For a vivid account of the refugee crisis, look no further than Kate Kleinsasser. She and her husband, Eric, are two dynamic Christians serving with i58 Greece on the island of Lesvos.
(Condensed from an interview on December 13th, 2017)
Could you describe Lesvos to me?
Lesvos is actually a vacation island, and it’s a beautiful, beautiful place! Most of the people are older and it’s a low-key Grecian life – picking olives and selling feta. In 2015, when i58 started, thousands and thousands of refugees were pouring onto the island. I really am grateful for a lot of the Greeks who opened their arms to the refugees and compensated for the lack of humanitarian aid.
Greece, as a country, is in economic crisis. Because of the struggle for jobs and financial security, the refugee crisis was just another blow to the economy. Lesvos is 3.5 miles from Turkey, so it’s only a short trip across the water. Most of the refugees end up on Lesvos, Samos, and Chios (the three main islands). Greek law mandates registration, so they must stay long enough to get their paperwork before moving on to the mainland. Because of the extensive amount of refugees in the last year, they have been stuck on the islands for up to a year and a half, two years.
Are there any estimates as to how many refugees die enroute to Lesvos?
Yes, there are. Approximately 45 people died trying to cross the Aegean in 2016. From Libya to Italy, there are large numbers of casualties. More than 1,000 refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean so far this year. The mortality rate has tripled since 2015.
The reason for that – smugglers are interested in the money they can get. They charge between 500 and 1,500 (USD) per head and they crowd 60-70 people on a dinghy, a rubber boat that’s made for maybe 20 people. They put in about a fourth amount of the gas they need to get across – just to get them started. So then they run out of gas and they’re just pitched and tossed on the waves. Boats capsize and many of the people drown.
Are the majority of refugees from certain countries? Or all over?
Many people think the majority of them are from Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq – that is still true, but there are hundreds from all over the world. We’re talking Yemen, Palestine, the Congo, Cameroon, Somalia, Iran, Guinea, Ghana, Haiti, Dominican Republic. Many of those refugees are young women and men traveling alone; I would say the majority of the women have been trafficked or bribed, sexually assaulted, or used for monetary gain somewhere along the way. That makes more sense as to why they come from so far.
So how does it work in the refugee camps with all those cultures and languages just piled on top of each other?
It’s very difficult because they’ve come from a place of war. The tension rises when they’re in such small quarters and smashed. There’s around 7,000 in the camp right now, and the camp is made for around 1,500. Because they’re all mixed up (and because of the frustration and trauma they’ve faced), fights and riots and fires break out. It just brews and explodes.
Can you think of a certain event or a certain person that really illustrates the refugees’ story?
A young Kurdish soldier, Azran, was involved in taking water and relief to the Yazidi people fleeing from ISIS after the attack on Mount Sinjar in 2014. He watched his girlfriend be shot in the streets beside him and fled the country feeling very traumatized, like he could never be happy again. March 20th, when the camp turned into a detention center facility, he was one of the refugees who was behind the gate. Eric and I were trying to get in the gate, trying to get the police to let us in. He ended up being our translator as we tried to explain to the people what was going on. That ended up developing into a very close relationship.
Azran, for months afterwards, would sit with our volunteers and they would ask him, “Why are you sad?” and he would tell stories about his life. He told one of our volunteers that he had a chronic asthma problem ever since the stress he went through. The volunteer prayed over him in the name of Jesus, and he was immediately healed. The touch of Jesus was just evident; God was trying to speak to him.
So Azran came to Christ after thinking it through extensively and is now living a lot like the Apostle Paul – praying over people, witnessing healings, and bringing people to Christ. He reads the Bible and just does what it says. If the Bible says to forgive those who are angry with him, that’s what he does. It’s been tremendously inspiring.
In our next installment, Kate describes i58’s unique birth and its maiden voyage into the unfriendly bathrooms of Camp Moria. To read part two, click here.
|Amanda Wenger is a reader. She reads the classics, the Bible, and the signs of the times. She’s probably read your Facebook page. But don’t read into that.|