The Refugee Crisis: Have we forgotten our fellow humans?

‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has’ – Margaret Mead.

When I was merely a girl people would ask me what I wanted to be when I was older, something I used to frequently spend sunny afternoons in the garden for hours pondering over. I wasn’t wholly confident when it came to career prospects but what I did know even at this tender age was that I wanted to be felt, I wanted to teach, I wanted to evoke emotion but most of all, I wanted to embody the change I wished to see in the world, and believe me, there were many.

Having come from a very intense political upbringing I’d long been interested in the mechanics of the globe and what made the world go round, I was intrigued by the Government, with their shark grins and closed handshakes, perpetually congratulating each other on being Masters of the Universe whilst the common people I identified with wilted slowly like flowers out of season, petals dropping daily.

Then it suddenly hit me. Was I endorsing the universal plight of the people by standing by and not saying or doing anything? Could it be that the likes of you and I were perpetuating the problem by turning a blind eye to the suffering that didn’t personally aggrieve us, but was happening nonetheless?

No one paints who we are except our own fingers but it would be nice for someone to pass us a brush every so often and God gifted me a whole set and an opportunity to evoke change when I met my now good friend Ra’ed Khan and the Road to Freedom team last year, something that would go on to change my world and the way I viewed it forever.
Over the last twelve months the colossal numbers of people seeking refuge in Europe from persecution, war and poverty has multiplied, tenfold, and we have all bared witness to their perilous, sometimes tragic journey from children drowning in the Aegean Sea to others being trafficked, or perhaps even the prison style camps in the Balkans have been enough to make you put down the latest celebrity magazine and really consider what travesties befall our fellow humans.

For Ra’ed this tumultuous, heart breaking situation hit home like a tonne of bricks and inspired him to orchestrate a heroic humanitarian effort, extending a hand of hope and help to those in desperate need of salvation which culminated in the creation of Road to Freedom, a non-profit organisation made up of volunteers who fundraise and work alongside official NGO’s and charities in different parts of the world to provide aid. The team (including myself and Ra’ed) has journeyed to Calais, Serbia, Samos, Dunkirk and the Macedonian border thus far delivering food, clothing and many other much needed items.

The aim of the organisation isn’t simply just to provide the necessary basic items but also to raise awareness internationally about the tragic effects of the continuing vulnerability of the refugees produced by war and oppression.

Sadly it goes without saying that the mainstream media conceal the full scale of the abhorrent situation overseas, it is a den of human destruction and a ploy to cast spells across the globe – spells we all fall under.
We live in a world today where we, the common people, have a platform to voice our concerns more than we ever have before and the greatest privilege that comes with free speech is the opportunity to use your voice for those that don’t have one.

No one seeking a safe passage should have to risk death and prison camps just to cross a border. Refugees have fled bombs, poverty and persecution believing that other countries would respect their human rights and offer them sanctuary. We cannot prove them wrong.

Seeking my own first hand perspective on the crisis became crucial to me, garnering as much understanding and knowledge as possible, hoping I could utilise this to not only better grasp the refugee crisis, but to be a worthy, well informed messenger in order to spread their story far and wide hoping somewhere a heart would beat for them.
On my journey with Road to Freedom I have seen doors shut, cheeks turn and eyes close, I’ve even been challenged about my desire to help. Many times I have been told that I should be helping causes that are closer to home, but since when did political significance bear any relevance to matters of humanity and suffering?
I question if that is what we as a society have become; People that go out of their way to make justifications as to why we should do nothing to alleviate the suffering of others? Would it make us sleep better at night thinking we have valid reasons to ignore innocent lives being obliterated daily?

Every act is an act of self-definition and any opportunity to give to another is one to be grateful for so I implore you to conduct forensic self analysis and look within, can we really sit by while thousands of innocent people lose their lives? I ask you, when the history books are written do you want to be remembered as the problem or the solution?

Joining Road to Freedom saved me in every way a person can be saved, it offered me a new perspective and insight, humbling me, but most importantly it taught me the intrinsic value of helping another and I can tell you it’s the most important work you will ever do. We have met so many beautiful souls on our route across Europe all of which have taken the refugee crisis as personally as we have, together we’ve achieved small, but important victories for these innocent people who have been engulfed in such desperation.

