Testimonies from refugees and staff in Lesbos

Mohammed, 20, from Syria

“I come from Damascus. I was studying for my baccalaureate, but I didn’t continue at high school because my house was destroyed and my school was destroyed. After that, the situation was horrible and everything was bad.

From Damascus, I travelled to Istanbul to try to get to Europe and safety. The trafficker was my neighbour. He organised to take me to Lesbos. After three days he took me in a van with 12 other people – Syrians and some Kurds. He took us to a secret location north of Izmir. We stayed there for two days, sleeping with the snakes and the scorpions in the forest. There was no water and very little food. We stayed hungry for two days. After sleeping two nights in the forest, we left on a boat for Lesbos.

The sea was very, very calm, but we were afraid. We are lucky because we are now on Lesbos, we are in the camp, safe, and we are ready to start our journey. 

I will try to travel on the basic roads that all refugees walk. I will try to get to France in any way I can. And after that I will go to England, because England is one of the greatest countries in the world. It is full of great history and the English are nice people, and I hope to work and study there.

My family is still in Damascus. I bought a simcard for my phone, and I called them to tell them that I’m ok, everything’s ok. The UN and the other organisations are trying to help us. Now, for the first time, I feel like I am really human. This is the first time that someone has taken care of me.

In my country, since the war started, we feel we are just like animals. They don’t care about our humanity. They kill people as if they are insects – it’s as easy as stepping on an ant.

I love my country, but I don’t love being treated like an animal. I don’t love having to hold a weapon and being ordered to shoot someone I don’t even know.

If I ever go back, I am sure that everything will be totally changed. Nothing I left behind will have stayed the same. Everything is destroyed by war – places, buildings, memories. So I don’t ever want to go back.”

Mukhtar, 24, from Somalia

“I left Somalia in December 2014. The journey was very long and dangerous. I travelled via Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. In Turkey I went to the office of the UN to get legal status, but in Turkey, there is nothing for refugees; there are no jobs, and if you have a problem there is no one to help. The Turkish police caught me four times, and gave me a letter to deport me back to Somalia. But I can’t go back to Somalia because there is fighting there. So that’s why I’ve come here, to get justice and freedom.

We stayed for four days on the Turkish coast, with no food and no water, before getting on the boat to come to Greece. We paid the Turkish smugglers small money, but the journey by sea was very dangerous.

My friends told me to travel on the sea, but I don’t have experience of it, and I was very scared. The Turkish police, they beat us – see here, it is still painful – and they tried to stop us. But we said, no, we don’t want to go back, because there is no life there, no justice.

When we landed it was so good and we were very happy. People gave us some food and clothes – all my clothes are in the sea – and gave us a bus to come here. We slept outside last night because the camp is very full. The situation here is very bad – we don’t even have a shower or a toilet. But we will try to find a place inside the camp. It might be tomorrow, it might be two or three days. But I hope it will be soon, because we didn’t get any sleep last night.

Once we get our papers, we will go to Athens and call our relatives. I haven’t seen my relatives for 20 years. Some stay in Norway, some stay in Finland. I will call them from Athens and try to join them as soon as possible.

In Norway I want to finish my education, to study for a diploma so I can get a job. In Norway I hope to find freedom and I hope to find peace.”

Azade, 16, from Afghanistan

“My name is Azade. My name means freedom. The journey was hard. We had no water, no food, for the babies or for us. We had so many problems on the way. It was God that saved us, and now we are here.

In Afghanistan we have no safety, my father has no work, we have no good life. I have no future, my sister too. This life isn’t for us. So hard, so many problems, so much war. We are all so tired.

I brought just the clothes I’m wearing, and a small bottle of water, half full. When we came here, there was no one to help us. People took us half the way to the police station and then took all our money. Then we walked a long way. Now we have no money except for water.”

Majid, 28, and Fatima, 26, from Herat, Afghanistan

“I’m a musician – I play the tabla – but they don’t like us to play music in Afghanistan. My wife Fatima is a painter. In Afghanistan we don’t have the freedom to be ourselves.

It took two months to travel through Iran, in a bad car, over mountains, crossing rivers. There were big waves on the sea. We were 35 in the boat. There was space for just one bag each.”

Thalia Flouri, MSF emergency team member

“I arrived on Lesbos on 11 July. Next morning, we left Mytilene – the main town and port of the island – and drove north. As we were driving, we met people walking to Mytilene. They were families with children and older people who looked very tired, exhausted even, walking for who knows how many hours.

We had some small bottles of water, so we opened the window to offer this water to them. Tens – although it seemed to me like thousands – of hands reached through the window just trying to get a small bottle of water. I was shocked. Then we saw people lying down in the middle of the road, obviously unable to go on walking in the heat, lying under the sun without any cover. One was a boy of about 18. He couldn’t walk even another metre to reach the car and get some water. They had been walking the entire night.

Further on, I saw a father dragging a rope attached to a plastic crate, with his two-month-old baby inside. He was too tired to carry the child the almost 70 km to Mytilene, so he was dragging her in a crate. He had cut a branch from an olive tree and fixed it onto the crate to give the baby some shade.

When we arrived on the north coast of the island, we saw a dinghy full of migrants landing. They were so, so happy. The first thing they did was tear up all their papers and throw them into the water. Then they took off their lifejackets and threw them onto the shore. They were laughing and celebrating – the end of the journey or the beginning of the journey, I don’t know.

They climbed up the hill to the road. When we offered them the small things we had, like bottles of water, they showed their appreciation any way they could, saying, “Thank you my friend, thank you my friend.”

We went to the main square in Molyvos, a village in the north of the island, where some volunteers and activists offer food to the migrants who arrive there. In this square I saw more people than I could count. There was a young lady from Afghanistan, I don’t think she was more than 20, with a baby in her arms, and she was trying to find her husband and some milk for the baby.

On the way back, we visited the two camps on the island. That’s when I got angry. The camps were dirty and crowded. The toilets were blocked and there were flies everywhere. I couldn’t believe that children had to sleep in this place.  

I think these pictures will stay in my mind forever: the father dragging his child in a crate, the 18-year-old boy who couldn’t move, the young Afghan lady asking for her husband and for some milk… I will never ever forget these.”