November 15, 2016

Stories

London Landlord Atia Lokhat-Hafezjee describes her elation at welcoming Syrian family to her property

Atia Lokhat-Hafezjee

June 20, 2017

Last Wednesday I was overjoyed to welcome my second Syrian refugee family to one of our private rental properties in Totthenham.  Mohamed, Safaa and their two children arrived in Haringey, through the government’s VPR scheme. They fled to Jordon four years ago, as a result of the on-going Syrian war. By offering my flat to them it has given them a chance to mend their lives, which was torn apart by the conflict.

I recall how elated I felt prior to their arrival, coordinating with my family and friends, Haringey Council and various local volunteer groups (RSRUK, Muswell Hill Methodist Church, Local mosques, Embrace UK, CARIS, Refugees Welcome Haringey, to name a few) to get their flat ready.

Together, we shared out the jobs of acquiring furniture and appliances, buying the groceries, collecting clothes and toys donated by the community and making sure there was a cooked meal, ready for their arrival. We were rewarded with a buzz of excitement, which brought people together, from all backgrounds and religions. The community spirit was so refreshing, especially after weeks of tension building across the nation as a result of horrific events.

Meeting my tenants at the airport

My family and I met our refugee tenants at the airport. Landlords are not expected to meet tenants at the airport nor are they expected to get the flat ready as this is what the council does as part of their VPRS agreement, but for me it was important that I give the newly arrived Syrian family a heartfelt “welcome” to our country, with my children by my side to share the moment.

My heart pulsed in anticipation for their arrival as I waited, with my family and a team of interpreters, Council staff and members of Home Office.   We stared eagerly at the crowds coming through Arrivals.   We weren’t given photographs of the family beforehand, hence we didn’t know who to look for. We were told that they would be accompanied by an IOM Escort who would be wearing a blue uniform with two more Refugee families for another council.

For over an hour, I kept my eyes peeled open for a man in blue uniform, who I imagined would have three families trailing behind him.

Every few minutes I received a text update on my phone from the IOM Escort telling us lwhere they were. The first text read, “groups have arrived” then a few minutes later, “groups have cleared immigration and collecting bags” and so on, which only build our anticipation further. Until finally, I saw the blue uniform with a badge that read ‘IOM’!  My heart gave a leap!

In those first few moments of meeting my new Syrian friends, I felt overwhelmed by emotion.  My heart felt full of hope and promise for them.

I handed over the packed food and drinks I brought for  my tenants Safaa and Mohamed, and handed the cuddly toy gifts to the children (who at first hesitated and looked at their parents for reassurance until their mother nodded with approval). They each reached over and shyly took the toys from me.  Even through tired eyes, I could see how happy this had made them.

I sensed the surprise and gratitude of Safaa and Mohamed, at seeing so many of us at the airport. As they stated to me days later through an interpreter, “we felt very happy to see that so many people came to greet us at the airport, we did not expect this at all and felt very moved by this”.   They looked like they hadn’t slept in weeks, and told us through the interpreters, that it was a very long, difficult journey. The children were restless and didn’t sleep at all on the airplane.  Both children have a medical condition which made it difficult for them to breath in oxygen, so being contained on an airplane for a number of hours, made travelling that much more challenging.

The newly arrived families had a glow of happiness and a look of relief on their faces. It was handshakes, introductions and beaming smiles which lit up the arrivals lounge that morning.

After a few moments, I noticed that one of the other refugee families didn’t appear to have anyone from their group there to greet them.  They stood back, uncomfortably, watching the commotion around them.  I felt for them as I sensed their disappointment in not having the same reception as the other two families.  My family and I walked over to them to speak to them and offer them some food and gifts (luckily we had enough to spare!).   My eldest son offered to push their luggage cart which they were very grateful for.  They had the most adorable 6-month-old baby boy,  I later learned, they were from Sudan and their son had a heart condition, which was the reason they were granted permission to come to the UK under the government’s Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme. Under this second scheme, refugees from any of the North African and Middle Eastern Countries could be brought over to the UK from one of the camps.  Unfortunately, just like VPRS this vulnerable children’s resettling scheme has  not been publicised and therefore landlords aren’t aware that they play a central to the success of resettling refugees around the world.

