Last summer I taught some lessons in the shelter for unaccompanied minors on cultural diversity. The topics were homosexuality and gender roles. Definitely interesting topics to discuss with 16-18 year old boys from Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Last week I went to Samos again, but this time I volunteered in the refugee camp, where 2000 people stay. Every day I saw the same faces. The people who hang around our milk and chai cabin are those who are looking for social contact. And maybe also the ones that don’t have family on Samos. The impression that really stuck with me were not the cultural differences, which are so often stressed in this overculturalized refugee debate, to me the similarities stand out more.
Some people are friendly, others are a bit less friendly. Some are very modest, others have a big mouth. Some are very social and talkative, others are very shy. Some seem depressed, others are joking around all the time. Some people have a lot of knowledge, others have less to tell. Some are really proud and confident, others are very uncertain. Some show their emotions, others are more closed. Some are afraid of the future, others are very positive. Some have very strict ideas, others are more open-minded. Some have big ambitions, and others are a bit lazy. And if you treat them well, they treat you well. There even were some hipster-refugees. Can you imagine how hard it is to be continue being a hipster while being in a refugee camp? And they even discriminate within their camp-society, like we do. You hear the Syrian children say: ‘African no good’ or ‘Afghan no good’. Apparently discrimination is something we should unlearn ourselves as well as the refugees.
I think the people in the refugee camp on Samos are pretty comparable to the people I know in the Netherlands. The biggest difference I think is that we have freedom to move around, more rights that protect us, a roof above our heads, live close to our families, have jobs and the chance to study, the option to choose what our future looks like, and probably experienced less awful things in our lives. To me that’s the biggest difference.
Text: Marcella van Dongen
Photo: Marcella van Dongen