Migration

For releases describing work with people who have left their homes for reasons of economic or lethal violence.

GREECE: Arc of voices. The work of resistance of CPT partners on Lesvos.

CPTnet

23 May 2017

GREECE: Arc of voices. The work of resistance of CPT partners on Lesvos.

by Rûnbîr Serkepkanî

Images of boats, of people with arms stretched out for water, of children getting barbecued by the midday sun at the port, hunger strikes and many other unpleasant things—these are the images which I associate with Mytilene, and for a very good reason. Nearly 1,000,000 people have passed through this island in the last three years. As a part of Christian Peacemaker Teams on the island, I have witnessed all of that and more. For me, these tragedies are not merely some news story happening in a far away country, but something deeply personal. When someone gets deported from this island to a future of insecurity, potentially facing incarceration and death, it is personal for me. If I have not actually met that person, I certainly know someone who is a friend of theirs.

We who are bearing witness to what is happening now know who is responsible. It is the vampiric tendencies of capitalism, the weapons industry and the profit-worshiping corporations. It is the sultans, emirs, presidents and lords of war with their armies. Our main partner Lesvos Solidarity was founded by local mothers from Mytilene as Village of all Together several years ago. Lesvos Solidarity has been the main obstacle standing in the way of the total exploitation of refugees and the oppression against them. 

The powers-that-be have built an infrastructure of separation and subjugation. At the same time Lesvos Solidarity has been working in the opposite direction. They occupy an abandoned summer camp and have renovated it step by step, transforming it into a shelter for refugees. Here the local people of Mitylene host the refugees and help them recover from the bombs that fell on them, the boats that capsized under them, the memories of their comrades who became martyrs for the freedom of movement.

 World without Borders

Prayers for Peacemakers. 1 February 2017

Prayers for Peacemakers. 1 February 2017

In these dark times when hatred and racism are on the rise around the world, we invite you to build bridges to bring us closer to each other and to overthrow the walls that divide us by our faith, our race, our gender, and our migration status.

Let us pray that each of us can overcome the walls that separate us. Let us embrace our sisters and brothers of Muslim, Yezidi and other diverse identities, faiths and origin. Let us welcome all those who have had to leave their homes due to war. Let us pray for the hearts and minds of those who insist on dividing us to open wide.

Muslim and jew families

Photo Credit: Nuccio DiNuzzo/ Chicago Tribune

IRAQI KURDISTAN: The far rights got it all wrong.

IRAQI KURDISTAN: The far rights got it all wrong.

by Rezhiar Fakhir

No doubt reading the news nowadays makes you angry with the claims that far right leaders are making specifically Donald Trump. I have been confused, troubled and shocked hearing that the President of the United States has banned people from the Muslim world entering to the US. His allegation that it is to make the US safer by banning innocent people from the Middle East has puzzled me, it is as though he lives in a different world. What is even more appalling is that many people applaud him for what he is doing. He did not just ban people but he also stated that he is only going to accept Christians as they have been most prosecuted by Daesh (ISIS) in the Middle East. Well Mr. President, you are wrong. Everyone has suffered equally from ISIS regardless whether they were Christian, Muslim, Yazidi, non-believers or any other beliefs that did not match with Daesh’s ideology. I have reflected on the statements that he has made and I think it is important that people have a real picture of what is happening here, not what Trump is trying to feed to people.

However, this is not by any means to dismiss anyone or depict who has suffered most or who has suffered least from the wars that exists in the Middle East and specifically war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. I have had the benefit of meeting people from different corners of this region and worldwide due to the work that I am doing. Last summer we had a very diverse delegation coming to my region to learn about what was happening here. We visited one of the monasteries in the city of Sulaimani where the people working there have lived in Syria and fled to this city after the war started. 

Muslims praying at Dallas Airport

Photo credit: REUTERS/Laura Buckman.

MEDITERRANEAN: Saint Paul and Saint Luke on Lesvos--a new light on the refugee crisis from a Christian perspective.

 

In 56 A.D., Luke the Evangelist, the Apostle Paul and their companions stopped on Lesvos briefly on the return trip of Paul’s third missionary journey (Acts 20:14), having sailed from Assos (about 50 km away). From Mytilini they continued towards Chios (Acts 20:15).