When my tenants first walked through the door of their flat, I couldn’t help but notice Safaa, as she closed her eyes and let out a heartfelt sigh of relief, her husband  Mohamed exchanged a look with her which read “It is finally going to be okay”.   To witness this was to me a gift,  seeing  the  “peace of mind” and relief this has given them was the best reward I could have asked for. It made it all worthwhile.

Their seven-year-old sons’ eyes grew bright with excitement as he ran from room to room, marvelling at the wonderful gifts the community had provided. Their four-year-old daughter stood still, a little unsure about where she was and the many new faces staring back at her, she nibbled her top lip, clung nervously to her mum’s dress for a few moments, before she finally found her soft bed, and drifted off to sleep.

As we all stood side by side, in the small, cosy, lounge, with comfy black leather sofas, I couldn’t help but feel moved, as I knew this was a special day for all of us. A new beginning for this family who had left behind everything they knew and loved.  They would now be able to put down roots and start over.  For me it was a moment of quiet self-satisfaction and gratitude. I felt truly blessed by God, to be in the position where I could use our family properties for displaced refugee families and give them hope. After helplessly watching them going through turmoil on my screens, over the last few years, I was now able to,  with the support of friends and family,  bring  them over to the UK to safety and put them in one of our properties.

The Council is able to claim back from foreign aid funds to furnish flats for VPRS refugee tenants.

In the days and weeks which followed, I made phone calls and visits to the family at their home, to ensure they had what they needed. Again, this was a personal choice on my part,  not expected of the landlord, but made a world of difference to the refugee tenants.

The Council also sent interpreters and social workers to facilitate the resettlement process, but I wanted to be directly involved, as a landlord and as a friend, to ensure that the promises made by the government and the council would be delivered.  I believe the Council did a great job for their first VPRS resettlement  and I am confident they will only improve with experience.  They have already begun discussions, asking for feedback from all those involved on how to improve the resettlement process for the next time. They still have nine more families which they have pledged to resettle in Haringey. The work will begin as soon as they get enough landlords offering properties.

VPRS, how are we able to help refugees without taking away resources allocated for the British People?

Vulnerable people’s resettlement scheme was introduced in 2015 by the UK government, to resettle by the year 2020, 20,000 most vulnerable refugees here in Great Britain, who currently live in camps around the boarders of Syria. This is after they opted out of the EU relocation pact to resettle 150.000 refugees from Italy and Greece.

A more recent scheme, Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme promises to resettle 3000 vulnerable children with their families from the North Africa and Middle Eastern region, with priority given to children with medical needs.

Both of these schemes rely on the funds allocated for foreign aid and do not in any way take away from financial support reserved for the British people. The delay in bringing families to safety here is due to the lack of private accommodation being offered for rent.

In the midst of the recent catastrophic events so close to home, where there has been loss of lives, homes and dreams overnight, we are reminded that we are all vulnerable, anyone’s lives can be dismantled overnight, no matter which country we live in, as it has for many civilians during the ongoing war in Syria.   However, it is at these most disheartening times, we need to stop and reflect on how it is “storms which give birth to, love, kindness, compassion and hope”.  When we look around us,  it is uplifting to see how our shared pain and suffering has united us and brought us closer together as a community.

Having gone through similar challenges myself, as a child immigrant, who escaped poverty in India to find hope in a foreign country many years ago, this has given me a chance to return the kindness I received from others. Without the kindness from strangers, my family and I wouldn’t have had the opportunities we did nor would we be motivated to give the kindness back to others in need as we do today.  The way a community responds to an individual in need today, is a crucial factor in determining what our society will look like in the future.

My tenants, Safaa and Mohamed, stated a few days later, “when we first arrived to London, it didn’t matter to us which country we were in so as long as we knew that our kids would get the medical treatment they desperately needed. We are so grateful that doctors here can help us to understand our children’s medical condition so we can help them get better. In Syria, before the war, we had a huge home with a garden, good cars and jobs, this was all wiped away by the war.  In our country we never took charity and it feels awkward for us to do this now, but we are very grateful for it.  For the first time after leaving Syria we can feel safe, have a place we can call home, we can look for work, and give our kids an education which was no longer possible in Syria and thanks to the British people, we can do this with dignity”.

