Credit: Revd Mike and Sue Searle

The refugee crisis was brought closer to home for retired priest Mike Searle from Lamorna and his wife Sue while they were on holiday in Greece recently.

“As we walked along the sea-front in a sleepy little village called Methoni, in the Southern Peloponnese area of Greece, we saw a slightly dated ‘gin palace’ a motor cruiser in the bay ahead of us.

“As we approached we saw that the boat was very overcrowded with mostly Syrian refugees, men women and children. There were no life jackets in sight. They were being towed to the quay by a local boat. At the end of the quay was a small welcoming group, a police woman, a doctor, a coastguard and some locals who eased the boat to the quay safely.

“The traffickers had long since abandoned ship, leaving the refugees drifting out at sea until they managed to alert the Greek coastguards. We were told this is the third boat to land in Methoni this Summer, a previous boat had drifted onto rocks and some died. The refugees had paid a lot of money to get on board, we think hoping to get to Italy.

“It was eerily quiet. Three men had jumped into the sea and swum to shore and they were sitting on the quay. The refugees were brought off the boat and down the quay in small groups, women and children first. There was no shouting, pushing, hardly any talking as the police woman used gestures to tell people where to sit. But the faces of the adults showed the horror of their journey and their relief at being saved. The children looked confused and tired.

“As they walked down the quay they were offered bottles of water and biscuits and a welcoming smile, and then put on buses. When the biscuits ran out –as well they might as there were 130 people- the lady in charge shouted out to the tourists on the beach and we all rushed to the little kiosk and bought up their store of biscuits and snacks. As they got on buses some tourists waved to the children and shouted ‘Good Luck’.

“Once two busloads had gone there were just a group of young men sitting in rows on the quay, and the tourists gradually drifted away leaving the incongruous sight of refugees beyond the sun loungers.

“The refugees were taken to the local football stadium where there were showers at least, and local tavernas gave a pasta meal and lentil soup over the weekend. Then on the Monday morning they were taken to a ‘holding centre’ in Athens or Corinth.

“We read 100,000 migrants have arrived in Greece this year and 60,000 are still there. The desperation a young family must feel to pay 4,000 euros or more and risk so much to get their children to safety from war is hard for us to imagine.

“The cruelty of the traffickers making vast amounts of money with no care for the value of human life is frightening.

“So what is the world doing? What is the EU doing? Greeks feel very little is being done to help them. What is the UK doing? We have just all voted to limit immigration, can we morally accept this when people are so desperate? And the ‘holding camps’, how are they influencing the children who grow up there realising that no country wants them?

“How can the traffickers be stopped before more people die looking for freedom? Can this trade in people be stopped with more international co-operation?

“Holidaymakers on that beach bought biscuits, waved at the children and wished families ‘Good Luck’. Are we really saying that a country as well-off as England could not afford to give a welcome to a few more families than at present? We seem to be moving woefully slowly.

“Can more be done in Syria? The refugees we saw are the ones who can afford to risk all to escape, some send children or young men on their own, many presumably cannot afford to even try.

“And Greece. What a beautiful country and so economically challenged, but still able to live up to their reputation of welcoming strangers. A waiter in a taverna took us home when we couldn’t find a taxi, when we offered him money he refused saying ‘I do it from my heart’. Oh for the UK to have a little more heart.”