Tonight we made our way to the Port of Mitilini. Upon arrival, the volunteers, including SURF, handed out children’s toys, hats, gloves, blankets, hand warmers, snack bars, baby food, mandarins, oranges, water, hot meals, and a large vat of hot chocolate among other things. There were about 150 people waiting to get on the first ferry. I found a sweet Greek woman who had made a rice porridge dish, which smelled incredible. She needed help distributing it to the families waiting to make their journey across the Aegean sea.
Here I met a new friend, a man of curious nature. He was intrigued by my stories as a volunteer, and in return I was offered a glimpse into his family’s journey to Europe. His name was Farhad. He is 26 and traveling with his mother, and they do not want to leave their home country of Afghanistan. For the past 13 years he had been enjoying a prosperous life and building a solid career for himself. Highly educated, he spoke about his studies at the university, and shared stories about his time as the regional director for the British consulate in Afghanistan. Recently, the northern region of Afghanistan has been hit with a wave of Taliaban violence. He spoke of exceptionally brutal violence against women. He feared for his mother’s life everyday The counterinsurgency of Northern Afghanistan changed the fate of Farhad’s family and he was able to escape the presence of the Taliban and bring his mother to safety.
As an upper middle class male with a valid passport, something Farhad took great pride in, he was not used to having to deal with smugglers, travel illegally, and spend hours upon hours in boats, vacant buildings, and volunteer driven camps. Money is what drives the people’s survival. Money determines whether or not they are able to leave Afghanistan, stay safe during their travels, and provide for themselves when they arrive at their final destination. He spoke about his frustration with the process to become registered with FRONTEX. He spoke about his comfortable financial status, which, though higher than most people who leave Afghanistan, has not always guaranteed safe travel. He spoke about the lower income families in Afghanistan and how they are dying because they do not have the financial resources to flee.
Farhad and his mother had made three attempts to leave the shores of Turkey and travel to Lesvos, Greece. The first time they were taken advantage of by smugglers, and robbed of the money they used to secure a boat. The second time their boat broke down not long after leaving Turkey. They were picked up by the Turkish police, and detained for a couple days. The third time was successful. However, his mother broke her hand in the boat and needed medical attention once they landed. After one night in Lesvos we were now standing next to each other engaged in conversation on a personal level I have not had with someone in need since my arrival here a week ago. Just as he was wrapping up his story we were happily startled by the cheering and applauding all around us. In the distance we saw the night ferry drift away from the port and one more boat of people were on their way to safety. We both stood there silent, crying. He was one step closer to freedom, yet miles away from home.