​A doll (lower left corner) in the remnants of improvised rafts washed up on the shores of Lesbos symbolizes lives lost. Photographer: Sophie Lapp Jost

By Lynda Hollinger-Janzen
Wednesday, September 23, 2020

David and Sophie Lapp Jost were on the Greek island of Lesbos when fire burned the Moria camp that housed 13,000 refugees.

LESBOS, Greece (Mennonite Mission Network) — Two nights after David and Sophie Lapp Jost arrived in Lesbos, Greece, on Sept. 8, they witnessed an inferno that made international headlines. A fire burned through Moria, a refugee camp housing 13,000 people.

"We have seen many refugees wandering the island with all of their possessions on their backs or dragged behind them on improvised sleds," David Lapp Jost wrote in correspondence, dated Sept. 17.

The Lapp Josts are serving in Germany through Mennonite Mission Network. Sophie pastors the Bammental Mennonite Church and David works with the German Mennonite Peace Committee in fundraising and environmental advocacy. Each year, this organization hosts an annual tour to Lesbos to learn about the economic, political, and environmental crises that force people to flee their homes.

"We work with our learning tour participants throughout the year to engage in lobbying, organizing, and fundraising in their European home countries to mitigate the situation here and also to advocate on root political issues," Lapp Jost wrote.

On Lesbos, the German Mennonite Peace Committee partners with the human rights group, Aegean Migrant Solidarity. The committee supports five staff persons to work with refugees. The island is their landing point in the European Union after crossing the Aegean Sea in over-crowded boats, or improvised rafts. Since 2015, more than 850,000 people seeking asylum have crossed the sea from Turkey to Greece. Many of them are from Afghanistan and Syria.

The tour participants were able to pay for emergency food and water for some of the refugees resting in the shade of the island's 11 million olive trees.

"Our group has also met daily with a group of six young people and brought them food, medicine, and water, and has gotten legal advice for them," Lapp Jost wrote.

Lapp Jost explained that Lesbos and several other Greek Islands are used as a barrier to migrants and refugees.

"Greek Coast Guard boats intercept refugee boats, put the people on life rafts without motors, and dump them back into the sea for the Turkish Coast Guard to recover," Lapp Jost wrote. "This violates international law, but is becoming increasingly common, based on first-hand reports of survivors."

Many of the refugees who succeed in establishing claims to asylum end up living without aid on the Greek mainland. Some are transferred to other European countries.

According to Lapp Jost, the United States has led or facilitated wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen that create the economic, political, and environmental conditions that force people to flee their homes.  

"One of the many cruelties of this situation is that neither Americans, Europeans in general, Greeks, or the refugees themselves seem to understand that decades of aggressive American wars and infusions of arms across many presidential administrations are significantly responsible for this situation," Lapp Jost wrote.

Mission Network made a contribution to Lesbos Solidarity, organization that supports the Pikpa Camp. This camp is a safe and healthy space for the most vulnerable refugees: pregnant mothers and children, those who are ill, and those who live with disabilities. In addition to the Pikpa Camp, Lesbos Solidarity runs a project called Mosaik. It offers language classes, crafts, activities, and part-time work making high quality bags out of recycled materials. These items come from dinghies and life-vests that are left as trash after refugees have successfully crossed the sea. Lesbos Solidarity also educates tens of thousands of Europeans every year and engages in advocacy. 






​Lynda Hollinger-Janzen is a writer for Mennonite Mission Network.



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