In less than a week, my tenants have started taking English lessons, registered their children in school and begun to look for work.  They are determined to make a life for themselves.    But like many other refugees, they have expressed their desire to return to Syria one day, and reunite with the family they left behind,  after the war is over.  They want to help rebuild their country, because to them Syria will always be  “home”.  Although they feel grateful to be given refuge in England at a time of need,  Safaa states, with slight humour and longing in her voice, “We miss drinking arabic coffee in Syria with our friends and family”.

How does VPRS benefit the landlord?

I offered my flat to Haringey in April, once the flat was approved by Haringey council, the whole process only took 8 weeks. It couldn’t have happened without the hard work and dedication Roy Dunbar (Homes for Haringey) put into this.  Going as far as to help with making the beds and tidying up the flat on arrival day in his own time.

One can experience many  benefits of knowing you have helped save lives and also getting a fair, hassle-free rent. The incentives offered vary, depending on the council.  From my own experience, Haringey has been very supportive and has offered many incentives, to list a few:

  • Inspect the property for safety
  • prepare the tenancy agreement
  • Offer 6 months advance rent at the LA rate (including the 2 months which the flat remained empty during the VPRS process)
  • Pay rent directly to my account on time
  • Offer 2-year lease agreement
  • Furnish the flat
  • Manage my property
  • Make all the arrangements for ongoing support  (airport pick up, social worker,GP, Schools, interpreters etc.)
  • Offer bilingual case worker visits for ongoing support
  • problem free rent

Roy Dunbar from Haringey Council states, about his first VPRS experience at Haringey,

I was just relieved to see how happy the family seemed once they saw their new home. It’s not just about giving the family a house but a home, somewhere they can come straight into and be able to relax. The support from the local community has been fantastic and it was heart-warming to be involved with such a compassionate and caring community.

For me, as a landlord, renting to Syrian refugee tenants for the second time around, has been just as rewarding as the first time, when I rented to Sheghaf, Khaled and their daughter Dania.  A refugee family who were homeless last December because they couldnt find a landlord willing to rent to a Syrian refugee family on housing benefits. They have resettled over the last few months,  have begun to rebuild their lives and have given hope to other refugee families just like them.

I have come to learn that when you are their for others when they feel most vulnerable, a deep bond forms between you and them that connects you forever.  It’s amazing how this “kindness” moves around in circles, as I have witnessed with my first tenants, who coincidently,  live  next door to the newly arrived Syrian family.  My first Syrian  tenants/friends have been a huge source of moral support for our new tenants.  They are grateful for the opportunity to return the kindness and support they received from the community when they first arrived to London.

I would highly recommend all landlords to rent to save lives if they are in the position to do so- it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

If you have a property for rent, with at least two bedrooms, please contact your local council today and see how many lives you can help save?

For more information about my experience of renting to save lives, write to atiahafezjee@gmail.com

 

 

My Experience as a Landlord Housing Syrian Refugees

It started with a short video clip sent to me a couple of months ago when I discovered that our family letting business could potentially save Syrian lives and we would still benefit financially! So why wouldn’t I try?

This, combined with my need to help families experiencing similar challenges as I did growing up, as new arrivals in Canada, with parents working hard to make their way in a strange country, is what motivated me. And we didn’t even come from a war zone!

My first experience of renting to a Syrian family has moved me beyond words and a decision I would never regret, as a landlord or as a human being who wanted to make a difference.

I was able to help a newly reunited family by giving them a new start, with the help of supportive friends and family.

 

When Sheghaf, Khaled and their daughter Dania arrived a few weeks ago to rent our flat in Tottenham, I found the experience changed my life as much as theirs.

My own family and I greeted them at the front door of their new home and from that moment onward, I formed a deep friendship with someone who has lived through a terrible trauma, whose positive attitude and outlook about life has been contagious. It has helped us all to see a different perspective on life and its challenges.

Not to mention that on a personal level, I have been able to put all my own skills to good use, as a School Teacher, Foster Care Advisor, Counsellor and now even as a writer!

