Story and photos by Joe Mason, a ONE member and Regional Faith Leader.
From the rocky shore on the Greek island of Lesbos, I can see them coming. They first appear as tiny black dots on the horizon, barely visible to the naked eye. In the background are the sloping bluffs of western Turkey.
With the turbulent sea below them and a grey sky above, they risk it all to escape. The wind kicks up and the dot comes into focus. It’s a rubber raft filled with Syrian refugees taking a treacherous journey across the Aegean Sea in order to flee the violent civil war taking place in their homeland.
I’m standing on the shore with my colleagues from Samaritan’s Purse, a faith-based NGO waiting to welcome them with dry clothes, food, and water. Along with a few other relief groups, Samaritan’s Purse is responding to the growing crisis facing those fleeing from Syria, but the numbers are overwhelming. As the small rubber raft slams into the jagged rocks on shore, volunteers rush to the boat to help offload women and children who are shaking off the cold. Their expressions show a wide range of emotions including fear, excitement, and sadness.
Back home, war has destroyed their homes, killed family and friends, and threatened their futures. Staying put was no longer an option. One young mother we spoke to mentioned that she is simply looking for “anywhere to live.”
Despite the work of the brave NGOs in the region, displaced foreigners here face a tough road ahead. The migration shows no signs of stopping, the evidence seen in the abandoned life vests along the shore. According to UNHCR, it is estimated that more than 1.2 million refugees have already crossed into Europe by sea since 2015. More than 3,000 have died trying to cross this year alone.
Now, as many refugee children have been away from home for a year or more, there is a pressing need for education. Many have been forced to work or even agree to child marriages in order to make ends meet. Without education, these children have a dim future ahead. Without education, many will live in poverty and struggle to survive for the rest of their lives.
As people of faith, we must do all we can to care for refugees. This is God’s heart.
In the book of Deuteronomy, we see this firsthand: He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)
World leaders must take urgent, decisive action soon to ensure that refugee children receive the education they need to ensure a bright future. Now is the time to use your voice.