Karian and Box volunteer in Lesvos – life-changing decisions based on an accent

This is Sigita’s story.

He gives me a big smile and says “Thank you, thank you for being here for us”. I hesitate to respond for a moment. His words were so honest, his gratitude was so genuine and his smile was so warm. It’s the middle of the night and we have just helped him and 30-40 other people to get onto Greek shores safely. I ask him where he was from. “Syria, Damascus,” he responds while heading towards a bus. “Where are you going?” I wonder. “Germany,” he responds. “Good luck with your trip,” I say and get one last smile from him before he disappears.

The bus takes them all to Moria’s refugee camp where they will have to register before heading to their destination. However, not all of them will be allowed to continue even though they are all tired, scared and hungry after days spent in the sea.

As thousands of people coming to Greece every week, local officials are trying their best to manage the crisis. And the first step is determining who is a refugee and who is an economic migrant. Refugees come to Europe because of a war in their country, looking for safety while economic migrants seek better living standards. Only those deemed to be refugees (it is currently Syrians that are mostly treated as refugees) will be allowed to continue, while others will be refused entrance.

What seemed to be an easy task at first turned out to be a great challenge. Economic migrants soon realised that their passports prevented them from continuing the journey. So they started throwing their documents into the sea as soon as a boat would be in a close proximity from the Greek shores.

Greek officials struggled. They all speak the same language, they look similar, how do we know who needs our help the most? For some time it was enough to say that you were from Syria and you were given a green light to go to Germany or any other European country of your choice.

However, even though all people speak Arabic, there are subtle differences in accents between Syrians and an Iraqi or someone Lebanese. Translators who could tell an accent were hired. Now everyone who comes to Greece without their documents has to have a chat with translators to get their future determined.

So if you speak the right kind of Arabic, you can pass… But what if you’re a Syrian Kurd who speaks a very specific dialect that is more akin to Iraqi? It is only one of the incredible decisions that hard-pressed local aid agencies and authorities have to make every day. Who gets clothes or a candle and who doesn’t? Who gets the pass to travel, who gets sent back and gets stuck in limbo? Whatever there is, we’ve found there are few easy decisions here on the ground.


Your kind donations to our GoFundMe campaign are going directly to provide essential aid to refugees here on the island. Thanks for your support.


Posted on 13th January 2016 in Community
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