In 2016, Luke and Paul would have been picked up by coastguard ships and denied entry. Paul was a Turk and Luke a Palestinian. European governments now associate both of these nationalities with terrorism.

MEDITERRANEAN: Thoughts on Self-Organizing; What Happens when the Oatmeal Boils Over?

 

One day I arrived early enough at the camp to find and talk with the two Ethiopian women who rise at 4:30 am every morning to bake bread for their fellow refugees. They told me they took on the task about three months ago. They saw a need, and they just started baking.

Before then, they said there was nothing available in the camp like the freshly baked flatbreads they now make. After baking the bread, they also bag small rounds of risen dough, and put those in the refrigerator to be given out later in the morning in the daily food distribution. Some families prefer to make their own bread in the cabins and tents where they stay at the camp. 

There are many different cultures living together at the camp, so this bread is not exactly like what they get at home,  but for most, what the women are producing is more common to their foodways than European-style bread.

Because handmade flatbread and dough is now available and appreciated by the refugees, I say to the women, “You two must be very important here!” They both give a good laugh, and with what I know to be both a truth and an irony replied, “Yes. V.I.P’s. Very Important People.”

MEDITERRANEAN: Refugees Incarcerated without trial – a report on CPT's visit to the Greek island of Chios

 

Photo: Amnesty International

We were welcomed into the warden’s office, the walls decorated with orthodox icons, mostly consisting of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and one image of The Last Supper hanging above the warden’s desk. We noticed that the clock on the wall was dead. Hours have no meaning in this prison, perhaps years do. The contraband detector is in the room keeping anyone from smoking here, unlike in many other public offices in Greece. Clearly, the economic crisis hit this office as the old lockers, the warden’s dusty desk and the grimy fringes on the aging curtains prove.

While we scanned the room, waiting to meet with the prisoners, Sabri arrived.  He was only 24, but looked much older—perhaps as a result of the unbearable sorrows he had experienced since the beginning of the Syrian civil war or simply because his dream of a safer life has disappeared in this prison. In either case the uncertainty and his approaching court date had made him anxious. He was told that his passport and other belongings were not in the police station even though they were confiscated when he was arrested. According to Sabri, his trial would be held on 17 October 2016 on the Greek island of Chios. With weary eyes he pled for our help getting his six stranded family members out of Greece.

Mohammad Said, 24, had been imprisoned for three months, waiting for his court date. He arrived in Greece as the only Syrian on the boat with sixteen Iranians. “Our boat was rescued by a NATO vessel and I was accused of being the smuggler by the Iranians on the boat,” he said. “Thinking I was Turkish, the Greek Coast Guard beat me, and later used violence during my interrogation.” The actual Turkish smuggler threatened Mohammad and the others at gunpoint when they asked the smuggler why he was not keeping his promise to pilot the boat to Greece. Instead, the refugees onboard had to drive the boat themselves.  Smugglers force the refugees to steer the boat. In most cases the only way to save the passengers is for someone—anyone—to grab the helm and steer.

MEDITERRANEAN: Making Café Nan a reality

 

 Hello Supporters, Peacemakers, and Friends,

 This is not a typical blog post for the CPT blog site.  First off, this post is a fundraiser.  We chose to do it in a blog format as opposed to going through a third party site (such as Kickstarter, Gofundme, Crowdraise, etc.) because if we do it ourselves, no percentage of the donated money goes to a third party site!  That means that sharing this blog is even more important than the ones before.  This is a way that you can be directly involved in making a positive impact on Lesbos. So, without further ado…

 Greetings from Mytilene, Lesbos where we need your help!

 First, our story:

 Everyone saw the headlines in 2015: Men, women and children landing in the thousands on the shores of Lesbos in flimsy dinghies. Since then, what began as the gateway to Europe, has turned into a Hot Spot where thousands are stranded in limbo, often in overcrowded and inhumane conditions.

A street view of Café Nan

Since Europe’s controversial deal with Turkey to stem the refugee flow, many asylum applicants have been detained behind razor wire fences. Others, while free to move around the island, have been stuck there for months, confused and traumatized, waiting for the authorities to process their asylum applications.