It has inspired me and my own family to never give up, seeing Khaled and Sheghaf working hard, trying to put down roots.

Khaled, who was a bank manager in Syria is now training to work as a supermarket checkout cashier. Sheghaf, who was an architect and teaching engineering in Aleppo, has already been offered several places to do her PhD and has been hired by a supply teaching agency in schools. Their daughter Dania is only 2-1/2 but she’s already learned some words of English and has won the heart of my 10-year-old daughter.

This has been a terrific opportunity for my children and me to realize our humanitarian duties and also see the benefits to our family letting business.

How would the landlord benefit form letting to a Syrian Refugee? 

  • Hassle-free rent paid at Local Housing Allowance rates – in Haringey, £255.34 a week for a 2-bedroom property and £315.12 a week for 3 bedrooms. However, a two-year lease is on offer together with assurances of payment of rent.
  • Help on offer from community groups to redecorate and furnish properties and support families’ integration into London.
  • Highly motivated tenants – these are not problem families. Syrians escaping the war are determined to build new lives, find work and contribute to the society straight away, just as they lived in Syria.  They are grateful for the opportunity they have been given at life.
  • Get the satisfaction of knowing, that by letting to a Syrian family you have saved lives and potentially reunited families torn apart by this war.
  • If you’d like to know more, please contact Paul Eedle at Muswell Hill Methodist Church pauleedle@me.com, Roy Dunbar at Haringey Councilroy.dunbar@homesforharingey.org or myself, Atia Lokhat-Hafezjee, Landlord  atiahafezjee@gmail.com phone 07816 825499

 

How a HFRWelcome Member got Involved: A Personal Blog

I was inspired by seeing images in the Summer of 2015 of crowds of German people welcoming Syrian refugees at Munich train station. One particular image, that of a German woman handing a Syrian child a teddy bear, moved me. I wanted to help these people, to show, that we in the UK can be as welcoming to refugees as our fellow European citizens.

With a group of friends we organised a trip to the refugee camps in Northern France. We formed a FB page, crowdfunding page and shared our planned Calais trip to all friends, family, workplace and organisations.

The experience of visiting the camps in Northern France was emotional: saddening, but also uplifting as it drove me to want to do more. Thus, in December 2015 I decided to visited another refugee crises point: Lesvos. Here I share my personal diary of that wonderful trip.

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Day 1 – Gatwick Airport.

I’ve been to Gatwick Airport many times. Always have happy memories at Gatwick as it normally means I’m off on holiday, usually to some sun kissed Mediterranean destination. Today it’s different. Yes, I’m heading off to another Mediterranean destination, but it’s December (is Greece still sun kissed in December?), and I’m not going on holiday. I’m flying to Greece to meet fellow Glaswegians Paul and Ciaran McElhinney who are helping with the refugee crises in Lesvos. It’s a strange feeling this. I still have that feeling of excitement when about to start a holiday, but I also have a feeling of…I don’t know.  Nervousness? Anticipation? I’ve been to refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk, seen some heartbreaking things and heard some harrowing stories. I’ve also met some wonderful people in the camps: refugees and volunteers. I wonder what Lesvos will be like? I’ve been following the refugee crises via social media and Paul’s excellent written blog (Paul and Ciaran have been in Lesvos for a few days now). Channel 4 News also had a series on Lesvos recently and it looked desperate. I think it’s improved recently, in that the authorities appear to be getting their act together. Paul and Ciaran are volunteering at a camp called Pikpa and I’ll be joining them on Tuesday. Right now, I’ve an hour to kill before my flight. What to do? Probably have a pint, which I normally do before a flight from Gatwick, but this feels slightly strange (almost guilty), as it’s not a jolly.

