Islamic Relief, which is on the Greek island of Lesvos providing vital humanitarian aid amid the refugee crisis, hears from two families who have endured much in their bid to reach a safe place.
“I have nothing left to smile about”
Waleed came to Lesvos from Turkey five days ago with his sister-in-law, Sadia. He was asked by his brother, who lives in Europe, to escort her to safety.
The boat he travelled on was designed to carry 35 people but was over capacity. Confrontation broke out amongst the travellers, some of whom were unwilling to be flexible for women and children trying to get to safety. The journey across the sea to the island – which can be seen from Turkish shores – should take no more than 30 minutes by motorboat. It took nine hours. One refugee jumped from the boat to swim the rest of the distance to land. He has not been seen since.
Waleed and Sadia have since found temporary refuge in Molyvos, with several hundred other refugees. In tourist guides, the area is known as the cultural hub of Lesvos, boasting beautiful beaches, restaurants, shops and art galleries. But of course, like many thousands of others on the island, Waleed is not there to sightsee. Instead, he waits in limbo to continue his gruelling journey to mainland Europe. He attempts a smile as he reflects on all he has experienced in his quest for safety.
“This smile, it is not me anymore. I have nothing left to smile about,” he says.
Unable to access medical care
Saeed left Syria after his home was bombed. His first wife sustained severe burns, leaving her unable to flee to safety with her husband. The most recent part of his journey has brought Saeed, his son Umar, his second wife and their three-month old daughter on a perilous trip by boat to the holiday island.
They have been staying in a makeshift camp in Molyvos, in northern Lesvos, for five days. Saeed has kidney problems and baby Fatima has breathing difficulties, but they have been unable to access the medical care they need on the island.
“An ambulance came yesterday,” recounts Saeed, “but they were only able to take three people.”
As well as assisting refugees in Greece, Islamic Relief is providing aid in a host of other European countries including Italy and Germany, and continues its lifesaving work in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.
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* All names have been changed upon request
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