Dispatch: Lesvos, Greece

By Brianna Lantz

I have a confession to make: when I boarded my plane to Lesvos, Greece on April 12th, I felt skeptical. Nervous. Defeated. I was traveling to Greece to cover stories from refugee camps but camps were being dismantled and access to refugees was disappearing before my eyes. Just three weeks before my departure, the EU and Turkey reached a controversial deal aimed at stemming the flow of illegal immigration into Europe via the perilous Aegean Sea. In a one-for-one policy, Turkey agreed to receive a refugee traveling to Europe illegally for every Syrian refugee that the EU accepted through the proper asylum process. The reasoning for this deal is “to discourage migrants from perilous crossings, often in small boats and dinghies, and to break the business model of human smugglers who have fueled Europe’s biggest influx since World War Two.”*

So there I was, expecting to visit the crux of the refugee crisis and tell stories from the frontline, only to find out that the flow of refugees landing on the island had essentially halted, and many were being deported back to Turkey.

The situation became so fraught with uncertainty that I received an email from my point person reading, “We’re in the midst of assessing contingency plans and potentially leaving the island.”

Was my story falling apart? Was this trip a bust?

As I’d come to find out, Jesus lured me to Lesvos in order to tell a different story. 

For well over a year now, the world has watched hundreds of thousands of refugees land on Lesvos and thousands perish before even making it that far. That is the narrative we’ve become used to, and consequently, numb to.

But in the wake of the EU-Turkey deal I saw a different picture, changing before my eyes. I saw transition camps become detention centers and NGOs pulling out in protest. I saw safe havens shuttered and torn down. I saw a sea of life jackets worn by the tens of thousands of refugees who had landed on the island in a just a few month’s time. I saw what many might consider a dismal, hopeless picture. “I feel like we’ve gone back in time,” I’d hear aid workers say. “Like all of our progress was for nothing.” I saw looks of despair in eyes that thought they’d seen it all.

The miracle in all of this? I came home with a narrative that hasn’t yet been introduced. I walked away with a greater hope than I ever thought could emerge from such a dim situation. Thanks to the holistic work of UnBound to protect refugees and their Kingdom-lens on the crisis, I left the island with a call to action burning inside me. A call for the church to rise up and declare hope where there was none, because, as Laura Pennington of UnBound so perfectly puts it, “our hope is in a Person, not in a circumstance.”

Look out for the full feature in Nations Journal, Volume Two, now available for pre-order.