Day 2 – Athens

Well well. Greece is sun kissed in December! It’s nineteen degrees here. For a Glasgow boy, that is almost tropical. Clear blue skies and I’m cutting about Athens in a T-shirt and shades. The locals are all wearing winter jackets, looking at me strangely. Last time I was in Greece was three years ago at a wedding in Patras and then on to Crete. Then, like now, I took the overnight ferry to a Greek island. However, this time the ferry is on its way to Lesvos, and I’ve that similar feeling like I did at the airport: strange. It feels like a holiday, but it’s different. I had a slight sense of what awaits me outside my hotel this morning. The hotel is in an area called Victoria Square. During the day the square is filled with refugees. It’s not a big square and I reckon there were about 200-300 refugees there. The largest gathering of refugees I’ve seen out with the camps of Northern France. They are from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq. I try to strike up conversations with some of them, but few speak English. Also, some seem apprehensive to talk. Eventually one guy does start chatting to me, but his eyes look suspiciously down to my hands, and I’d forgotten I’m walking about the square with two hammers in my hand. These I bought for Paul, to help with construction in Lesvos. Thus, maybe that’s why some were reluctant to talk. A pale white Northern European, asking immigrants where they are from whilst carrying two hammers! Maybe I seemed that wee bit intimidating..

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Day 3 – Arrive in Lesvos

I manage a few hours sleep in a chair on the overnight ferry to Lesvos. I awake just as the boat is entering the port. It’s sunny outside and Lesvos looks lovely. Paul is there to meet me and we drive to the apartment they’ve hired through Air BnB, in a town called Asomatos. The town (or village to be precise) is a twenty-minute drive from the main town of Mytilene. On route to the apartment we drive past a beautiful lake called Kolopos Geras. Yes, so far I’m impressed with Lesvos. Today, for me, it’s about resting and then starting work in the camp the next day. So, I sleep most of the day while Paul and Ciaran go to the camp. They return around seven and we hit the town: taxi to Mytilene. The harbour town looks great when lit up at night. We planned to have a few beers and dinner. However, it’s three Glasgow lads and dinner takes a back seat as we pile into the beers. The “dinner” we do manage is a kebab on the way home, which is probably the best kebab I’ve ever tasted. Today, this definitely was a jolly.

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Day 4 – First day at the camp

We are volunteering at a camp called Pikpa, which specializes in aiding the more desperate refugees – those with young kids or who have disabilities. There are volunteers from all over Europe and North America. Normally the volunteers have a meeting at 11.00 and we discuss the day’s tasks. We missed the meeting this morning, which had absolutely nothing to do with the boozy night before! When we arrive, we set about tasks we’d been working on. That is, Paul and Ciaran do. Ciaran is a pretty good handy man and he’s been building up a tool shed: making a workspace, shelves etc. I volunteer helping with the construction of a gravel path. Basically hammering wood into the ground, laying the foundation for the path. It’s a good mix of people here and I immediately have a bit of craic with an Irish and an American lad who I’m working with. Tomorrow, we’re doing the nighttime coastal watch, that is, a few of us will be manning the coast, trying to spot any refugee boats arriving and give them a hand coming to shore. I’ve seen the shore littered with the remains of boats, life jackets, clothes. I wonder what it will be like when I actually see the shore with people arriving. It’s 4.00 AM start, so an early night for us.

