-a week in Izmir, Turkey-
(How to read this blog post! If you feel like it, please read it straight through. It takes about fifteen minutes. If you get to the end, please note the links, and read those too. If you want to of course! Thank you).
The word Refugee doesn’t seem too offensive to me. I know that what it means for the individual is not good, but the word has a certain softness to it-to me that is. But Migrant, Asylum Seeker, Irregular, Clandestine? They all grate on their articulation, just uttering the words seems an insult-to me. So why not just call these people exactly what they are. For those genuinely fleeing horror, why not call them ‘people fleeing horror‘? It’s the truth. It feels more appropriate, and gentle-to me. People fleeing horror, PFH.
Those feelings people get when they just want to get on a plane and help. Some people do just that. Some people stay at home, no judgement. We do what we have to do.
So I get another plane ticket, to Izmir, Turkey this time. Cheap flight, and cheap accommodation, and not too many pound notes in my pocket. Thankfully Turkey can be very inexpensive. A trip to France, a trip to Spain, a café crème, a café con leche can cost you up to three or four pounds in some places. In Turkey, a small hot black tea can cost you as little as twenty pence…and yes, I did some days manage ten small hot teas for the same price as a coffee further West.
The ongoing Refugee crisis brought me to Turkey, the seeming horrors of endlessly neglected PFH, the dire reception turned detention centres in Greece, the deteriorating conditions for Syrians stuck in Turkey. I owe money back home. This was a cheap trip though, (no excuse I know). But this was not a holiday. In my opinion this was work. This ‘is’ work. This type of ‘work’ is becoming more real for the many people who feel that their lives can only be meaningful if part of their energy is put towards attempting to help somehow heal or reduce the horrors we are witnessing across Europe now.
Yes there are rogue elements within the migration trail. I don’t want to help a potential terrorist cross to kill. We have to be careful. This must not be a free for all. We must find ways of helping those that need help-whilst filtering out the bad ‘uns, and somehow convincing those people to change their harmful ways.
A quick look at the internet and I find a description for journalism. Journalism, according to ‘this’ description, is the activity of gathering, assessing, creating and presenting news and information. It is also the product of these activities. Its purpose is to empower the informed, to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments.
For some very good information on the Migration Trail you’ll possibly want to follow the writings of Patrick Kingsley the Guardian newspaper’s first Migration correspondent. Patrick’s second book is published on the 5th May, although you can get a copy of ‘The New Odyssey’ right now if you follow this link:
Patrick travelled through seventeen countries on the migration trail gathering information for his book. He spoke to PFH themselves, coastguards, border staff, smugglers. The book will be full of accurate information, (I assume) although times are moving fast and events are changing weekly, sometimes daily.
This is Patrick’s second book. As a correspondent he has reported from twenty five countries. He was named foreign affairs journalist of the year at The British Journalism Awards and he is a former winner of the Frontline award for print journalism and was previously the Guardian’s Egypt correspondent. Patrick gained a first in English Literature from Cambridge University.
And for goodness sake the man is still in his mid twenties. An ‘educated’ journo, (an educated journalist), as opposed to me, twice his age, and still only an uneducated apprentice ‘potential’ journo.
So I arrive in Izmir’s Basmane region. I could tell you about the dusty streets, the area called ‘little Syria’. I could try and convey the scene here, the feelings, the atmosphere. I could try and describe how the Syrian PFH are attempting to eke out a living, a life here. But again, I pass you over to another educated journo, another Guardian newspaper article. Written and illustrated with some hauntingly accurate sketches, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad captures gruelling journeys across Turkey blighted by poverty and exploitation:
Izmir is a port city with a population of nearly four million people. It has a rich rich history. Many of my fellow hostel companions were out early doing the museums. I have a guide book beside me. It’s stacked full of facts. But I can’t make much head or tale of it. I am not really a museum person. I am not an historian. Instead, I spent much of my time walking the streets, drinking tea, thinking, and on quite a few occasions talking to people about their migration crisis experiences. From the two Algerian men stood on a corner, one twenty three years old, the other twenty nine, both painter/decorators, both got robbed a few days earlier. They were hoping to make it to Europe. But how? I gave them all the change I had in my pocket. It amounted to about twenty pence. Believe it or not they were grateful for it. If I had had money to spend I would have booked them into a hostel for a fortnight, paid upfront for a fortnights food for them. That’s if that’s what they wanted. It’s not always about the money.
I spoke with the young Canadian girl, (lady) who had just spent months on the Greek island of Chios helping at the reception centre there. “The closest place to a concentration camp I will ever see if my lifetime,” she said. We had a quick conversation, but it hit me hard. Maybe she was exaggerating, but her words came from experience.
I spoke with an older lady who the PFH in the reception centre on the Greek island of Lesvos called ‘mother’. She had worked there for several months and had now left. I asked if she wanted to share any of her experiences. No pressure I said, don’t if you don’t want to. But again, we didn’t speak for long, but her next intended project hit me in the heart once again.