All of this leads to the point that if we cease to be divided, distracted and disinterested we stand a better chance of connecting with one another in love and understanding, out of this paradigm shift will come action that can solve so many of the challenges we as brothers, sisters and fellow humans currently face. It’s imperative we free ourselves from the over bearing narrative we are fed by the media and disregard the labels society tarnishes us with, only then will we realise that before our origin, our culture, our religion or our story, we were all just human.
This ongoing genocide transcends us, it’s bigger than us, but if we work together perhaps we can be the canvas that displays a brighter future for all mankind proving that as ugly as the world is, so much beauty still remains.

Elizabeth Lyne

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I had always planned to go back since my trip to Calais last September with my husband and brother where we first experienced how dire the refugee crisis was.

I always assumed that as I had been to Calais before and witnessed the poverty and awful living conditions I would be mentally prepared for the second time, but I was very wrong. On arriving to the warehouse in Calais we were shown papers that had been written by children, they had the word ‘REFUGEE’ and next to each letter a sentence on what it meant to be one. The one that stood out to me were the words ‘Everyone is starving’ in a young child’s writing, this hit me hard and I instantly started crying. I could not comprehend how that child must have felt when writing down those awful words.

As we had teamed up with a permanent onsite charity Care4Calais we were briefed by one of the most selfless human beings I have met called Alice. Alice provided information on the current situation at the camp and we were all extremely shocked that the number of refugees had now grown and was nearing 10,000 and that the charities around the camp were extremely low on donations and running out of food. This was completely different from our last trip as there were many people distributing aid in Calais due to the outpouring of sympathy that the death of Aylan Kurdi had caused.

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On our arrival to the camp I couldn’t help notice it looked different from the last time we had visited and we were informed by Alice that the French police would constantly teargas and bulldoze parts of the camp to deter refugees from entering.

Due to the lack of food donations we were asked to divide our 500 food parcels so we could distribute in the areas where people had been starving and had not eaten for nearly a week. Due to the sheer number of people our first 300 parcels were distributed within an hour, it was sad to see people start lighting up fires to use the food provided instantly as they had been hungry for weeks.

As we walked through the camp to different areas the atmosphere around the camp seemed extremely sad, the new volunteers that had joined us for this trip were surprised at how safe they felt in the camp and were angry at the scaremongering media reports in the British newspapers.

Whilst a few of the volunteers went back to collect the remaining food parcels, a few of us were invited to an area to have some coffee with a few refugees. Despite having barely anything to eat and living in tents these individuals were extremely hospitable and opened up their homes to us to provide us shelter when it started to rain.

The weather was extremely strange on the day as at certain points it would be extremely hot, other times it would be extremely windy with sand and dirt going in our eyes and then we would be hit with torrential rain all in the space of half an hour. With the ongoing strange weather patterns, we still managed to distribute the 500+ food parcels as the team were determined to help as many people as possible.

The highlight of my trip was the kids party we had organised with the local school run by volunteers. On our way there we bumped into a 14 year old afghani refugee child, he tried to communicate in broken English but I started to speak to him in Urdu as many people from the area know the language. I have never met anyone so broken and who has given up on life, the poor child had no emotions when he was telling us of how he ended up at the camp, he had been in the camp for 2 years and that his siblings and mother had drowned at sea and his father had been shot dead by the Iranian police on their journey to Europe. All the volunteers at this point were in complete shock, how could we reassure this child that everything would be ok as he had lost everything he ever loved and was living in these awful conditions for the past two years. How could we help him, even when giving him a food parcel and inviting him to the school he seemed vacant and troubled. We wanted to flag him to the long term volunteers at the school so they could support him moving forward but unfortunately by the time everything had settled down he had left the area.

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The children’s party lasted for two hours as the kids then needed to be dropped off back to their parents and the team needed to head back to the port in time for our ferry. On our way back the day’s emotions took over, all the faces and all the people who had approached me to help them came flooding back and I burst into tears. How could I help them, I was going home but left all those people behind, all those vulnerable people who want a second chance in life. Now that I have witnessed the poverty and injustice against them, I will never stop fighting for them.

I would like to thank all the volunteers that took out their time to join the RTF team. It was truly a life changing experience for all of us.

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Road To Athens

When I was asked by Ra’ed Khan to come along to Athens it felt like a no brainer to me. Why wouldn’t I say yes, to helping people and being a part of this beautiful journey Road To Freedom had laid out across their 9 previous trips. The personal connections they had made on the ground and the continued dedication to helping the refugees across the board was truly inspirational.

However, the week leading up to our departure left me extremely nervous. Everyone that knows me well enough is aware that I am an emotional person. I just didn’t know how I would personally handle the situation and how hard It would be.

Despite our flight cancellation we managed to make it into Athens 24 hours later than expected. We had slept a few hours the night before, and I had barely slept an hour the night we left London. All this meant that I was completely exhausted.

It was during dinner on our first night in Athens I realised just how hard the journey was going to be. We had connected with a fellow aid worker who had recently moved to Greece to help with the crisis. The work she was doing was truly admirable. She had picked herself up from
her life in England and moved to another country to dedicate her time and effort to helping strangers. We heard stories and accounts of struggles she had faced in Athens. You would think it would be all about helping these people, but certainly not the case as you begin to learn of the politics involved.

I remember half way through the dinner turning around to a few colleague and whispering in her ear ‘This is so hard’ and crying uncontrollably behind my glasses. As I rested my face on her shoulder and felt her stroking the back of my head, at that exact moment I realised just how hard this was going to be.

According to the various aid workers in Athens, there are 6 squats where many of the refugees are spread out across. The other areas consisted of open squares and ports (which have been closed since our trip). Our first night we visited one of the squats which was previously a school housing approximately 400 refugees. We were greeted by many kids as we walked in leading us in to meet the two Syrian gentleman that oversaw the organisation of the squat. Standing out in the open area this little kid walks up to me and decides to point at my bottle of Iced tea, rightfully I offer it to him and he guzzles the entire bottle down. He then signals him wanting to sit on my shoulders and from that point on I knew he was special.

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The situation is truly dire out in Athens. I don’t think people realise. I was surprised to visit public areas like squares and parks only to see refugees gathered and sleeping there. A few days into our trip we drove down to Thessaloniki which is a five hour drive from Athens. Here is where we visited camps like Sindos and Lakadikia. For me camp Lakadikia was the worst, rows and rows of tents in the middle of nowhere. The intense heat reminded me of my visits to Pakistan in August, where you are literally suffocated by the humidity. As the rest of the volunteers went to catch up with refugees they had met on previous visits, I went along to sit in a tent. This is where the intensity of the situation really hit me. There was no electricity and we were just sitting around conversing with the refugees. This particular tent consisted of about 8 guys. My back was burning and my forehead dripping with sweat, I felt like I was going to pass out. I saw a guy throw water on the floor, an old school trick I had seen many use in Lahore where by throwing cold water cooled the surface. I cannot comprehend how people can live like this, our visit was only a few hours….. But imagine living here for weeks and months.

Later on we went to another area where the camps local barber resided. He was cutting this boys hair who had his first of many interviews in Athens re his relocation the following day. The sense of community amongst the refugees was truly heart breaking. The barber’s skill set was admirable as he paid great detail cutting this boys hair with the few tools he had. This is where I got to speak to a gentleman from Syria. He spoke the best English and told me about how he was a doctor in Syria. He spoke of London and various other things. I was shocked, how could someone this intelligent, articulate, successful in their field be resorted to a life of this. The sense of brotherhood amongst everyone really stuck out to me. These strangers treated me with such respect and love, I didn’t even know them.

The next day we connected with a local volunteer from Nottingham who was covering an open public area where a massive group of refugees were residing. Families with babies, women, men and teenagers sleeping on the floor. We walked around to each one to assess the situation and see what each one needed. Many just needed food and shoes, where others needed to get to the hospital. So we did exactly that, helped them with what they needed with the guidance of an Arab speaking refugee. We handed out waters, bananas and shoes. I had to drive a woman (along with her son and husband) to the hospital down the road as she had broken her ankle. We turned up only to be told she would need to return the next day. To see the situation in this area was very hard. Although they were advised to head to the camps on their own accord, majority just wanted to stay here in the hopes of when the borders opened, they could get the train over.

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We returned to Athens the following day and decided to purchase tons of food to hand out in the public areas including the port. Imagine rows and rows of people just waiting for water and food, the basic necessities that I certainly take for granted in England. The hardest was when we ran out of food and women who would arrive saying their many kids and family members hadn’t eaten in days. If felt like what we tried to do was just never enough, so many needed help.

I was surprised to hear of Pakistani’s taking refuge in Athens. What were they escaping? It was this lack of knowledge that led us to meet one particular family. A husband, his wife and two kids who were staying in a hotel converted into a squat. I sat for some time with the woman and we spoke in Urdu. She told me of her struggles since arriving in Athens and what she had escaped from Pakistan. She was from the area Quetta where local rebel groups had taken control and were causing havoc (most recently a hospital was bombed in this area killing many innocent people). She said they had to leave otherwise her husband would have been killed, ‘how could I take care of two kids’. Their journey involved traveling for days to Iran via bus and then their difficult journey via boat to Turkey then over to Greece. She recalled they almost drowned in this boat, pleading to the Turkish border control to grant mercy and let them pass ‘I held up my little one to the officer’.

During our talk she made me tea and I got to play with her kids. I noticed a plate on the side which had a few slices of bread and some biscuits. She offered it to me and I refused, however our cultural hospitality forbids saying no to food when offered so I accepted. Apparently this was the only food they had.

Saying goodbye to all the amazing people I had met in Athens was very hard. I felt so many things… Guilt for living in my own bubble oblivious to the plight of others, sadness that I couldn’t do more and a sense of relief that finally my eyes were opened. It was during my connection in Zurich where I couldn’t control my emotions. I wept as the plane took off thinking that I left all the people behind…. Yasin, Zaid, Hamzah and all the other kids and families who I had come across. Everyone’s face has forever been embedded in my heart and I can never forget them.

I plan to do more. I have to. These people are our brothers and sisters, who had no choice but to leave their countries as they are at war. Many have passed and the ones that have made it just strive for hope. They want to know that the world hasn’t turned their backs on them. The amount of unconditional love and kindness I experienced from strangers…. I will never forget. To all the amazing volunteers on the ground who continue to do such amazing work, you are my heroes. To all the kids who continue their days with huge smiles on their faces… You are my heroes.

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GRIME AID

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A big thanks to the Jazz Café for hosting our second Grime Aid event. We were able to raise £2,000 to be used to provide more aid within the refugee camps.

Julie Adenuga kicked of the second Grime Aid event with the following message:

“What’s a refugee ? A refugee is someone who’s had to leave their country. They’ve had to leave their country because there’s war, there’s real things going on and they can’t go home. Tonight as much as we’re here to have fun, we need to remember that it’s not just a word. These people are doctors, students, they’re us right now…”

This simple but powerful message set the tone for the rest of the evening. Everyone came together to donate money and watch performances from Abra Cadabra, The Heavy Trackers, Prezident T and Double S. As well as a special guest performance from Kojey Radical.

It was another amazing night, where the feeling of love was overwhelming. Thank you to all those who performed, all those who donated, and all those that attended!

Road to Idomeni 2

Last month my team and I travelled to Idomeni on the border of Greece and Macedonia, what lies within this hopeless makeshift camp is a segregated group of forgotten, desperate souls who have nothing left, except hope. The hope that perhaps one day their fellow humans will locate their hearts and open the borders offering a safe passage to a life every human being deserves.

Nothing prepares you for the travesties you bear witness to when visiting a place like this nor do you ever get used to hearing the cries of women and children or seeing  the looks of despair on strong men’s faces, a real humanitarian catastrophe I never expected to see in my lifetime.

I feel compelled to make the journey back to these people who are stuck in such a high degree of hopelessness so together with the team, I shall be returning to Idomeni, Macedonia from May 6th – 14th to provide food, clothing, hygiene or whatever is needed.

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Road to Idomeni

The Festival of Sadness

When asked to write a blog post about our trip, I felt overwhelmed, it’s difficult to articulate an experience like this, especially as so much happened while we were out there. Here goes, a snapshot of my experience…

At first, I was very anxious about going on this trip simply because of the mental and emotional strain the previous trip (Road To Macedonia) had on me. Other team members and my family were concerned with my well-being and rightly so, I was crying near enough everyday leading up to Road To Idomeni but that could not stop my determination to see this trip through, at the end of the day it’s not about me.

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We arrived at Skopje airport shortly after midnight on Thursday 24th and was greeted by our Macedonian contact, who kindly arranged our accommodation for the night. The apartment was located in the city centre, with a view that took my breath away! It was a bit surreal actually, knowing that the next morning we would make our way south to Idomeni (Greece), where 12,000+ refugees were still stranded at the Greek/Macedonia border, living in makeshift tents and squalid conditions with hardly any access to clean water facilities.

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Road to Samos

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After heading back from Serbia last month where we provided much aid to the refugees at the Croatian border and Calais the month before, we decided to head to the shores of Samos, a tiny Greek island in the Aegean Sea.

As the refugee crisis worsens with the winter creeping in, countless innocent lives are further lost. These children, women and men escaped death in their own countries yet it caught up with them as they searched for safety.

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Many, just this month alone have drowned in the Aegean Sea desperately trying to make that treacherous journey across the water. Those who are not taken by the water later succumb to hypothermia and other such illnesses due to the lack of aid and resources there. It is horrific to know that these people are dying in Europe, humanity is failing.

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