Seemingly, everyone I’ve met since landing in Athens has an opinion about the refugee crisis in Greece – locals, Uber drivers, NGO’s, police, and refugees themselves. Opinions are freely shared with me once I disclose what I’m doing here (teaching yoga in a refugee camp) and I listen, hesitating to form an opinion until I’ve had my own experience on the island of Leros, my home for the next month or so.
“Greece is already financially and economically struggling, some locals are in worse conditions than refugees. “Who are we going to feed first? Our own people or refugees?” My Uber driver explains the challenging dynamic of populations flooding into mainland Greece and the islands seeking asylum. He continues, “All the ‘good’ refugees got into other countries already, the troublemakers are left behind for us to deal with.” His words both surprise and sadden me as I hear him talk of refugees from Syria and Palestine, housed in camps throughout Greece as they wait, seeking asylum in countries throughout Europe. Tension exists between those displaced and locals, who are also struggling in the challenging economy of Greece, all seeking security, comfort, a good quality of life.
POC – Person of Concern. The formal title local NGO’s give to refugees inhabiting camps in Athens and Leros. Not sure what exactly the concern is, but this term is used technically, not to the subjects of concern directly. Refugee – the political title given to people seeking asylum in another country, fleeing their country for political and economic reasons. Residents – the way refugees refer to themselves and the preferred title, a bit less degrading, slightly more welcoming. Titles aside, we are all just people – infinitely more dynamic than the various titles and labels we acquire from society.
I’m here to teach yoga and pretty much contribute in any way I can. Less than 2 years ago 3,000 refugees flooded the island of Leros, an island of just 8,000 inhabitants – Syrians and Palestinians fleeing a nightmare in Syria, seeking refuge and asylum, sleeping on the streets while the government scrambled to house them somewhere. Now, roughly 600 inhabit the island in camps that resemble prisons, stuck in purgatory, between the home they can’t return to, and a new home somewhere in Europe. Boredom and frustration fill the daily lives of those now without livelihoods, children without schools, teenagers in limbo, waiting to continue their lives. My contribution may be small, but a yoga class can serve to occupy part of a day, an English lesson can inspire hope, organizing a movie night might present something to look forward to.
Aren’t we all seeking the same things? To be happy, live a full and productive life, to belong, to be loved and desired, to have our basic needs met. When I walk down the street, I can’t tell the difference between a local and a refugee in Leros – all smile at me warmly, joke around with their friends, and welcome me kindly, so that I already feel at home. Over the next few months I’ll be sharing my experiences in Leros and stories of fellow humans I meet, all seeking a better life.
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