Our friend Jeanne had just come back from her work covering the refugee crisis in the Greek island of Lesbos and we had a chance to make this short film with her about what she experienced.
Jeanne draws the parallels between the current flood of refugees and the wave of refugees that came to Lesbos in 1922 fleeing from Turkey. It’s a story that continues to grow in importance as the number of refugees fleeing to Lesbos accelerates.
“Lesbos has become one of the most popular gateways into the European Union. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said this week that 45,361 migrants had arrived in Greece by sea so far this year, 31 times more than for all of January 2015.” The Guardian
Thanks for your great work, Jeanne! We’re proud to participate. Follow the link for additional information on Jeanne’s work.
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I’m Jeanne Carstensen I’m a journalist and I just got back from Lesbos, Greece where I was covering the refugee crisis for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. This is the biggest wave of refugees and migrants that we’ve seen since WWII.
And I wanted to go to Lesbos because this was the epicenter of the crisis. This refugee situation is going to be with us for a long time now.
I think it is becoming part of the modern world. What happens when a local population suddenly is overrun with all these refugees. How do they cope with that? How do the refugees cope with that? The refugees coming to Lesbos now are mostly Syrian and Afghanis, Iraqis. But the bulk of the people are from Syria and they are fleeing the war there.
The smugglers are making a lot of money. It’s a billion dollar industry that’s been developed and people pay about $1200 each and they get into these rubber boats that really aren’t meant for anything except this smuggling trip.
They are not safe boats. They have to buy their own life jackets, many of them are fake.
And I would speak to them on the beach when they first arrived. And they are very tender because they are vulnerable, they were afraid — they thought they might die.
And I would also talk to people in refugee camps. People were so kind and so welcoming.
They would be sitting on blankets say outside of their tent, and people would say come sit with me, come sit with me. And I found people had a lot of dignity and they also had a lot of hope. The population of Lesbos itself comes from refugees. In 1922, the Greek population of Asia Minor or Turkey had to flee.
They were forced to the coastline and they were forced into boats very much like today’s refugees. And they came across to the Aegean islands, including Lesbos.
As I got to know more people there I realized there was a quiet sympathy that a lot of the population had for these refugees.
One place I spent a lot of time is a village called Skala Sykaminias and this is a village of just 140 people. so it’s one of the areas where many, many boats arrive. How can a population of 140 people deal with 1000s of people walking by their village every day? It’s pretty stunning.
And one reason that they have a kind of tolerance for this situation is that they all come from this refugee population of 1922. It’s interesting to be in a place where refugees or descendants of refugees are helping new refugees.
Not everybody supports the refugees. It’s caused a lot of stress on the island. There are a lot of fears. But so far there’s been a lot of kindness and a sort of willingness to try and help them. A lot of the help I saw that the Greeks gave to the refugees were just simple things. Like if someone needs food, well, there might not be much but a little bit of bread might be shared, something like this. But that willingness, that small gesture goes a long way.
I saw a lot of suffering when I was there watching these boats arrive if the weather is bad, anything goes wrong, people are getting wet they’re getting hypothermia, sometimes the boats go down at sea, there are search and rescue operations going on every single day.
There was one night in October when about 60 people drowned. They could not recover them all and for about a week corpses were washing up on the beach.
And to see what these refugees go through, the amount of fear, what it’s like to already have lost your home and then to lose your husband, your wife, your children on this trip that you’re taking filled with hope for a better future but some of your family doesn’t make it – it’s really very, very tragic.
I feel even more motivated now to report on the refugee crisis than I did before because we’re seeing a global rise in Islamophobia. And I want to continue covering this story, tracking where these refugees are going, who they are and make sure that we don’t lose sight of the fact that these are human beings who have a legitimate right to seek asylum.