Barbed wire. Fences and barbed wire. A cement court surrounded by imposing fences and barbed wire. A policed metal gate opens up to gravel, concrete, metal containers and barbed wire. A military truck dumps crates of bread on the slab of concrete surrounded by barbed wire – breakfast. Children run around on the gravel, playing on rocks in the confined, fenced-in camp. All I see is barbed wire. Surely this is a prison. No? A refugee camp you call it. Hotspot, a prison to some – Syrians, Kurds, Palestinians, Iranians, Pakistanis a refugee camp to others. A border, separation.
I wish you could see their eyes, eyes that light up when lips turn up slowly into a smile. Kind eyes, blue, green, caramel colored eyes that shine. Beautiful brown eyes that glisten in the hazy Greek sun; eyes that tell stories, that look for a way out of the closed in fences, the barbed wire, the suffocating, empty ghost island of Leros. But what did they do to be enclosed in barbed wire? To be policed by the Greek military, removed from society, put in metal shipping containers?
Hotspot. A mental hospital rises above the flat containers enclosed by barbed wire. When you arrive at Hotspot you register as a refugee under the protection of Greece and seek asylum. You will only get it if you have family in Europe, don’t tell anyone, many still try. You can’t leave the metal fences, the barbed wire, cement and gravel for 28 days. Blue uniforms stand guard. You share a container with other men – eight per container, two families per container. Your meals are placed on a cement slab in crates, oily cabbage, hard bread, bruised apples. I walk through the Hotspot and am given soft apples, pockets full of mediocre apples. Apples that nobody wants and everybody has. Just in case.
Electrical engineers, architects, artists, kick-boxing instructors, musicians. I wish you could see their eyes. A man plays an oud, a soulful song, children crowd around on the gravel, eyes closed, savoring the beautiful music. Kids sit around on gravel, looking at barbed wire with nowhere to go. An electrical engineer from Syria has been denied asylum for the second time, this is bullshit he says. Indeed, it is bullshit. A well-educated, electrical engineer tries to figure out where to go. He’s not a refugee, he’s an electrical engineer, a son, father, a musician, a football player, an educated man from Syria. I wish you could see his eyes, light brown eyes, passionate eyes that reflect the barbed wire.
How can you integrate in society when you are separated from it by barbed wire? When you put the same hand-me-down clothes on every day? When your children have nowhere to play? When you can’t find a job and don’t speak the language? When you are a refugee, stuck on an island? You wait. You wait in the barbed wire, in the Hotspot, at the mercy of the Greek military, the international system that hand picks you gets a reprieve. You wait for answers, news, hope, asylum, someone who cares, a ferry ticket out, a better life, out of the barbed wire surrounding you.