FACE TO FACE WITH REFUGEES by Helen Horn & Peggy Gish

This summer Peggy Gish spent two months working with Christian Peace Maker teams, first in Kurdistan–northern Iraq–and then on the refugee-jammed island of Lesbos in Greece. The team in Kurdistan is spending considerable time along the mountainous northern border where farms and villages are being repeatedly bombed by both Turkey and Iran. Innocent families have to flee. Turks aim to drive out Kurdish nationalists encamped in the nearby mountains who are fighting to protect their own customs and language. Iranians are bombing to subdue Iranian radicals, also in mountain hide-outs, who reject their strictly Muslim, authoritarian government. On top of this, American companies are exploring for and developing oil wells with the permission of the government on land belonging to Kurdish villagers in the valleys. These villagers have little hope of adequate reimbursement. The CPT team in the area is writing its third report for American readers about the attacks on these innocent Kurdish families. Peggy also feels the importance of simply befriending refugees in the improvised camps to which they have fled, listening to their stories of loss, telling the authorities about their unmet needs, and letting these victims know people care.

To help mostly Syrian refugees on the island of Lesbos, Peggy and two others from Athens County, Ivars Balkits and Lisa Trocchia, worked in a small refugee camp with cooking, food distribution, a garden project, and playing games with the children. They each spent one night on a beach with other volunteers, watching for boats bringing more families, to make sure they got safely to shore. She and Ivars visited an Afghani refugee and a Turk who had been put in prison for driving one of the overloaded boats. They learned that these drivers were not the human traffickers who extorted high sums of money from the war-ravaged refugees, but strapped and desperate refugees themselves, promised a little money or free passage to Greece in return for driving the boats. Peggy, Ivars and Lisa went to their court hearing and were shocked to learn of the long sentences they received. The team reported this to a human rights group and local lawyers working to reform the Greek legal system. Most of the refugees on Lesbos planned to leave for northern European countries to live once they were registered.  The truth was, however, that those countries had reduced their quotas. Before returning home, Peggy saw these registered refugees everywhere in Athens, Greece, which she visited before flying home–in parks, in city squares, many sleeping on the ground.  Our government’s resistance to letting more immigrate to our country is a  harsh reality for Peggy, made more so by seeing their need, face to face.            

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