Refugees blessed with love from Moray
Published on 24 June, 2016
The Rev Shuna Dicks of Aberlour Parish Church in Moray spent a week volunteering at a camp for people seeking refugee on the Greek island of Chios.
The trip, organised by the Norwegian Refugee Council, was her first taste of humanitarian work although she has been involved in supporting refugees for more than six years.
Ms Dicks, who was accompanied by Katy Berrecloth of Hopeman Duffus and Spynie Church, reflects on a powerful and emotional experience.
With love from Moray
I think I will be reflecting on my short time in Chios for weeks to come. And today I add to the mix the result of the Euro Referendum.
Chios is a beautiful Greek island - Not one of the great holiday destinations for western Europeans but a place that many Greeks and Turks visit.
The harbour area of Chios town is full of cafes, bars and restaurants – lovely places to while away the hours people watching and looking out across the sea to Turkey, just a few miles away.
Just a few hundred yards away hidden behind the old city walls in an area I suspect was the old moat is a place called Souda Camp, home to around one thousand people.
People we call refugees, but people who are just like you and me. People who not so long ago lived in Syria, Palestine, Algeria, Iraq and other places too.
People who not so long ago had homes to call their own and jobs or business. People. just like you and me.
Then their world changed and it became an unsafe place. Death threats, bombs and politics took all they enjoyed away. And they fled, because they felt they had no choice.
We had travelled to Chios to help but also to see first-hand the situation. And it is hellish. And it is heart-breaking.
I met and spoke to a number of the camp residents, we listened to their stories, their hopes and their fears. They are in limbo, unsure of what or where next. They worry that no-one cares. That no-one knows the situation they are in.
Sitting in a cramped hot and airless cabin we spent time with one family, getting to know them. They represent to me everything that is heart-breaking about this situation.
Mohmood, Duha and their four little girls sharing a space no larger than my kitchen with another family - 11 people in all.
They have done nothing to deserve this.
Living day by day reliant on food hand-outs from voluntary organisations, sleeping on a mat with the letters UN Refugee Agency in a windowless cabin. They wake each day wondering if today will be the day they move on.
Mahmood requires medical treatment for a bad eye, Duha has problems with her hips and they are hopeful that they will be going to Athens where they will get the treatment they require.
On saying goodbye on Wednesday morning with tears in their eyes they thanked me, thanked me for spending time with them.
But more importantly for the hope that visits from people like myself and my friend Katy give them. Hope that people care. In return I thanked them for their hospitality. No visit to them was without tea or coffee and dates.
Did you know that you are meant to eat odd numbers of dates? One or three or five. It was not until later in the week I realised that the dates we were offered each visit came from the rations they received as part of the food hand-outs.
That was a truly humbling moment - they were generous hosts.
We also met Oz who is 22, the same age as my son. His home town was Aleppo. A place where bombs continue to fall.
He had been at the university studying there – two years into his degree. A bright young man who had taught himself English by watching videos on his phone, that is until it was stolen.
What he wants is to be back in university so he can complete his degree.
Conversations with him were hard because he asked questions I had no answer to. When would they be moved out of Chios? Was it better to head for France or Belgium?
And we met Imad, a teacher from Damascus who fled fearing for his life.
Islamic State wanted him to join their fight, he didn’t want to but the alternative was worse – torture and most likely death.
From what he had heard death was more favourable than the torture, so he fled.
Leaving his wife and elderly parents behind – they are no longer in Damscus but somewhere safe.
Imad had excellent English and was a useful person to have around camp as he would translate for people.
So Katy and I worked hard throughout our stay, helping prepare lunches and serving those lunches.
We watched people queue up with their basins which had been given to them to help carry their meals. We watched as their numbers were checked off on the list to ensure they were not getting more than they were allowed.
We watched people who could so easily be you or me put pride aside and gratefully receive meagre meals from people who had travelled from all over the world to come and help. People who represent hope for those stuck in these hellish camps.
In the People’s Street Kitchen we worked alongside Americans, Taiwanese, Norwegians, Italians, an English girl, a Greek Aussie and two Vietnamese men who now lived in the US but who had themselves been rescued from the see as Vietnamese boat people.
The world was indeed on that island helping, caring and loving.
Jesus, himself an infant refugee, taught us to love our neighbours as much as ourselves.
Mahmood, Duha, Fatima with the wonky self-done haircut, smiley Zahraa, the gorgeous twins Rimass and Rama, Oz the bright young man and Imad the teacher are our neighbours and all deserve our care and love.
They are just a few among the sadly too many. In our week with them we brought them love from Moray.
I walked out of Souda camp on Wednesday morning with tears on my cheeks.
And as I write this from the freedom of my lovely Speyside home I know I left a bit of my heart in Chios with Mahmood and Duha, with the volunteers of the People’s Street Kitchen and with all the people in the camps.
I would like to go back but I would also like to see the need for those hellish camps to be gone. If you are of the praying persuasion please pray for an end to this catastrophe.
Pray that Mahmood, Duha and their beautiful girls can return to their home to live in peace, that Imad can be reunited with his wife and parents and that Oz can continue his studies.
They live in hope for hope is all they have for the moment.