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Day 5 – Nightshift

Paul and I have volunteered for the nightshift. It’s 4.30 in the morning and we’re staking out an area of the cost watching for boats of refugees to arrive. It’s a clear night and it’s really cold. In the distance we can see a cluster of lights, which I’m told is Turkey. Wow, Lesvos really is very close to Turkey. Leading the night shift is Matt, a Canadian guy from the camp. Matt is a bundle of energy, even at this time in the morning. He reminds me of a cross between an all American action hero and Captain Haddock from Tin Tin. He’s a cool guy! Others arrive for the look out: other volunteers, medical staff, locals and Matt seems to know them all, having banter with them. I was looking forward to this look out shift. Wanted to see the refugees arrive, helping them ashore, but Paul and I have been in the car for nearly three hours and nothing’s happening. To be honest it’s boring. We decide to take a break and do a “coffee run”, taking everyone’s order, we drive to a local café for coffee and snacks. Returning 20 minutes later and it’s all happening. There’s a buzz and Matt is now stripped into his wet suit. Daylights breaking now as Matt shows us a blob just under the horizon. Grabbing the binoculars, I can indeed see an arrow shaped boat, so we take some torches and start flashing them to approach the island at this entry. However, they change direction and start heading North. “Come on, follow me” says Matt as we jump in the cars and try to pursue Matt who’s sped off, but we’ve lost him at the first turn. We drive along the coast but there’s no sign of Matt or the boat. “Damn”, I think. This is why we volunteered for this shift. We wanted some “action,” though, of course, we hope Matt has found them and they’re safe. Heading back to the look out point, Matt returns an hour later and tells us, he and others successfully guided a boat full of Afghan refugees to shore. They had seen our light and were a bit scared, they didn’t know who we were. Something to consider when we get that opportunity. That is, try to think how we appear to refugees coming to shore. Fifteen minutes later, we get that opportunity. Three boats arrive within an hour. The first boat comes in and we’re waving at them, welcoming them ashore with big smiles. They see the many faces shouting “Salam alukam” and head our way as we guide them to a less rocky bit of the coast. As a boat hits the shore a sudden burst of adrenalin kicks in and I’m straight down helping them off the boat. The first refugee I’m handed is a baby, who can’t be more than over 1 year old. I hold the kid and he nestles his head into my chest. My heart is racing here. I’m a little overcome. Another volunteer helps his mother ashore and I return her child. Then, I repeat this process helping first of all the young, the women and then the men. Once ashore we fetch bottles of water, handing them out to the refugees. I’m greeted with replies of “merci”, “Sukran”, “thank you.” After we help two more refugee boats ashore, we decide to head back for the 11.00 AM daily camp meeting. Matt’s busy talking to other volunteers and tells us he’ll catch up with us later. At the meeting we discuss what we’ve been doing and plan to do for the rest of the day. Describing the night shift, many of the new volunteers want to take part and ask for my number to get involved. I tell them, that we’re rookies to this, and best wait and touch base with Matt, who coordinates these things. Matt, I say will be here soon. Except, he isn’t. Paul and I are assigned different tasks at the camp. My task for the remainder of the day is painting signs for the camp entrance. I keep an eye out for Matt, to introduce him to the new nightshift volunteers, but Matt’s not returned from the beach. Four hours later, Matt’s back. “How’s it going? I ask. “Oh cool, man” Matt replies. “I got a little caught up there. Seven more boats arrived just after you guys left.” “Wow!” I think, eleven boats in total. We’re on nightshift again tomorrow.

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Day 6 – Nighshift 2

It’s cold tonight and the sea is very choppy. Matt’s training some folks and arranged to meet with us later in the morning. He lives near the look out point and has said to call him if we see anything. We don’t, and Matt turns up around 7.00, tells us it’s unlikely boats will attempt the crossing when it’s this rough. There are a few others here as well and Paul and I decide to call it a day, head home and have a few hours sleep. Later, we decide to have a break from the camp, take the car and explore the island. Lesvos has some amazing natural scenery. There are fantastic hills, lakes and amazing rock formations. We drive to the North of the island where other volunteers are based. Until recently, this was the main crossing point for the refugees. We see some camps and evidence along the shore of previous crossings. There’s not much happening though, so we continue driving around the island. A quiet day.

Day 7 – Nightshift 3

The weather is bad tonight. It’s incredibly windy, cold and the sea is very rough. I doubt and we’ll see any crossings today. I really hope not. Despite these bad conditions, we’re told they they still make crossings. We’re informed that a big boat with 350 refugees had crossed to the North of the island around 1.00AM, so you never know. Thankfully, though, nothing happens and we quit around 8.00 when it’s daylight and there are other volunteers to man the look out. We drive into camp and meet Thasos, a local volunteer. Thasos is looking after the camps warehouse and we decide to drive there for the day to help clearing and boxing the donations. The warehouse is situated in a hill overlooking the port. After a few hours, Paul and I decide to take some donations back to camp,. As we arrive we see a boat of refugees has arrived, literally right across from the camp. We park the car and I grab a box of emergency blankets to go help. The refugees from Syria are cold and wet. I speak to one of the volunteers who said they had a rough ride coming over and the boat had hit the rocks on the shore, causing many to wade through the water. There are many volunteers here, with cars and they take some of the refugees, especially the kids into the cars to heat up before the bus arrives to take them to Moria (the main registration point on the island). After dropping off the supplies at camp, we head back to warehouse to pick up the volunteers. They’ve done a good job sorting through the massive donations. We call it a day.

