Mum’s mercy mission to help refugees

Sian Lewis is planning a visit to the Greek island of Lesvos to help refugees as they land on the beaches there
Sian Lewis is planning a visit to the Greek island of Lesvos to help refugees as they land on the beaches there

ARUNDEL mum Sian Lewis is planning a trip to the Greek island of Lesvos – as a helper, not a holidaymaker, on beaches where hundreds of desperate refugees continue to land each day on the threshold of Europe.

Accompanied by her fiancé Andrew Lark, Sian will travel to Lesvos in March to join other volunteers and agencies providing humanitarian aid to migrants braving the stormy seas of winter to reach the island.

While they are in Greece on their mercy mission, the couple’s daughter Madeleine, four, will be looked after by Andrew’s mother Jo Lark at their home in Ford Road.

Madeleine was in no small way behind Sian’s motivation for the visit, as she explained: “For a few months, I had been saying that if I didn’t have my little girl, I would go there. Then I thought it’s more important that I should go because of her.

“I keep thinking what I would do if it was my own daughter. Could I get into a tiny boat with her if neither of us could swim? For many mothers, I can only imagine that the idea of not getting into the boats and not trying to get to a better life must feel worse.

“Despite the presence of international aid organisations, the situation is still desperate.”

Sian, 42, a writer and translator, said up to 1,500 refugees were still arriving on Lesvos each day from Turkey, despite the rougher, chilly seas.

“Although the larger aid charities are doing a great job in the camps, on the beaches it’s almost entirely run by volunteers. It’s a very delicate operation. As the boats come towards the shore, you don’t want people standing up in them and causing them to capsize.

“Then as they come ashore, everyone has to have their clothes changed – they are soaked to the skin and there are a lot of helping hands on the beach to help them change and give them a warm drink before they go off to the camps.”

In the past, working as a journalist, Sian has been on visits to Africa with aid agencies, but found them to be rather stage-managed, with the journalists on the sidelines, observing but not actually giving any help.

She expects Lesvos to be an altogether different experience. “Often, with stories about disasters or tragedies, we feel we can’t do anything to help, but there, even if it’s as simple as making someone a cup of tea, or changing a child’s clothes, it is making a difference for them.”

The island continues to receive the largest number of refugees arriving in Greece, which led to Sian deciding to head there. “Lesvos seems to be the place with the highest number of refugees arriving and needing most volunteers. It seems to be very well organised. There are warehouses where the donated supplies are kept where we will probably spend the first couple of days, settling in, before going down to the beach.

“I think that is going to be enormously emotional. I will probably be scared. I imagine it will be stressful and wonder if I will be able to cope. If someone hands me their child, sopping wet and crying, as a mother I will be able to feel it very deeply.”

With the debate continuing over the number of refugees coming into Europe, how did Sian feel about the issue herself? “All the efforts to encourage people not to make such a dangerous journey have not stopped them taking the massive risk and coming over. To come across that choppy sea in a boat, you have to be desperate.”

Sian is covering the costs of her trip and has a Just Giving page to raise money for supplies for refugees, like clothes, food and water. British Airways has agreed to carry extra suitcases filled with the supplies, free of charge.

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