Have you ever denied water to a thirsty person? I have. May God forgive me. Yesterday the boats arrived one after the other and the refugees, were cold and hungry, began to queue on the fringe of the camp for their refugee paper that is now their new identity. The paper will allow them to pass through European borders. Without them, they do not exist in official terms.
The queue is long and the average wait is twelve hours because the UNHCR has to be thorough when they process the refugees; fingerprints, interview etc. The camp is run by volunteers. Without them the refugees would have no dry clothes to change into after their sea journey, no food and no water.
When the refugees arrived in the morning, afternoon and they were given rice and water by the
volunteers. Hours later, as the sunlight disappeared and the biting cold of the night dug in, the mood changed. Babies could be heard crying. Mothers made an effort to keep their older children closer to them in the darkness of a Greek island hilltop which is the camp. People shifted on their feet.
The Greek police who maintain order suddenly looker sharper. This is a force that keeps riot shields on hand to maintain that order.
Just after 6pm the kitchen volunteers arrived with a big drum of hot rice pudding for the refugees. This was part evening meal and part an attempt to provide warmth for the body. We distributed it in paper cups and then the water bottles arrived. As I tore up the plastic covering, another volunteer came running up.
‘Don’t! Stop! We can’t give them the water.’
I looked at her in confusion. ‘Why not? The refugees have been standing for hours. They need water.
”The Afghan line hasn’t been given any food. There is nothing left for them and so the water has to be given to the Afghans.’
You see there are two lines in the camp. One is for the Syrians and the other is for the Afghans. The Afghan refugees are the Hazara people whom the UN recognise as a persecuted minority. You may have read about the popular Hazara character in Khaled Hussaini’s Kite Runner.’ok,’ I agreed.
‘ok,’ I agreed.
‘Watch the water,’ she said. ‘I’m going to get a Farsi speaking interpreter to explain to the Afghan line that unfortunately there is no more food and we only have water.’
She disappeared and I stood watch over the bottles. Minutes later a child came up and asked for a bottle. I shouldn’t have given it, but I gave it anyway. Next a man came up. I shook my head and mouthed no. He gazed at me in surprise and I averted my eyes. This was a man who had lost his country and home and I was refusing to give him a bottle of water.
I kept my gaze away from the people I had only hours earlier greeted with a smile and ‘Marhaba’. They included the widows I had given charity money to and with whom I had shed tears with when we had become overwhelmed with emotion.
I looked up. It was one of the police officers.
‘Take the water away from here if you are not going to give it.’
‘What?’ I glanced behind him at the line. Some of the refugees were looking at me. They had realised the water was not for them.
‘Take it away.’
The police officer didn’t have to say anymore. I understood the situation. More people would approach, it would get chaotic and even ugly.
I remembered the volunteer induction talk.
‘The police wants calm and order. If it gets chaotic they will bring out the riot shields and hit the refugees until they get back into line.’
I waved over some other volunteers and we carried the water away. I had to pass by everyone in the queue and I kept my head down… even when some of them called out ‘baby… water.’
After distributing the water to the Afghan line, I walked back to the Syrian line to find more volunteers had arrived and were distributing water bottles and cartons of orange juice.
It’s all about the volunteers. Come. Make a difference.
Author: Sufiya AhmedShare This Post: