Refugees on Lesvos: a ‘walk from hell’

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Already for two days we get up at 5 AM to be by dawn at the North beach of Lesvos, together with two loyal volunteers (the artist Eric and his wife Philippa). There we will help the first boat arriving from Turkey (not really the first, since the boats are coming in 24/7). The dinghies are cheap and without exception overloaded. Especially with the strong North East winds during the previous days, the crossing is dangerous and heavy. De boat arriving yesterday was filled with water, had thrown all bags overboard and there had even been a man abandonning ship in order to save his newly wed wife and unborn child (and all the others aboard). Today we feared the boat would hit the rocks and I was convinced I had to wade into the water. But there it doesn’t stop: after every arrival the refugees face a hike of about 70 kilometres at 30+° Celcius. But if that’s the worst…

Today we joined them on the first part of that walk. Twenty five kilometres from Eftalou to Kalloni. We know what’s ahead (a serious hike with heath, steep climbing and descending) and are well prepared with our boots, backpacks and sufficient water. Nonetheless after one day we can confirm that this walk is without a doubt heavy. And if it is this heavy for us, how will it be for the refugees? They’re walking on wet shoes, slippers, sandals and sometimes even barefoot. There are children amongst them and war wounded. They don’t carry any more water with them than the 500 ml bottle they recieved at the beach and are constantly searching for a refill at wells and taps along the road, not all of them being fresh. On friday a total of 1400 people arrived, and we don’t know how many have even been arriving today (on saturday).

But whatever happens, the refugees have good courage. The crossing of the sea between Turkey and Lesvos was by far less dangerous as the situation they’re fleeing from. For sometime I walked with Mohammed from Damascus. He teached me some Arabic words and in his likely sized English vocabulary he explained the situation in Syria as “very very black”. His shooting hands can’t be misinterpreted. Later on his hands signal the city is destroyed and he uses the Arabic word for death. Others tell us they’re fleeing from IS area, silence upon the question about their hometown or tell us with clear sarcasm their city is famous for its scud-launches. And all of them carry that same single emotion in their eyes: fear!

To me it has become clear: I might think the crossing from Turkey to Lesvos is life threatening dangerous, and I might value the hike over the island as heavy, but compared to the situation they left, it is nothing.

Still I (and many with me) do think however it is a weird practice in civilized Europe. And I don’t think you can humanly force people to such a three day long hike under bad circumstances. After fleeing from hell, they don’t have to walk a walk from hell. And honestly: it shouldn’t be necessary. But more on that later on…


Refugee-names in this article are altered.

The images above are videostills, photographed from the camerascreen. (c) Linda Zwart, all rights reserved.


Due to technical issues this blog is posted with a day delay.


As I’m not a native speaker, but do value correct English, I’d appreciate any corrections on language. Please type them in the commentsbox below and I’ll make the appropriate changes.