The Blog

Refugees in Kos: A Kaleidoscope of Pain and Light

A couple of days in Kos and my mind has been blown by how humanity can be so deep in such abnormal situations, with every culture meeting every imaginable circumstance, side by side.

A couple of days in Kos and my mind has been blown by how humanity can be so deep in such abnormal situations, with every culture meeting every imaginable circumstance, side by side.

We arrive in Kos town at around 10.30 at night. After eating some food and meeting the family hosting us, we make our way down to the beach where we have been told that most of the refugees are sleeping. On the way we meet a family of Syrians, a couple and their four small, gorgeous children, searching for a pharmacy for the husband who is feeling nauseous. Our Greek-speaking friend immediately disappears off with a local to find one, and we make ourselves comfortable on the rocks to wait. After a while, the mother starts to speak quietly about the war. They have spent four years moving around Syria trying to find somewhere safe. After moving north to their families' town, their cousin was decapitated by ISIS. The head was shown to his mother. Staring into the ocean, she is holding back the tears, repeating "war is bad".

I have been told that a lot of the boats arrive at night, so I decide to join the volunteers keeping watch. I bring a tent to sleep in, but it is given away to the first family who arrive. So I doze under a vast star filled sky, staring out into the ocean watching for distant lights that might turn into boats full of people.

And the boats just keep coming. Every hour, the coast guard goes out searching and comes back between 1 and 3. More arrive elsewhere in the dark on the island. At one point, around 80 Bangladeshi men arrive. By now I am alone as the other volunteers are in other parts of the island. What to do with 80 cold, wet men just arriving after a dangerous, illegal journey in the dark? Nothing apparently. Just tell them that they are safe and they will get water, food and clothes in the morning.

A family of 13 Afghanis arrive shortly after, everyone from grandparents through to kids, all cold, wet and scared. I brought blankets and some clothes from the warehouse - not quite enough - and sat with the younger generation being silly, making them feel safe again.

I am surprised by the number of different nationalities arriving: Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Afghanis, Algerians, Moroccans, Iraqis, Iranians, Syrians, Senegalese, Malians, Sudanese and more. Listening to their stories really brings home the collective issues of the world. From the Afghani family who fled extremists that had begun shooting Muslims in their area, to the woman who fled to Turkey after her hut was razed to the ground in South Sudan only to be threatened with being forced into prostitution, to families fleeing ISIS.

After some late morning sleep, I return to give a hand to the volunteers the next day. I take some young, bored men for coffee; there is almost no common language, but we smile and through gestures talk of their stories and silly nonsense. Later I muck about and play volleyball with a few Iraqi lads and listen to music with a group of amusing, young, flirty Iranians. That night at the port, I am dragged into a circle of Pakistani men and become the target of an Urdu singing rap-off, with ten men all beautifully wailing at me in competition.

The painful tales and on-going hardship keep coming alongside the shining, honest smiles. The pain of the past, the agonising tear of those left behind and the uncertain journey in Europe out-way the smiles, but at least there are smiles and safety for now in Kos.

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