Van Kos naar Coesfeld

Afgelopen September was de zogenaamde “vluchtelingencrisis” op een hoogtepunt. Duizenden waagden de oversteek van Turkije naar Griekenland en reisden verder naar het Noorden van Europa. Ministers en regeringsleiders hielden de ene spoedbijeenkomst na de andere.

Terwijl de politici ruzieden over quota’s en grensbewaking, reisde journalist Okke Ornstein mee met Hanine (niet haar echte naam), een Irakese farmaceute die hij op Kos had ontmoet en die op de vlucht was voor de oorlog in haar land.

Uiteindelijk bereikten ze Duitsland, maar gemakkelijk was dat niet. “Het was één grote uitputtingsslag”, vertelt Ornstein. “Vluchtelingen zijn constant in beweging, van de boot naar de trein, uren lopend om ‘s nachts grenzen over te steken, bussen in en uit. Het was volkomen onvoorspelbaar waar we heen zouden gaan, en hoe, omdat de situatie steeds veranderde. Ineens gooide Hongarije de grenzen helemaal dicht bijvoorbeeld, en moesten er dus andere routes uitgestippeld worden, en dat leidde dan weer tot nieuwe problemen”.

“Wat me het meest is bijgebleven is de het enorme doorzettingsvermogen van Hanine en haar medevluchtelingen. We werden af en toe als vee behandeld in de verschillende landen; toegeschreeuwd door militairen, in treinen gestopt, opgesloten. Maar voor haar was dat toch beter dan in Irak blijven, en dus bleef ze doorgaan, ook al was ze uitgeput, ziek, en bang”.

“En dan af en toe kregen we wat van het nieuws mee, van Europese topconferenties met kibbelende ministers of politici die het dan hadden over ‘aanzuigende werking’ of ‘asiel shoppen’. Het contrast met wat zich op de grond afspeelde was echt bizar, het zijn twee werelden die elkaar helemaal niet raken.”

Luister hier:

Kos refugee crisis

“Are you a journalist or a spy?” asked the policeman.

“Who would I be spying for?” I replied, laughing.

“That I don’t know,” the policeman answered. He brought the night vision binoculars to his eyes again and scanned the dark horizon, ignoring me from now on. He talked over his radio with a coast guard boat a couple of miles offshore. It was easy to see, trolling back and forth. Sometimes it would switch on its orange flashlights and speed towards a rubber boat in distress. You could see the people be taken on board and then brought to the port, and then the patrol boat would leave again. It went like this all night, every night.

Apparently they had decided that this rubber boat was doing fine and its voyage not to be interrupted. I heard the yelling and screaming and chanting even before I could see them. Then the boat ran up the beach, about fifty people jumped out and started to dance around, pray, sing, yell “Allah akhbar” and “save us” – the latter being the phrase taught to them by the smugglers for when confronted by authorities. The police told them all to sit down and not use their phones. Nobody paid any attention. Eventually they had to walk in caravan behind the police car to town. On their way they went, but then another boat appeared from the distance and the police returned to the beach to – I still have no idea what it is they tried to do there. The police themselves most likely felt pretty useless too, because three or four more boats arrived that morning but I haven’t seen them any more.

By that time it was starting to get light. Joggers ran past, and kite surfers were readying their gear. An early swimmer from one of the nearby resorts emerged. Other tourists were watching the daily refugee spectacle from the comfort of the balconies of their rooms, enjoying a morning espresso.

I was running around with a microphone and my Nikon. The radio documentary I produced was aired the 30st of August, and can be listened to online here (link) or below.

Some of my photos were featured on the photography publication LensCulture, here.

In the meantime, the situation in Europe has taken a turn for the bizarre and the sinister. Countries like Hungary and Macedonia are panicking and have no clue how to handle the caravans of refugees passing through – the consensus seems to be to just treat them as horribly as possible: Hungary planned to deport refugees in trains to camps. Yes, it is sometimes hard to remember that it’s 2015 over here. In the seas between Turkey and Greece, people just drown.

European policy, as far as there is any, seems to be to push as much business as possible towards the smugglers, who are making millions circumventing borders that may one day be open and then closed on the other.

It annoys me personally. The brother from one of the main characters in my documentary is at the moment of writing stuck in Budapest where the authorities have decided to close, then open, then close the railway station again. If I had a car, I would just go over there to pick him up.

And maybe that’s what needs to happen. Organize buses and drive refugees from Greece to the West, step in where our hapless leaders are dropping the ball. Anyway, here’s the radio documentary I produced. Enjoy!