One Split Decision, One Year on an Island

A bit of information was thrown my way at 9:00 this morning at our daily team meeting. One of our team members had been to a meeting with the director of the Hotspot camp and learned that, for the refugees that arrived on the island in December, their first interviews with the asylum service will take place at the end of July. This means that, having arrived in December, they will literally wait for 8 months from the date of their arrival simply to be seen for the first time by the authorities. This length of time is…unthinkable, really. Even worse? For those who have arrived in just the last few weeks, they have yet to be processed, and by the time their first interviews are put in place, they may need to wait until December 2019, more than 11 months after their initial arrivals into Greece.

I tried to keep myself composed as I learned this information, but the sheer length of time is really difficult to wrap my head around. A human being, fleeing war or famine or political threat, goes through a tumultuous journey, spending time and energy and heart trying to get to a place with more promise, and they’re met with a tiny island in the Aegean Sea, where they’ll need to live in a tent for nearly a year before someone even gives them a chance to explain what they’re doing here. Unreal.

One year on an island. 

And so, after learning this information, I did the only thing I knew I could do. I pushed it out of the front of my mind, and I taught an English class. And then I taught another. And another. And then I sat in the yard of the Hub with a refugee and ate some hummus while he told me about how his girlfriend had just been shot and killed in Syria a week prior. He told me he drank 5 bottles of vodka in one week after getting this news. And then I went and taught another English class. Then I walked home, passing the refugees making their way into town as I went. They’ll be here for a year, and they could very well be caught up in the asylum process for two years. The better life they were looking for seems to have been put on hold indefinitely.

If they knew what was awaiting them on the other side of the water, would they have left Turkey for this? 

But man, this is why I tell myself, the work that these other volunteers and I are doing matters. It does, it matters. We give people an outlet. They can spend their time learning English and kicking a football. They don’t need to just wander the island and go crazy in the camp. They can get out, and we’re (usually) pretty happy to have them, when we’re not so tired that we’re ready to collapse into pieces. But that’s a story for another time.

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