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Border Experience | Epilogue

GRenzerfahrung | Epilogue      17.08.17

Last week Greece has seen another 478 refugees arriving on its shores. At least 45 people have drowned this year during the illegal crossing of the Aegean Sea towards the Greek islands. Most of them are fleeing from the continuing war in Syria, political instability in Iraq and ethnic persecution in Afghanistan.
We have been sharing some of our thoughts over the last five weeks. Our time in Greece has been a borderline experience for us which we will never forget.


It’s so easy to board a plane and fly to Germany along the so-called Balkan route – just not for everybody. After leaving behind our new friends in Thessaloniki in Northern Greece, a feeling of powerlessness has set it: There’s so much more to do and so many questions remain unanswered. For us, saying good-bye feels like a separation.
What we had the opportunity to experience is something we wish for all Europeans to experience. In our view, Europe isn’t the Promised Land, it’s a place of refuge for people fleeing from mortal dangers. But is it really a place of tolerance, a safe forum for exchanging creative ideas and diverse opportunities? European borders are only passable for a selected group. 28 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall we once again find ourselves facing exclusion, this time preventing legal crossings due to an agreement with Turkey and European asylum processes that are beyond humanitarian principles. Origin mustn’t predict fate any longer! We wonder what we will have to tell our children when they will ask us about these years.

We had the privilege to meet and get to know many different people. Among them volunteers, coordinators, and people from all parts of Europe. What united them was their desire to help others in need. We all got together for preparing food, distributing vegetables, sharing a laugh, dancing, celebrating birthdays and discussing the situation. We all held different passports, came from different professional backgrounds and pursued different interests, yet we all understood that Europe needs us in these difficult times. We also met people from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. We learnt of their motivation for leaving their home countries, saw pictures of their villages and cities and listened to stories of their families. But their future is in the hands of others – states, officials and other political decision makers. Their future doesn’t take into account their own thoughts and cannot be influenced by them. Many refugees are simply powerless.

Yet it’s rewarding to see so many of them participating in language courses or workshops for preparing job applications and helping us by interpreting during food distributions and also inviting us to their “homes” for dinner. Looking back, we can definitely say that we received the same kindness from them compared to what we offered them. These refugees aren’t just numbers on information platforms by IOM or UNHCR, they are individuals with biographies, parents with concerns for their children, and children with dreams. They are not just faceless figures without individuality or character, they are human beings who are being restricted in their natural way of living. In 1943, the German philosopher Hannah Arendt described her own experience of being a refugee as a Jew in her much acclaimed essay, We Refugees: “We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings. […] Our identity is changed so frequently that nobody can find out who we actually are. […] and that means the rupture of our private lives.”

You begin to appreciate these words when visiting Epanomi, Larissa or the camp near Drama. Many encounters there are characterised by a sense of dependency. And yet a handshake as a thank you for some vegetables and a short conversation exemplify the European principles of cooperation and solidarity. Solidarity with refugees is no longer a natural given. That’s why we would like to thank everybody we met in Northern Greece – they all do fantastic work which doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves. Their cooperation gives us hope that looking out for each other in times of need has not become an exclusive task for political organisation yet and that building more walls isn’t the ultimate solution. It is our belief that solutions for root causes and reasons of flight and migration can be implemented in our very own surroundings: by sustainable use of economic and environmental resources and recognising the consequences of one’s own actions on the lives of others. Many people already appreciate the possibilities for humanitarian coexistence. From Thessaloniki to Freiburg, from London to Lisbon we now know people who are all embracing this challenge. We are taking this hope home with us and will continue to talk about it.

Once again, we would like to say thank you to everybody we met in Northern Greece. Special thanks go to the coordinators of IHA for the countless hours they dedicate to humanitarian work. Finally, we would also like to express our gratitude to all members of IHA working in the background and volunteering tirelessly for refugees in need.

Translated from German by Christin Reitschuster 

For more insights into our work, please follow IHA on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/iha_help/.