Worldwide there are currently 68.5 million people as of 2018 that have been forced to flee their homes. 25.4 million of these are refugees who have been forced to flee their countries and seek asylum elsewhere. Around 28,300 people every day are forced to flee their homes due to conflict or persecution. Now more than ever is the time to take action to raise awareness about the refugee crisis and volunteer to help those in need!
A REFUGEE’S JOURNEY
Fleeing their countries was not safe or easy. Many times the refugees would have to smuggle out of their cities or regions illegally and risk being caught by armed forces. For many Syrians escaping their country, it was a long journey to reach the Northern border with Turkey and many had to cross numerous frontlines to reach the border. Once in Turkey, they were safe from the fighting yet still vulnerable in every way. Turkey, a country 1,678 miles long (equivalent of the distance from Los Angeles to Houston) was not an easy country to cross. From living in make shift camps to traveling on foot or by bus, the refugees trying to reach the coast of Turkey had to travel for days or weeks depending on their transportation.
Some had to go by foot, resulting in days and days of walking from village to village and trying to find shelter where possible. Others payed smugglers to hide them in buses traveling through the country while others were able to travel by car, resulting in only 2 or 3 days worth of travel. The situation in Turkey for refugees is better than being back home, but they are still living in very bad conditions in some areas. Turkey is currently hosting around 2.9 million refugees and are doing their best to keep up with the growing number entering each day.
Meeting refugee families living on the streets of Bodrum, Turkey waiting to cross to Greece.
Boats in Kos, Greece after being used to cross from Turkey.
Once they arrived at the coast, there were many different ways of trying to cross over to Greece. Since they could not legally enter the EU because they did not have proper visas, they would have to pay smugglers crazy amounts of money to cross the sea to reach a Greek island. On average, the smugglers would charge 2000 euros a person to board a flimsy rubber boat to cross from a remote beach on the coast of Turkey to a nearby Greek island.
Although the smugglers would promise that the boats were safe, they would over crowd them and the boats risked to sink or collapse. Many times the smugglers would give no instruction on how to drive the boat and would leave the refugees (who have never seen the sea before) to figure it out themselves. We have personally heard many accounts where the smugglers would slash the rubber boats on purpose as they left the shore so they would sink. The refugees were many times beaten or abused if they did not follow the smuggler’s orders.
If they arrived to the Greek island, they were immediately brought to camps where they were given a tent and food. The main islands in Greece with refugee arrivals were Lesvos, Chois, Kos, and Samos. During 2015 when the borders of the European countries were still open, the refugees would only spend a few days in the islands before being brought to the capital city Athens by ferry boat.
After arriving in Athens, they were bused up to the Idomeni border crossing where they would continue their journeys through the Balkan nations to eventually reach Germany or other northern countries.
Refugees crossing a river in Macedonia trying to cross the border from Northern Greece. The people in the picture are actually families we met later in Athens who personally told us the story.
The real crisis in Greece began in March 2016 when the EU made an agreement with Turkey to slow down the influx of refugees and migrants crossing the sea. Turkey agreed to take back all the refugees and migrants arriving in Greece while the EU committed to resettling refugees directly from Turkey. At the same time the Balkan countries ( Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia) decided to close their borders to all refugees, which left 10,000 people in the Idomeni camp at the border of Macedonia stranded. Most of the refugees that could not cross the border returned back to Athens and lived in refugee camps until they were processed through the Greek system and relocated to another European country months or years later.
Over the past 3 years, over 1 million people have traveled through Greece seeking shelter and a better life in Europe. The people arriving in Greece have taken a dangerous journey and have risked their lived in hope for a better future. Although many people have been relocated to other European countries, there are thousands of people in Greece living in camps, squats, or apartments. The majority of these people come from conflict-stricken countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Although the hight of the crisis was in 2015/2016, there are still people coming each day. Families that have been in Greece for some time now are adapting to the local language and culture, however they are still on their journeys of finding a new home and are still waiting to find out their fate. Many refugee children have not been to go to school for months or years and have missed out on many precious years of their education. Families are still unsure of what awaits them in the future as they are stuck in limbo.
All of the facts have been providing from the UNHCR and many of the stories have been told to us personally by refugees who experienced these events.