During our time here in Greece serving at a refugee camp, a door opened and we were given such an opportunity. We found ourselves looking after 120 unattended minors (under 18) who are at the camp alone, without any family.
It’s a very sad situation…
At the moment there are 5 girls and 115 boys who have either come to Greece on their own or lost their family on the way. The area is enclosed and gated into two sections for their safe guarding protection and resembles a mini refugee camp in itself. It is one of the most challenging places to work because as a volunteer you really get to know the young people you are serving, and leaving them at the end of each shift is so tough!
Amy and I spent time with these kids, listening to their stories and talking with them, sharing out food, housing new arrivals, playing games with them and trying to keep peace between the different culture groups. Most of the kids are 16-17 but there are a few younger children here too.
One of the younger kids I got to know was a boy from Syria around age 12 who is full of life and smiling most of the time. Many of the older lads seem to have taken him under their wing and he often lightens things up playing football or joking around. One of the shifts he was showing me and another volunteer some videos he had made on his phone of photos he had took with his friends. After a few minutes he pulled up another video that had a picture of a man smiling with Arabic music in the background. The boy said ‘My friend died in the bomb’ As we watched the video we saw the same smiling man get into some sort of home made tank and drive off as bullets bounced against the armour. The camera span around to some fighting that was going on behind them. In the distance a small square moved towards the central area of the fighting then there was a huge explosion!
After asking the boy a few questions we came to realise that we had just watched a group of Syrians fighting ISIS rebels! The small square that exploded was the home made tank with the boys friend inside. The smiling man had given his life to destroy an ISIS stronghold and this was his martyrdom or memorial video. It is heartbreaking to hear and see what some of these young people have been through and that this violence has become something that is now common to them. The minors often play around like most young kids do, sometimes their joking around turns into the odd fight with each other reminding us of an inner city youth club, but when we take into account all they have experienced, they are actually behaving quite well considering all they have been through!
This week Amy sat with a teenage boy who showed her pictures of his cousin who was executed by Islamic extremists and disturbing photos of the regular public hangings that are taking place. These photos are so common because people including children are forced out of their homes to watch these horrific events as public examples! It was shocking to see but many of the refugees including the children have photos and videos of the violence, massacres, torture and death that they are fleeing from in their home countries. Many of these are children having witnessed so much before they even start the journey into Europe.
Fleeing so much violence leaves people traumatised. Panic attacks are commonplace and sleeping at night becomes a big problem. Some of the children we have worked with stay very quiet about what they have seen and there are others who want to tell us their stories over and over, trying to get some sort of handle on what has happened to them and their families.
All we can do is listen, love, support and pray that they find the one that brings peace. We are learning truly what it means to love our neighbours and be peacemakers through this time. Please pray with us for peace and inner healing of these young people. Each one is on a physical journey but it is also an emotional and spiritual one. They have seen and experienced far too much!