War is the demise of all mankind. A complete halt of progress that not only destroys the earth around us but displaces many. In an effort to alleviate their suffering, those in war-torn nations resort to seeking refuge in foreign lands.
The Syrian Civil War hasn’t settled down as countless innocent lives are being taken to this day. As a result, the last few years has seen an influx of migrants coming to European borders.
Though nations like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan carry some of the largest amounts of refugees, Greece and its refugee facilities has been at the centre of talks in recent years.
Migration in recent years has become a subject of controversy due to conflicting views about refugees. Some in Europe scapegoat migrant populations for all of the problems in their country while others say there needs to be a greater effort in helping them survive.
Having communicated with refugees in person, Anrike Piel has a stronger perspective into the crisis than most of what we see in mainstream media today.
She is a visual artist who is also arguably an activist. Anrike’s main focus of work involves the advocation for social justice as well as the empowerment of women.
Her involvement in the refugee crisis started two years ago when a dear friend invited her to volunteer at Shatila Camp in Lebanon.
Using creativity as a drive, Anrike managed to give young women in the refugee camp the chance to express themselves artistically in a program called Peace for Women in Exile.
It was a workshop that involved empowering female refugees in a safe space where they can celebrate their femininity and explore different forms of creativity.
“For the past 2 years I have been learning about human rights, laws, politics, war crimes and much more,” she explained, “putting even greater thrive into the projects I work on now to advocate for justice and bring as many smiles into the faces of the ones most resilient yet most vulnerable today.”
Anrike took some time out of her hard work to share her experience in a written Q & A discussing a recent trip to a refugee camp in Greece.
She felt most gravitated towards herself in the presence of passionate volunteers from all over the globe. However, she highlights the importance of the refugees that possess the strength of God.
“When it’s easier to die but you choose to fight for your life – that’s strength,” Anrike wrote. “When everything around you is destroyed and you find hope that there is a better world somewhere – that’s strength. Miracles.”
She went on to talk about the current state of Greece concerning the refugee influx and the role the European Union has played in handling the situation.
Greece is struggling with the amount of refugees coming in and the conditions of the camps set up around the country are described as “some of the world’s most inhumane”.
“Closed borders, racism, xenophobic attacks, rejected asylum applications, poverty and lengthy waits is the reality.”
Anrike does not fully put the blame on Greece as they are going through their own financial struggles, but also on the EU for abandoning the southern European nation in the height of this crisis.
“One of the binding principles of the EU is solidarity between member states and now the Union has left Greece, a country that has been struggling to feed its own people, on its own.
“Europe has continued to make security its priority, rather than the protection of vulnerable people.”
She cited a statistic comparing the fact that the EU have only spent around €700m on provisions for refugees while an outstanding €2bn was spent on border security.
The plight of refugees is often desensitised by those who are misinformed about them on various media platforms. Sometimes an almost villainous image is painted on migrants because of the countries they come from.
But the sad truth is, refugees come to borders to escape the villainy caused by wars.
“So let me paint you a picture – people are fleeing war – not just from the bombs dropping from the sky but systematic torture by their very own government.
“They have experienced insane amounts of trauma, lost loved ones, homes destroyed with a future…uncertain…”
Anrike explained the process of transit to the European countries as many vulnerable people rely on giving whatever they can to smugglers without any proper guarantee of a safe passage.
Once in foreign territory, refugees are treated with humiliating abuse by border police. Once they reach safety, migrants are “then sent to camps with endless row of tents (if lucky, crammed in a container).”
For these people, a lot of the time is spent waiting in camps to confirm asylum or reunite with family members. She said: “the waiting-game can go from some months to years, meanwhile adults are not allowed to work and have to rely on humanitarian help.
“This waiting-game is a period where hopes fade…”
Sometimes the waiting-game can resort to the deportation of refugees back into the destruction they fled from. Anrike cited the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol that stated it’s against the law to deport a refugee back to a destructive environment against their own will.
In times of hardship in other parts of the world, we need to learn how to be human with each other and set aside any differences.
Anrike wrote: “I’m relying on the intelligence of the reader when I’m trying to explain how human these humans are and the only difference between the people in camps and the people reading this, sitting in their offices or school, is our geographical location.”
She saw and met many interesting individuals at the camp that carried different burdens with them compounded in the same environment.
“I saw hyperactive children yet not once did I hear a child cry… A 12-year-old girl ran to give me a hug while her hand was covered in blood as she had been cutting herself…Refugees in Greece (especially Lesbos) are increasingly attempting suicide, self-harming or having suicidal thoughts.
“A man greeted me every day with the phrase ‘Hello my teacher, my sister, my friend’ always as he had the biggest smile on his face despite suffering intense stomach and tooth pain, not being able to get medical assistance.
“I was shown photos of family members, photos of peoples’ homes before they were destroyed. I was shown scars and then photos of fresh torture wounds by the prison guards.
“I was shown documents sent to the individuals by their governments, apologising for the murders of their family members…A piece of paper for a murder, and no justice…”
Anrike explained the importance of papers during the asylum process. A lot of the folks residing in the camp would often carry resumes and certificates with them to show how highly qualified they were in their previous lives.
“It just felt odd to have this conversation while no matter their lifelong hard work, they are still treated as if they’re not human…I’m talking about surgeons, scientists, lawyers, teachers, car mechanics, chefs, nurses.
“I saw young men and women eagerly learning English or German and not willing to sacrifice any class because they knew the value of it.
“I met people who told me the greatest stories of patience, strength, resilience, hope, love, pain loss and fear.”
Folk Devils is a term we use in journalism to describe the portrayal of a person or a group of people by the media in a negative or deviant way. The purpose of a folk devil is to fear monger and scapegoat groups in order to cause moral panic.
When asked about people’s responses to her work, Anrike says she was saddened and disappointed by the amount who either ignored the situation or members of the right-wing who posted fear mongering nonsense on social media. There were some who did show a keen interest in the crisis.
“Sometimes I meet people with whom I have a passionate conversation on the topic, or people who are curious to know more and ask questions. That’s when it feels like humanity still exists. Other times it’s like an elephant in a room and people try to avoid the topic at all cost.”
A lot can be done to help those in need at the camps and beyond. As she mentioned before, the importance of volunteering can go a long way. Anrike urges us to donate to grassroots NGOs and get involved in the work they take part in.
“Open a conversation with your friends and family. Raise children that would not slam a door closed in front of another person and would befriend a new classmate that carries refugee status.
“Create art that gives a voice to the voiceless. Pressure your government. Don’t support companies, leaders and governments that cause destruction. If you see someone being discriminated and bullied, stand up for the person. Do not allow hate speech. Love.”
Anrike concluded the Q & A with a message to those either ignorant or unaware of the situation in Greece:
“When people are willing to risk their lives, take an uncertain journey to the unknown, they’re not scared to lose anything because everything they had was destroyed already.
“History is repeating itself. My grandma said that back in the day, people thought the Holocaust can’t be true because it’s just too evil…
“To the many talking about ‘two sides to the story’ – I agree with you. There is indeed two sides to it – you either take the side of rockets or you take the side of humanity.
“Power is weakness. Love is strength. Ignorance paves a way for destruction.”