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We Are Here - on the beaches of Lesvos, waiting for refugees crossing, 2015 - Benjamin Gow

We Are Here – on the beaches of Lesvos, waiting for refugees crossing, 2015

It begins before the sun rises. Every day. Before the turn of the Earth slowly moves the tiny island of Lesvos into the light of a new morning, we are already looking for you.

As the vast Hellenic sky slowly colours as though watermelon juice or translucent honey is smeared above the skyline, there are people standing on the shoreline searching the horizon for signs of life. On some cold mornings, it’s as though iridescent blue dust gets caught in a breeze and blows across the sky, and still you are anticipated. Sometimes it’s as if someone put wet leaves on a fire and the grey smoky clouds block out the dawn light, but we are still here.

It doesn’t matter what the weather is, someone is out here scanning the horizon for those of you fleeing from your homes. I have stood as far out as the rocks will let me, breathing with the sound of the waves lapping on the shore around me.

It doesn’t matter if you can’t come today. We are still here. 
It feels post-apocalyptic, as if we are searching for the survivors of some terrible perfect storm of cataclysmic events. And in a way we are. The triumvirate of politics, power, and profit combine with the whiff of oil and gas, under the cover of religious zeal, to uproot entire nations and throw them across the world. Here, on the island of Lesvos, Greece, we sit on the beaches and look out for you.

Wherever we are on the refugee routes, we are a disparate patchwork of charities, grassroots organisations, and self-organised lifeguards, medics and independent volunteers; with underground supply chains of donations, working on crowdfunded efforts, who have shown up on the frontline of the humanitarian crisis as the only real European response.

We are here, where we saw a failing by those we elected in our place; who have come up with numerous ways to deal with the flow of refugees but not the humanitarian needs.

We are here because one day we noticed you and asked: “why?” “from where?” and “since when?” We are here because we know the reality is we have more in common with the people our governments are bombing than the people we’re bombing them for.

We are not perfect, in fact, we are flawed; we are emotional, certain, passionate, tough, righteous, over-protective, kind, volatile; we come from so many different nations, with different backgrounds and different experiences; we are poor, rich, middle-class, old, young, militant, pacifist, quiet, loud, optimistic, irascible – the wide-eyed and cynical, and sometimes both at the same time.

But, most of all, we are here.

We are here. We are on the beaches, the first response welcome; to help your babies and children off the boats, to help you to land safely, with car boots full of emergency blankets, water, dry clothes. We are here to show you the way to reach more help; makeshift camps on the side of the dirt tracks with a portacabin, or coach, or tent with basic medical aid, with people boiling water for tea, with biscuits, with more dry clothes, with bin bags for your wet belongings. With oranges and lollipops for your children, if we can. From there we direct you, take you, assist you to the nearest point a bus can drive to pick you up. At that transition point there are more of us, with basic provisions, medical care and covered waiting areas, and buses, so that nobody has to walk two days to the first hotspot registration point in Greece.

We meet you every day that you come, and we see how scared you are, how dangerous it is, how tough you have to be, it costs you your life savings and costs the lives of your friends of your families. You show us that casualties of war deserve respect, solidarity and friendship; you show us that you are just people.

Here in the gap between the world at war, you are fleeing and the one that we come from we are together. Our differences irrelevant.

We are here.

How do we know you are coming? Because we are looking for you.

Thank you to everyone who is asking how they can help, the plan is to spread compassion and I would love your help to do that.

I am based in Turkey Currently.

Benjamin Gow

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