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An Island in Mourning

05/11/2015 17:29 GMT | Updated 05/11/2016 09:12 GMT

Beginning on Wednesday 4 November, the island of Lesbos declared three days of mourning for the refugees lost at sea. In the UK, we won't be mourning with them, though, unlike the islanders, we bear responsibility for those deaths.

Thousands of men, women and children have been buried unceremoniously at the bottom of the Mediterranean in the past year. For the residents of the small Greek island, the never-ending deaths have been particularly traumatic. Being so close to the Turkish coast, the island has become the preferred route to safety for hundreds of thousands of refugees over the past few months.

Compared to other options, the Aegean islands might seem like the safest bet. Perhaps if you're choosing between bombs, Isis, the inhumane conditions of Turkish camps and walking for hundreds of thousands of miles in the bitter cold to an uncertain crossing, maybe then a couple of thousand dead doesn't sound too bad. Not when half a million have made it alive.

For the people of Lesbos, however, for those who have fought endlessly to keep the casualties down, the bodies washing out on their shores weigh terribly. The stories coming from the island are heartbreaking - not just for the refugees themselves but for the volunteers and islanders too, who are absolutely broken from the effort of keeping as many as they can alive.

For the people of Lesbos, declaring three days of mourning is a greatly symbolic gesture. It means that these deaths matter, even when the dead are nameless. While European leaders shrug, axe rescue operations and build more and more fences, they are the ones left with the unimaginable task of burying the dead. The past week has been horrendous. At least 60 refugees died in consecutive shipwrecks; 28 of them children and babies.

As a Greek and a Londoner and as someone who has worked for years with refugees, I can't help feeling responsible. Some time after I swapped research to work in the charity sector, I stopped campaigning. I decided my job alone was enough to silence my conscience. The plight of refugees was too much to bear and very little ever came out of protesting, so I stopped trying and decided not to look too closely at what was happening. When Theresa May announced we would be axing rescue operations in the Mediterranean earlier in the year, I felt immense anger but did nothing. That decision was taken in the knowledge it would lead to more deaths and thinking those deaths would act as a deterrent. But what would be the point of stating the obvious? What power did I have to change that criminal act?

But now that the dead are drowning in the sea where I spent my childhood summers, it's too close to ignore. I feel personally responsible for not shouting louder, earlier - for not failing after at least having tried. The decision of our Government was criminal. Theresa May has blood on her hands. And our silence is responsible for letting her get away with that.

I have started a petition on Change.org demanding that Theresa May immediately restores rescue operations in the Mediterranean. I'm also planning to go to Lesbos at the end of this month to volunteer and to record the outcome of her decision. There's one thing I won't be doing any more - keeping silent.