I hadn’t even gotten to the island of Lesvos yet, and my heart was already breaking. Because this was the scene I saw on the ferry from Ayvalik, Turkey to Mytilene, Greece:
I shared the boat ride with mostly Greek day-trippers loading up on cheaper Turkish goods and a few other random folks and tourists like myself. The trip cost me 25 euros and lasted an hour and a half. Passport processing was quick if cramped on both sides, and I was told later that I got lucky because I hadn’t had my dried figs and fistik antep (pistachios from Gaziantep, Turkey, that I’m using as houseguest gifts) taken away. Compare that experience to this nightmare:
These people had to find smugglers, who they pretty universally cannot trust, for an illegal ride from Turkey to Greece in a rubber dinghy. They had to pay them up to 2000 Euros (2,240 US$ approx), which for some of them is all that they have. They are loaded up to well beyond the capacity of the boat. There are children and old folks and folks who can’t swim, and not everyone has a life vest. And for what happens next, horror stories abound: when people refuse to get onto the boat, smugglers have held people up at gunpoint until they board. Rafts deflate, motors run out of gas, life vests malfunction. Coast guards push back against saving them (more here). Thousands have died this year making this journey between Turkey and Greece, many in the 8-mile channel of water between the island I currently find myself and the country where I came from. Let me orient y’all as the guy who sold me my feribot ticket yesterday did to me on the passage I and the migrants are taking:
So, tell me, amidst all of this other rule-bending that’s going on throughout the EU and Turkey (i.e. Syrians are not classified as refugees in Turkey, they’re classified as guests; the amazing examples of officials throughout Europe prioritizing passage and refugee aid, in spite of its blurry legalities) throughout this mass migration, why those on the Turkish side cannot sell even just the remaining tickets on the boat to folks who are going to make the journey regardless? There were at least a half-dozen other ferry boats going unused in Ayvalik- they could even keep a regular ferry going, shuttling people back and forth.
This was my introduction to the dualism between the holiday trips and life-saving/life-threatening hail-mary journeys that characterize the visitors to and goings-on on this island right now. Coming in to Molyvos, a sleepy tourist town, the bus passed dusty olive farms and tidy villages- gossiping grandmothers, bored teenagers- transitioning into advertising for car and motorbike rentals, horseback riding and a scuba center. All of which juxtaposed with refugees- families, women in hijabs, scores of young men in backpacks- walking, almost marching, alongside the road towards the opposite direction of the bus. I was awed, stunned, immediately overcome with empathy, concern, and my first taste of the problems at hand.