Like all of us, these stranded people need purpose and meaning in their lives.  This is where we come in! 

On a small cobbled street in Mytilene, we have exciting plans for a new social-café initiative.  For this purpose we are renovating a building with ancient masonry. When fully restored, this café will employ refugees and use their skills. Café Nan will become a unique and welcoming space and give locals and tourists the chance to experience foods from the Middle East.

MEDITERRANEAN: A garden in the heart of a child

 

Photo by Lesvos Solidarity

It’s morning in the camp. Humanity Crew, an organization of translators, comes by to pick up a vanload of Pikpa residents to take them to Moria detention center for the day. They are going for interviews and to fill out paperwork related to appeals for asylum or relocation. One woman approaches, asking if they can take her to the hospital. She has an appointment to have stitches removed from her bandaged hand. Other men and women have gathered under the pavilion to wait for the daily food distribution to begin. A tween-age girl from the Congo is slouching in a plastic chair with her hands over her eyes near to where I am watering one of the two communal gardens. I am trying to determine where to place the hose for the most effective irrigation.

This is Pikpa, an oasis in the desert of Fortress Europe. It is an open camp for refugees run by our partners, the nonprofit Lesvos Solidarity Network (formerly, Village of All Together). It is a safe and humane camp, standing in stark contrast to the detention centers operated by European security forces and the Greek military. On Lesvos, these are Moria, housing (imprisoning really) about 3,000 refugees, and Kara Tepe, with about 700 refugees. At Pikpa currently, eighty-nine residents (out of a capacity for 100) live in wooden cabins and canvas tents under the shade of tall pines. They have access to fresh produce and other wholesome food, clothing, medical aid, clean lavatories, language classes, and kindergarten for their children. Pikpa serves the most vulnerable: the disabled, sick, pregnant, and families of shipwreck victims.

MEDITERRANEAN REFLECTION: Give and take--distributing watermelon on Lesvos

 

Aside from the thick wall of heat glomming on to my body as I walk into the uncooled space of the camp kitchen where I am scheduled to spend the next four hours, the large mound of watermelon stacked in crumpled plastic crates on the floor grabs my attention first.

I thought I would try to stay within my comfort zone the first morning in the refugee camp. I volunteer for the job of food distribution, receive a knife and am told to start quartering the watermelons lengthwise. Who brings this watermelon here? Do they come every day? Are they from local farmers? How many should I cut? Nobody–of the handful of volunteers standing around finishing their coffees–knows. All I get, for sure, is that I need to split a few of the long quarters in half for the smaller families and individuals.

I take a hefty melon from the pile in the corner and set it on my cutting board. My hands sense a sort of magical energy tension at the point just before the knife-edge touches the watermelon, and it splits willingly. It cracks open with rough edges, creating an uneven topographical surface of ripe, red flesh on each half. Working with another volunteer, a young man from Berlin, we smile each time this happens, but otherwise, wordlessly fill a plastic crate, arranging the wedges so they will rise with reasonable stability just over the edges.

MEDITERRANEAN: My first working day in Pipka—the love letter

 

English lessons were slow getting started. Peggy walked around the camp by the cabins and tents to let interested refugees know the session would soon begin. Lunch finished late, but soon two young women showed up, Farsi-speakers, maybe sisters. 

Peggy had been teaching for a few days now. I was there to observe her technique. Soon a man joined us, possibly around thirty years old, Pakistani. He had a shy manner, and was hesitant to approach, but he emitted a kind of indefinable radiance. He asked me if I could help him with “deep” words. At first, I thought he wanted to talk philosophy, but, no, he wanted words that had to do with feelings, specifically words to do with love. 

“Love,” though was to simple a word for what he had in mind. And he wanted, as it turned out, full sentences:

“You are profoundly beautiful.”

“My heart is full of affection for you.”

“I adore you.” 

It became quickly clear to me that he wanted to compose a love letter. He had met a Pakistani-American woman here on Lesvos and been on a couple of dates.  Now he wanted to express how he felt about her: