Connecting the past and present: A feeling of betrayal in a temporary environment

We often use the past to connect with the present. I find myself doing this far too often. Whether it deals with connecting past journalistic experiences or my time in Greece one year ago, it is inevitable to utilize how we have interacted in the past to help guide our actions in the present. That whole “learning from your experiences” thing.

A rolled-up dinghy sits behind a grove of trees on a hiking trail near Skala Sikamineas.

Engaging in this type of behavior is treacherous this time around. As I mentioned in my last story, Stage 2 is a temporary camp for new arrivals before the head to Moria — the main camp on the island. They typically stay at Stage 2 for a very short amount of time. 

Knowing the new arrivals would be heading to Moria has been a dramatically heart-wrenching experience for me. I can’t tell them where they’re about to go to is good, and I can’t tell them it’s awful. Either their expectations will be shattered or their hearts will sink knowing their conditions won’t get much better after paying an inordinate amount of money to leave similar conditions just across the Aegean. 

I spent the afternoon at Stage 2 on Thursday with about 30 new arrivals from Eritrea and Kurdish Iraq. They had arrived early that morning and were waiting for the bus to take them to Moria. We confirmed it would arrive around 12:45 p.m., and we began to tell the refugees so they could collect their things and be ready to go. 

This was the first time I had seen new arrivals board the bus for Moria, and I secretly hoped I would never have to experience it. My heart was in my throat as the bus arrived and the refugees began to line up at the entrance to Stage 2. I was tasked with only letting seven people through at a time and making sure their bags were loaded. 

The entire process took about 10 minutes, and before I knew it, everyone was on board and set to go to Moria. I stood at the entrance with another volunteer as our coordinator, Frontex representatives and some other officials spoke. 

As we stood there, a family — a father, mother, and a 2-year-old boy — sat at the very front of the bus. We had spent a short amount of time with them at Stage 2, playing with the child and talking with the mother. The father mentioned for his son to wave to us, and with the biggest grin, he waved vehemently before the bus swung out of the gravel lot. 

We, of course, waved back, but as I waved, I couldn’t help but feel awful. I knew what they were headed to. I knew that their family may be split up as the father stayed in Moria and the mother and son stayed at Kara Tepe camp. I couldn’t help but think about the miserable conditions they were headed to and the drastically long road that lay ahead of them. 

I felt as though I had betrayed them.

I stood waving with a smile as they headed down a hour-long road to an uncertain future. Would they face violence? Would they ever see an asylum interview? Would they even have a chance?

Stage 2 is an excellent reprieve for new arrivals after having just faced death by courageously crossing the Aegean in a dinghy that very well may have holes a minimal amount of gas for the engine. It is an oasis after experiencing the many horrors that present themselves in the Turkish camps. But it is so temporary. As is my time here and the impact I may have. 

Even though it doesn’t seem this way at all, may the crisis be the just the same: temporary.