European refugee crisis: A Christmas letter from Athens

Christmas letter

This post is also available in: Português

(This was written last year, when we worked as independent volunteers in Athens during the European refugee crisis. Unfortunately the words are still as relevant as before). 

The end of the year is approaching once again and here I write my Christmas letter.

It is during this time that we find ourselves sending the best wishes to family and friends. During this happy and spread the love time, we wish sympathy and solidarity to even the ones we haven’t seen in a while or to the ones we have just met. We write good words to everybody. And that is beautiful! We need more of those words.

Nevertheless, this end of the year, I would like to take a step further. LET’S ALL MEAN THESE WORDS!

Let’s all send a Merry Christmas to everybody, wishing all the best and a prosperous New Year and good things to happen in 2017. But not because we just do it every year. But because there is a lot of people who really need good things to happen in their lives in 2017.

What happened this year?

The year of 2016 was truly to be remembered, some for good and some for bad reasons. For over ten millions, for a very bad reason, and surely for more people than that.

A father of five, engineer, with a stable job, simply getting on with his life, suddenly hears a massive burst and lots of smoke. He wakes up not understanding anything just to realise his house has just been bombed at five in the morning. He runs up and down to check out for his family and see his own father with an arm ripped off his body. This man sees his father die in front of his own eyes. And that made him sell everything he had to flee his country.

I am not making this up. I was told that one week ago. Amongst tears from both sides.

There are many who do not see a big issue to flee from your country. There are a lot of people who just complain about these strangers arriving from everywhere. But, for most of them to leave their country, there is a lot in it.

First, crossing the border became illegal. Second, costly. For a normal person, it could cost as low as US$ 40 to travel from Syria to Turkey or to Greece. For the Syrians, it costs 3.000 Euros. And more, there is no guarantee you will arrive at your destination. The only way is to cross the desert between Syria and Turkey by foot under a million bullets from the army. It takes no less than five attempts of climbing up the mountain, be received by gunshots, and climb back down to finally climb up, face the shots and carry on. It is not a beautiful story, many die, families got lost from each other.

map of Syrian route scape

What about staying then?

The alternative, staying in your country, is not great either. Suddenly, your brother, who is a teacher, just disappears. All you know is that he has gone to prison, but you cannot visit him. You haven’t heard from him for years. You come to a conclusion he is dead. And it is not just your brother. Your friends’ cousin too, your own friend, relatives, and people you know. They disappear.

Then you managed to find a boat from the Turkey coast to take you to Greece. You pay about 3.000 Euros each person, does not matter your age, to get into this boat. There is no capable pilot. One of the passengers will be taught how to pilot the boat at the spot. And you just hope for the best.

Once you arrive in Greece, you think you escaped death. Well, basically yes. But the sadness does not end here. You live in the streets when you used to have a massive house. You are treated like rubbish when you used to be respected in your job. The ones who help you are the ones who does not even have a solution for their own ideologies, such as the anarchists.

Then you realise how miserable your life has become.

But aren’t they bad?

We are talking here of millions of capable people. And I am not forgetting about the bad ones. I know there are some troublemakers. But are we going to condemn a whole nation after those? I am not just typing these words, I actually met with those families. Those are not examples I saw on TV, I heard them from their mouths. Do not let sensationalist headlines from Daily Mail or Fox News make your mind up about millions of people.

They are people. Just like us. They look, joke, eat, laugh, cry… just like us. There are a great number over there who would be just fine anywhere in the world. But they are just not welcome.

Let’s think beyond the borders.

Before judging someone because of his beliefs or culture, get to know them. There will be bad ones. But there will be a majority of good ones. As in your own herd.

My plea for everybody is that: mean the words we say this Christmas. And here I take the opportunity to send my best, best wishes to those who are still looking forward to be accepted in a different culture of theirs, with their pride completely shattered. With eyes in tears, I send my All the Best to all refugees out there.