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Day 8 – A good day

The alarm goes off at 3.00 AM and I bang Paul’s door for the nightshift. Pauls’ beat and says he’s going to give it a miss. To be honest, the past few nights have caught up with us and there are others on patrol, so we decide to have a break and go into camp later in the day for the 11.00 AM meeting. Driving to camp, we spot a boat coming in near to Pikpa, we have the supplies in the car, so we stop with others to wave the boat ashore. However, there’s a problem. The boat’s engine has stopped. Proactivia – a Spanish Life guard outfit who have been doing work out here, have a jet ski, so they jet out, connect with the dingy and tow it to shore. There are a lot of volunteers on the shore and I help steady the boat as it hits shore and help refugees out the boat. I grab a box of emergency blankets and water and distribute them to the new arrivals. Job done, I head back to the camp and get stuck in to some carpentry. I help build a bench from some of the wooden remains of previous refugee boats. Nothing goes to waste at the camp. I surprise myself at how good this looks as I’m shit at DIY. I just about manage to construct Ikea shelves and that’s about it! In the afternoon we load the car with supplies for the early morning nightshift, go home and Ciaran cooks a cracking meal, which we devour with some nice wine I picked up on the way home. Great teamwork all round today. A successful and enjoyable day!

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Day 9 – Return to nightshift

It’s a beautiful night/morning in Lesvos. It’s 4.30 AM, it’s mild and the water is the calmest I’ve seen it. It’s a clear sky and we watch multiple shooting stars. I’d never seen a shooting star before; tonight I count about twelve. There are quite a few of us on patrol, having a bit of banter. A refugee boat arrives around 6.30 just as daylight is breaking and we successfully bring it to shore. Same drill as previous. We head back to camp for the morning meeting and hear one of the volunteers is heading to Moira, a camp and registration centre for refugees. I’d never been to Moira, only read about it on Paul’s blog which he described as a detention centre. His description is pretty much spot on. There are thousands of refugees here from Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Lebanon and other conflict areas. There are several NGOs here, each doing there own thing but no actual central organisation. I meet a nice women from London of Iranian descent. She is a volunteer and speaks Farsi. She is helping with the chaos, organizing where people should queue, get food, medical attention etc. She is doing this of her own free will, not getting paid. This is madness. Without people like her, there would be riots. Why is this not professionally organized? We drive back to Pikpa but there’s nothing much going on. We quit fairly earlyish.

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Day 10 – Wee bit of carpentry

We’re off the nightshift and rock up at camp around mid-day. Quite a few of the volunteers we met in the first few days have left the camp. A lot of the strong personalities have gone and there’s a degree of, well, no organization. We just crack on with whatever seems need doing. Ciaran got his tool shed going and I help out there, which to be honest, my help is basic. I finish off a wooden bench I was constructing .The rest of the afternoon is holding bits of wood for Bruce, anther volunteer, as he constructs a work bench. If I were a carpenter…

Day 11 – Final Nightshift and RnR

4.00 AM and the cold has returned. Struggle to get up this morning, but we make it to the look out point. Nothing is happening, so I have a snooze. As today is my last day, we decided to have a jolly after this shift: we plan to hire a boat with a few guys from the camp and have a wee sail around the coast of the island. That’s on my mind. However, at, 7.30AM, it all kicks off. Four boats, one after the other arrive. Thankfully there are a lot of us on look out and we get it get it sorted. Same procedure as previous. By now, it’s getting routine and the powerful emotions I experienced on my first landing is, now tempered as Paul and I help the refugees ashore, sort them out with warm clothes and water. We are late for our 11.00AM boat jolly, but eventually we get it together a few hours later. A fun day sailing on the coast. However, I still find myself scanning the water for refugees.

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Day 12 – Farewell Lesvos

Time to leave (for me). We drive into camp and I say my farewells to the many, many wonderful people I’ve met at camp. Bruce is helping construct some shelves, so, well, with an hour to kill, I get stuck in. Paul drives me to the port and we have time for a few beers before I embark the ferry. We reflect on the time spent out here. It’s been magic!

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