A hardened smoker as she was she intended on buying a van, filling it with cigarettes, (not literally) and a coffee machine and spending her time handing out cigarettes to PFH, and offering them coffee. I hate smoking but I thought about it for only a few seconds and realised what a bloody good idea this was. What a relief for a smoker, starved of cigarettes in a stressful situation to be able to pull on a cigarette. What a comfort for a coffee drinker, starved of coffee, to be able to sit down, feel the warmth pass through the body, and temporarily relax, think, be in a certain amount of repose. Great idea.
I spoke to the young man who could have continued talking about his experiences for hours. A person, one of a team of four who had joined working on the migration trail back in August. I doubt there are many who have done so much, gone through so much, and have given so much in the ten months they have been operating doing their best to help PFH throughout Europe, Turkey and beyond. A keen deep sea diver this man is. He’s taking a month off soon. All I’d say to him is-once you’ve gone down don’t forget to come back up again. What a contrast he will experience. What work he has done. I take my hat off to you. Many more will take theirs off to you as well I expect.
I spoke to people from Syria, from Germany, from Tawain, from Turkey, from England. I didn’t speak too much though.
The lady from Taiwan liked my idea, ‘best idea she had heard in ten years’ she said. That led me to wonder what the idea was she had heard about ten years ago! My idea is to find PFH and local people to help me clean beaches, starting with Turkey’s, onto Greece’s, onto the rest of the Mediterranean. So many littered beaches. So many people looking for work. Perfect scenario? ‘I’ think!
I had a meeting with a man from Izmir’s cultural and social enterprise about the beach project. It was a sort of chance meeting but a serious one. I am hoping for an e mail.
And onto Greece, and again I call upon the experts to give their opinion. Since the signing of the EU/Turkey deal on the 8th March, a number of between forty and fifty thousand PFH and economic Migrants have become stuck in Greece and its islands. With EU assistance Greece has opened up thirty one temporary accommodation reception centres on the mainland-with the capacity to hold thirty three thousand people. Conditions in many of the centres are overcrowded, under resourced and are inadequate for all but a few days.
Amnesty International toured the area and have come up with an in depth report and with it some recommendations for alleviating the pressure for all concerned. They feel there are no quick fixes but believe change must happen immediately. It is a good report, thirty five pages long. Some of their recommendations are, to ensure access to adequate reception centres for all PFH, increased capacity of Asylum Service to register asylum applications and relocation beneficiaries, adequate information for PFH, prohibit the detention of children by law…and in practise.
I believe it’s worth reading, and comes in PDF form via this link:
With no spare money to help out potential individuals or groups on the trail, and with no clout to make political change, sitting down just drinking tea didn’t seem to be the answer. Walking around downtown Izmir with its multitude of coffee shops and seemingly carefree youth circulating the streets I noticed how many people wore t shirts with quotations on them, and not just plain boring quotations. Some of them were pretty startling, and interesting. So I got out my pen and notebook and ambled the walkways intent on recording the better ones.
Within seconds I came across my first one. It read: “Number one lesson in life-Trust your gut”. I figured getting back on my feet had been a good idea. The idea had come from my gut! The quotations flowed. I noted, “Living Life Large”, “Take me to Paradise”, “Born to be a star”, “Rainbows make me smile”, “Enjoy your own company” and worn by a well groomed man the quotation, “Sorry girls, this man is taken”.
I wondered how many people actually knew what these quotes meant?
The quotes just went on and on! “Always there for me”, “Sorry I am sorry”, “Told you so”, “Now is just right now”, “Today you inspired me” and “So far so good”.
This little exercise perhaps didn’t heal any part of the migration crisis-but it gave light relief, and we all need light relief sometime.
As I left the UK and boarding the plane in Gatwick to fly out to Izmir I sent a quick prayer out to the Universe. I said ‘please Lord can I sit next to a documentary maker on the plane?”. Well, she turned out to be a camerawoman, so that wasn’t too bad, and we found ourselves sat together on the way back! I’m sure I can make a good documentary. I have her card, and she’s Turkish, works in London, speaks perfect English, comes from Izmir. Ideal?
We have an almighty mess on our hands in Europe at the moment, so much pain, so much horror-but we can heal it. I am sure of it. Do we just have to make ourselves as small as possible? Do we have to own up to our inadequacies? Do we have to ask for help? Do we have to ask for help from bigger sources than ourselves? Forces outside of ourselves? Like sources we cannot see, rivers of power from the stars, from the heavens, from a creator?
I believe so, but that’s only my thinking.
Friday 22nd April was Earth Day. It comes around every year, Earth Day that is. I know the 22nd April does too! I watched all these people walking around Izmir with statements on their t shirts. They were saying something without effort, no placards, no megaphones, no shouting, no violence, just words. I thought I would join them, so I bought a permanent marker pen for 50 Turkish Lire, (£1.20), went back to the hostel, got out one of my t shirts and made my own. I then walked amongst the crowded boulevards for a couple of hours more. This is what I wrote. Please let it be true. An uneducated journo I may be…