As a volunteer in Lesvos, you get to meet a lot of wonderful people who touch your heart and soul in a number of ways. Yesterday, we had two such encounters at our Drop Centre in Moria Village. First, as we prepared for our daily English class, a local, Greek, elderly woman stopped by our centre with some beautiful flowers. This was the second time this week that she stopped by to give us flowers. To us, these gifts symbolized our increasing acceptance in the village and the friendly relations we have cultivated with our local neighbours. This is so important, especially since many of the people in the village were initially sceptical to host foreign volunteers and a centre for refugees.
A popular holiday destination for many Europeans, the Greek island Lesvos is also the gateway to the European Union for many refugees and migrants. In 2015, during the height of the influx, several thousand people landed on the island’s beaches on a daily basis. However, back then, Lesvos was an island of transit from Turkey to the Greek mainland and other European countries. Today, following EU’s heavily-criticised deal with Turkey and policies of containment, more than 10 000 refugees, the majority from war-torn countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, are trapped in precarious conditions on the island, while waiting out their asylum claims. Crucially, what is happening on Lesvos is a not merely or primarily a result of the inefficiency and mismanagement of the Greek asylum system, but rather a direct result of European countries’ hardening stance toward people fleeing war, persecution and poverty.