Greece Can't Deal With Thousands Of Refugees Alone - Every Country, Including Britain, Must Step In

06/10/2016 17:50

Being in a band means I've been lucky enough to travel around the world - meeting many people and dipping into various cultures - but visiting refugee camps in northwest Greece was a first. Hearing a young Syrian called Barzani playing the traditional Kurdish drum and singing his heart out with his eyes closed is an experience I won't forget quickly. His passion for music was inspiring, especially given what he'd been through. But as he said, "you can't erase sad events with more sadness, you have to try to erase them with happiness. We try to mend our broken hearts with music."

Tom, Ed and I were invited by Oxfam to see the work they were doing to help people who'd been forced to flee their homes. Editors have been supporting Oxfam for a few years: this summer for example, we donated a track from our Glastonbury set to their Stand As One: Live at Glastonbury album with profits going to help refugees.


I had another reason for wanting to get involved, after a Syrian called Yasser joined my local five-a-side football team in Manchester. He survived a harrowing 37-day journey and is waiting for his asylum claim to be processed. Like everyone, I'd seen news images of people drowning trying to reach Europe. While it's hard not to be affected by those scenes, the TV lens has a way of distancing things and it was only once I got to know someone who'd personally gone through it that the reality of the crisis began to sink in. I soon realised the label 'refugee' can be unhelpful - it creates barriers, when in fact these people are just the same as me and you.

Our first visit was to a military base in the mountains where rows of white tents each housed a family. All the essentials from toilets and showers to food were covered but conditions were basic. During our visit there were big storms and we were told it snowed in winter. Getting people into proper shelter was a priority and work was already underway - diggers levelling the hillside to lay foundations and prepare for piped water.


At first, steps to improve accommodation seemed like a positive move. But for people in the camp it hammered home the message no-one wanted to hear - they were likely to be there long-term. Everyone I met had already been stuck in limbo there for six months while they waited to hear when, or if, they would be allowed to process asylum claims and travel to other parts of Europe. Time and again we heard heartbreaking stories about families ripped apart, like Jamila from Afghanistan who was separated from her husband and two children in a clash with police at the Turkish border a year ago. Half the family reached Germany while Jamila and three daughters got stuck in Greece.

Everyone we spoke to was incredibly generous and good company, making us coffee and sharing food as well as their stories, but their extreme frustration made a big impression on me. They had risked everything - their lives, their children's lives, their entire life savings to pay smugglers - and now they had lost control of their future. Despite the dangers, I could easily imagine them considering their options and attempting another unofficial route. I know I wouldn't want to stay long in a desolate place with no hope to build any kind of life for me or my family.


Yazan, a 17-year-old music fan from Syria, just wanted the normal things we all want: to have a job, a home, a car. He told us: "I don't think these are dreams - these are normal rights." I could see myself in Yazan and I really felt for him. Being a teenager and finding out where you fit in the world is tough anyway. In his situation, I can only imagine the confusion of trying to deal with a world that's turning its back on you.

I was impressed by how local Greeks had welcomed a refugee camp popping up in their town, especially given their own financial problems. Would people in a small town in the UK react in the same way? I hope so. From what I saw, when faced with real people in need you can't help but act with compassion.

It's clear that Greece can't deal with tens of thousands of people alone. Every country has to step in and share responsibility, including the UK. The pressure is growing - our leaders need to welcome more people and help families to stay together. Barzani, Yazan, Jamila and others in a similar position deserve a decent life beyond a 'refugee' camp. I hope they get the chance to enjoy the life they should.