Providing dignity to people on the move in Lesbos

Words and pictures: Stephen Ryan, IFRC

On the island of Lesbos, between 1,500 and 2,000 people arrive each day. Hellenic Red Cross is providing assistance to those at the First Reception Centres, but resources are in short supply.

Daod, from Afghanistan, says he and his wife Layla thought only of the lives of their two children when setting off on their perilous journey. “We want to find somewhere where it safe to raise a family,” he says. “In Afghanistan, nowhere is safe for us; you never know when the next bang on the door will be people with guns.”

The family hope to make it to Germany and register for asylum. “We would like to go make it to Germany; I have heard it is a good place to raise children,” says Daod. “But we will be happy anywhere that is safe, and we can be together.”

Daod and his wife are not alone in this hope. In the makeshift camp outside the First Reception Centre, hundreds of families wait in crude shelters, often for days, to be able to register. In their temporary ‘home’ – made from plastic sheeting on one side, a low olive tree on the other, and some cardboard as a floor, – Mustafa explains about the journey his family took. “We came from Afghanistan, by bus to Turkey. We are tired, but we must wait here for the registration before we can carry on.”

Mustafa is travelling together with his sister Suhaida, her husband Ali, and their three children, Mahdi (3), Mahdia (4) and Ruhola (15). The younger children play in the corner of the tiny space with some plastic toy animals. Suhaida explains that they bought the toys in Iran, after their first bus journey to reach their new lives. “They deserve more, but this is what we can manage,” he says.

It has not been an easy journey for the family. Mustafa says that he was scared crossing the sea at night. “There were more than 50 in the small boat. We know it is not safe, we know people die, but we have no choice; we cannot go back.”

Hellenic Red Cross distribute relief items to 450 people twice each week at the First Reception Centre, however there are thousands more outside the centre who are also in need. Currently, there simply is not enough resources to provide assistance for everyone. Dignity is something all are entitled to, but it is hard to find in such conditions.

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Providing dignity to people on the move in Lesbos