An Aid Worker Tells the Harrowing Story of one Syrian Family’s Escape to Greece

By Jennifer Butte-Dahl, Applied International Studies Director at UW’s Jackson School, a Global Washington member

Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

In Lesbos, the sun is rising—illuminating a sea that hides tragedy below its surface. We are carrying family tents designed for humanitarian relief through the site, looking for empty spaces to set them up, when a man approaches our group and asks if we could use a hand. Two young boys stand at his side, eager to assist.

“I don’t want anything in return,” he says. “I just want to help.”

It’s another 90-degree Fahrenheit day under the Mediterranean sun on this small Greek island. Only six miles from the western shore of Turkey, Lesbos is the main gateway to Europe for thousands of families who arrive daily from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that over 258,000 migrants have arrived on the shores of Greece since the start of 2015. Almost half that number—122,400 as of Sep. 6—has come via Lesbos. For a small, picturesque Greek island with a local population of only 86,000 people, the influx of newcomers is overwhelming.

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