Thursday 23 March 2017

'Sleeping out in the open' little water; no sanitation. It's about as far away from a holiday as you could get'

A young Syrian girl waits with her family to board a bus to take her to a reception centre after she crossed the border from Serbia into Hungary close to the village of Roszke .
A young Syrian girl waits with her family to board a bus to take her to a reception centre after she crossed the border from Serbia into Hungary close to the village of Roszke .
Hungarian soldiers adjust the razor wire on a fence near the town of Asotthalom, Hungary.
Jonathan Edgar

Jonathan Edgar

A couple of mornings ago, I walked the beach adjacent to the main port of Kos. On one end of the strip, holidaymaker sunbathe and swim in the shade of the large yachts; enjoying themselves as they should in what is a beautiful part of the world.

Two hundred metres further on, the scene changes dramatically.

Thousands of refugees lie across the beach. They are wearing the clothes of the tourist, but the similarities end there. They are sleeping apart from each other in order to draw the least amount of attention to themselves. They have a cardboard box to lie on if they are lucky. There is no shelter. There are virtually no services of any kind. They have no possessions.

Sleeping out in the open; little water; no sanitation. It's about as far away from a holiday as you could get.

There are 700 migrants arriving in Kos every day. This, on an island with a population of just over 30,000. Although the refugees from Syria are getting fast-tracked - one-third of the people arriving are economic migrants from places like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran who have to go through the entire asylum-seeking process - the Kos police force has the ability to process just 150 people every 24 hours. That's leaving a backlog of 600 at the end of each day. These people can be stuck in Kos for anything from four to six weeks.

I have spoken to some of the Syrians since I arrived. After crossing the border into Turkey, they are making their way down to the port of Bodrum. Here they are linking up with smugglers and who are organising these extremely hazardous crossings and charging adults $1,200 (€1,070) to cross, or $1,700 (€1,515) if you are travelling with a child. Contrast this with a very comfortable, safe and straightforward one-hour €20 trip by ferry for tourists and everyone else.

The smugglers are sending them across in the middle of the night to avoid the coastguard. Usually, they travel in dinghies, small boats or other means of illegal transport.

Ultimately, these people know that there is no guarantee that they will arrive safely at the other side. They know that thousands of migrants have drowned already this year making similar crossings. But these people are willing to die at sea, rather than remain in their own country and be killed by a barrel bomb.

If they do succeeded in making it to Kos, they arrive physically exhausted and psychologically traumatised.

I know where they are coming from. I've been inside Syria; I've been on the border; I understand what they are facing. It's an extremely harsh existence. They are being persecuted; they are suffering war crimes.

They are being bombed every day. We simply can't blame these people for making these journeys and landing on our shores. They are simply trying to escape the terror, protect their families and provide an education for their children.

Goal is continuing its work inside Syria. We are delivering food, water and other aid to one million people every month. There is no question that this work needs to continue; if it doesn't a lot more people will start to move. We also need to strengthen the response to refugees who do cross the border from Syria into countries like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon; EU countries need to shoulder some of the burden; and there has to be an increased political will to finally find a lasting solution to the crisis.

The situation in Kos and across Europe is bad now, but let's bear in mind that it will be paltry in comparison to what we could be looking at if we don't work to resolve these issues now. If two or three more towns around Idlib province fall, you are going to find another two million people on the move. Those numbers will be unsustainable for the Turks and they will facilitate these people through Turkey into Greece, up to Macedonia and then into Western Europe.

Jonathan Edgar is Chief Operations Officer with Goal

Irish Independent

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