What if I were there?

Try to imagine. You fled your own country because of war, prosecution, abuse, threats because of your religious or political choices. After a long and dangerous journey you finally arrive with your family or friends in Turkey. A dangerous trip in a wreck across the sea awaits. Smugglers force you to throw your possessions overboard, so more people can fit in the boat. You lose everything: your papers, photo’s, important medication. If you are lucky, the boat reaches the other side. Sometimes it takes hours of floating on the open sea, in which fear, panic and despair slowly rise. You are terrified. When you finally reach the Greece coast, you are ecstatic: You are safe in Europe!! Now your life will be different. Now you can start building a new and safe life. But soon you realize this bubble is bursting.

You are transferred to a refugee camp, which is overflowing. Even the first impression scares you: barbed wires, police and many, many people. With no less then 3000 other men, women and children you need to stay in the camp. Not for a few days, but for a long period of time. You may be waiting for more than 18 months, without knowing what will happen. Will you be sent back to Turkey? Will you be allowed to stay in Europe? You are just not getting any information. Despair is growing each day. You feel unsafe, you can’t sleep anymore, your thoughts never turn off. You are suffering from reliving memories and nightmares. It even goes as far as you saying out loud you rather wish you had died in your own country than making this journey with this camp as your destination.

This is not the story of one refugee from the camp. No, this is the story of all those 3000 people in the camp on Lesbos. The despair is taking its toll. This is reflected in different forms of (severe) self-mutilation, extreme panic attacks and endless sleeping disorders each day at the medical cabin. Despite being able to – with a great team – be a drop in the ocean for eleven days (by providing English lessons, medical care and organizing children’s activities, among other things), it is not nearly enough.

Europe, wake up! This is inhumane! Nobody will ‘just’ leave everything behind. Nobody will ‘just’ get on a rickety boat at sea with a chance of drowning. Nobody wants to stay in a camp like that.

What if you were there? What if I was there? It is unimaginable. You can try, but it won’t even come close to reality.

We are now on our way back home. We are free to go anywhere we want in the world. Nobody will refuse us or place us in a camp. Why the difference? Purely and simply because we were born in the Netherlands, and not in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or Congo. It feels unfair and it is unfair!

Text: Reina Timmer