told how a soldier cried, lifting babies to safety. Even the living ones. 

Some things cannot be restored. Our friend the surgeon explains that even a single family might include brothers who have supported the state, the rebels, Da’esh, and other groups. How many generations must pass before resentments can be healed or forgotten between these murderous factions?

The problems and the solutions evolve constantly around us. Containers of clothes and washing machines stand unused because of the logistical problems of fair distribution and utility supply in remote rural areas. But. The surgeon shows us a red rucksack that unfolds to reveal medication and tools of his profession, given to him by the Red Cross. 

I do not now name the men we met. I do not share their picture. I cannot explain, do not understand some things we saw there. Except to walk alongside them a while on their perilous journey, I do not know what we can do. I do not see this Great Walk ceasing while war continues to destroy countries whose dominion goes on being challenged and defended under a growing and persistent “war economy”. 

That’s a poison not easily extracted when good money is made by selling weapons to war makers. The poison spreads to infect Europe. Because. It’s not just violent smugglers getting rich; Turkey’s and Greece’s economies get a much needed boost from EU bribes to hold back the tide of refugees, or even from renting cars and rooms to aid workers in the emerging establishment of that permanent “refugee economy”. 

Here’s a picture of washing hanging on the newly installed barbed wire fence. The heavy gate was quickly smashed by the refugees who are forever outwitting the wall builders, and improvising utility for themselves; clinging to anything and everything for a handhold onto hope, and dignified daily living; anywhere. 

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