by Michael Long, Greece
Monday of last week started with me taking a team of 12 World Racers to the border to pass out clothes to the refugees rushing to get to Northern Greece. (The World Race is a mission trip for young adults into 11 countries in 11 months to serve “the least of these.” This great team was with us until the end of November.) The week was all about being the taxi driver for the team that assisted in the overwhelming need of the thousands attempting to start a new life.
The numbers are staggering. In the past 47 days 206,550 refugees have passed through the tiny make-shift border crossing; the average is about 4,400 every day. Every morning a wave arrives by ferry boat at the Athens port from the Greek islands. They are then transported by bus, arriving in droves at the border. The passage backs up sometimes, but usually within a couple of hours, the refugees have all gone through. (When the ferry boats were on strike for a few days, however, over 10,000 spent the weekend.) The refugees are happy and optimistic of a hopeful future. Government and UN supervision is nonexistent. NGOs, volunteers and Christians are doing the majority of the work. Time is short, but friendships are made with the many who speak English. Many accept a New Testament gift. The borders are 80 kilometers (50 miles) from our home in Thessaloniki. The trip there and back is tiring, but the opportunity to share God’s mercy is a joy.
Things changed drastically on Thursday when officials at the border passage started allowing only Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans to continue on to Northern Europe. The Iranians blocked the border and demanded to be allowed to pass. The blockage forced 1,000 people to spend their nights and days at the border area which is nothing but open fields around a railroad crossing. The volunteers became uneasy, and clothes distribution was impossible, even potentially dangerous. The team resorted to sorting in storage rooms at the train station, safely away from the border crossing.
Frustrations were high. One day when I was leaving the clothes tent, I drove through a riot police line. When I tried to get on the road to drive back to Thessaloniki, a local resident had parked his truck, blocking the road to demonstrate against the disorder and unrest that has taken over his village. He screamed that the police should arrest him.
My last memory of the past week was loading 3,000 bottles of water so they could be taken from a storage container to the distribution point in the camp. Nearby refugees were fighting over sleeping bags and who would sleep in the tent for families. Twenty sleeping bags were in the storage container we were working in, but we were afraid to give them out. More than 200 refugees were standing around in the dark. We did not have enough hands or supplies. It was yet another time when the desperate need of our fellow human beings was greater than our feeble ability to assist. The emotions of workers are worn down by the overwhelming conditions of this historical influx of nations struggling for life.
Truly, the whole unbelievable phenomenon is beyond comprehension. How will this unprecedented influx of Middle Eastern population ever adapt to European life and ways? Certainly, it will change life as we know it here in Greece. Still, I can’t help but think this situation might also be an opportunity for a huge number of discouraged people to find a new meaning of life.
Click here if you would like to make a donation to the Bishops Crisis Relief Fund.
Email Michael Long (Longmm@the.forthnet.gr) if you would like more information about serving the new immigrants of Europe with the love of Christ.