In this blog post, Anna Self, who graduated with a BA Geography degree in 2018, reflects on her recent experiences of working with refugees in Greece, and how her studies at Liverpool helped to prepare her for the work she did there.
It’s been a little over a year since I graduated from the University of Liverpool and I have just returned from Samos, Greece where I’ve been working in a refugee camp home to 4,500 people. I have thought a lot about how I want to communicate with friends, family, and colleagues back in the UK regarding what is happening in Samos, and in refugee camps all over the world. Some people have asked me if I’ve had a ‘good time’, or if I ‘enjoyed myself’ and honestly, I can’t answer that question. The situation in Samos, a small island not too far from Turkey, is appalling. I think we are failing humanity by letting people live in the conditions that I have seen.
I’d like to think that the majority of my friends and family are aware and sympathetic about the refugee crisis we face in Europe, but if there are grandparents, friends, or colleagues out there that aren’t, then my experiences have made it clear to me that this conversation needs to be had. It might be difficult and uncomfortable, but one thing I’ve learnt is that ignorance is one of the biggest culprits in this situation. For example, tourists in Samos are blissfully unaware of the 4,500 people living in inhumane conditions less than 500 metres from the city centre. These lovely, innocent, hard-working people are living in tents, without access to toilets, showers, and basic amenities.
Here in Europe, we hold ourselves to a higher standard than other places, boasting that we have the best healthcare, education, and living standards in the world. Yet somehow, we are forgetting about over a million people who are fleeing to Europe to escape political conflict, famine, torture, and other atrocities that we cannot even imagine. I’ve seen people digging through rubbish bins looking for food to eat and children sleeping next to rats, and even women who have been discharged from hospital one day after giving birth, having to return to a one-man tent that is more suitable for Glastonbury than it is for living in with a newborn baby.
With the UK’s news agenda being dominated by Brexit, it’s easy to forget what is happening in the rest of the world. Despite the changes our own country is going through, I believe we have a responsibility to these people – many of whom come from countries we either colonised or in which we have contributed to the conflict. I’ve had uncomfortable conversations with people from Ghana, Sudan, and many other countries. After being asked where I’m from, the response was always the same; a reference to the British colonisation of their country. Although this colonisation happened generations before me, I’m still seeing the effects today, and we are all living with the consequences.
Greece is attempting to deal with the huge pressures of this migration, but we can help share the burden. Write to your local councillor, your MP, talk to your friends, start the conversation. Next time you catch yourself complaining about a delayed flight, an overpriced flat, or not enough paid holiday, think of the woman and her newborn baby living in a one-man tent with no NHS, no toilets, and no government to support her. The media might not be talking about it anymore, but the refugee crisis is still happening, and the situation is only getting worse.
Over the last few months, I have seen the worst of humanity, but I’ve also seen the best. I’ve been lucky enough to work with hundreds of individuals who come from all over the world, some of them refugees themselves. Doctors, lawyers, linguists, students, and politicians. Some from Europe, others from Syria, Afghanistan, Congo, and many others. I am constantly inspired by their compassion and drive to help strangers, friends, and neighbours, despite the hardship they are going through themselves.
Having studied BA Geography in Liverpool, I have been able to assess the situation in Greece with a unique lens. During my studies, I learnt about Europe’s responsibility towards the state of affairs in many countries across the globe. Be it from colonisation, or from current involvement in conflict in countries like Syria and Afghanistan. I have also thought critically about the roles of NGOs, particularly those who do not listen to the voices of refugees themselves, and compared them to those organisations who listen and care for the people they work with.
I’ve seen firsthand how a degree in Geography really can help you to help others. Being equipped with a critical mindset has allowed me to proactively solve problems before they arose, or to develop solutions and think on my feet. This involved things like trying to address the disruptive impact of the comings and goings of short term volunteers on refugees, or reducing the issue of gender inequality within the camp. Although it felt great to be doing something to address the problems I’d learnt about during my time in Liverpool, I’ve returned home ready for the next phase of my academic and professional career.
If you’re interested in finding out more about how to get involved, please feel free to contact me via email at email@example.com.