The Real Heroes of the Refugee Crisis

As of late, the only antidote to my entrenched political realism has been the news of amazing individuals volunteering to help refugees in the Greek Island of Lesbos.

Their work contributes to making individuals' lives better as they deal with tremendous hardship and loss. And it is usually a form of work that goes unnoticed and is generally thankless. But their contributions make a huge difference to the vulnerable individuals stranded on foreign soil with limited resources and opportunities.

Such volunteers, of course not just in Lesbos, are the real heroes of the refugee crisis and other global crises.

The heroes are definitely not the politicians and officials who have either conspired, contributed, fear-mongered, war-mongered, spread hate, exploited sectarian divisions, encouraged xenophobia, discouraged reconciliations, sabotaged cease-fires and negotiations, turned a blind eye to a humanitarian and political disaster, or who simply used their office to offer empty words of solidarity or condemnation.

And for those who are interested in some fresh words of optimism and humanity, I have selected a few quotes from two articles that have particularly struck me.

First, the below excerpts are from an article published in the Guardian on the 15th of December 2015 titled: "The Athens lawyer who became a guardian to refugee camp children."

"I cannot save the world or make everything better," Dimakou admits, "but I can affect the things around me. If everyone does this then the world becomes better. And we become better."

"I'm trying to convince children as young as nine years old to listen to me and not the smugglers or their friends... to convince them to follow legal procedures to be reunited with their relatives."

"I want to be able to let them be children again. To admit that they miss their mum"

"I am not the one who needs emotional support. They are suffering. They are without their parents, an education, a future. Who am I to say that I have a burden?"

And the following set of quotes are from an article published on the 15th of April 2016 titled "The idealists of Lesbos: volunteers at the heart of the refugee crisis."

"For everyone here the experience is totally life-changing"

"I see how much difference I can make for a lot of people... You may not be able to stop the [Syrian] war but what this island does is make you realise you can change lives."

If compassion is the volunteers' driving force, idealism is their staying power. So too, is shock: the shock of experiencing the tragedy up close and, say nearly all, realising the lack of empathy displayed by governments back home.

"I feel blessed. I never want to complain but I also have a burning fire inside because it doesn't feel fair. These people have risked everything to get here. And all Europe wants to do is deport them."

"I'm just furious about the callous indifference of the rich and gross incompetence of the powerful,"

"The whole thing is a disgrace, a self-induced faux crisis. Citizens' movements are good but where are the rich? In Rwanda we saw the same thing, people of limited means taking time out of their schedule to help. Here I hear of yachts being chartered for a million dollars a week; just the gas they use would be enough to educate refugee children for a year."