Much of the recent attention on the European refugee crisis has focused on how Canada will settle the 25,000 Syrians it has pledged to accept.
But for one group of North Vancouver women, that’s not enough. Haunted by the image of dead three-year-old Alan Kurdi they came together earlier this fall under the name Canada Caring and decided they needed to lend a hand where the crisis is most acute – on the shores of Greece.
Erian Baxter and her 19-year-old daughter Hannah flew out today to help refugees arriving on the shores of the Isle of Lesbos. Lynda Steele spoke with them before they took off.
Erian says the idea was born after a group of Deep Cove mothers saw the iconic image of Alan Kurdi. They decided they had to help – and after some research decided rather than sponsor a family or fundraise, they could do the most by helping on the shores where up to 7,000 refugees are arriving a day.
“[In the case of a natural disaster], that’s not something that anybody’s wanted. It’s better if you don’t come, just send money. Whereas with this one, we’ve gone ‘look, should we give you our plane ticket money? Is that better?’ and they’re like ‘we need your hands. Please come.’ They really need help.”
— Canada Caring (@canadacaring) November 19, 2015
Erian says organizations on the ground are doing their best, but more people keep arriving — often needing to wait days before registering in camps. She says the volunteers they’ve already sent ahead gave them one piece of advice – travel light and be ready to work.
“Don’t take much – you’re going to just be helping. You can start in the warehouse sorting clothes, you can make sandwiches, you can help on the beach and clean it. We’re trying to bring the least that we need, and what we can give away.”
Preparing for the journey.
Erian and Hannah say they know stepping into a crisis like this will be a challenge, but they’re committed.
— Canada Caring (@canadacaring) November 18, 2015
Hannah says she’s even prepared to miss classes at university.
“I knew I would regret not going. This was an experience I had to have, and if I didn’t, I would think about it for the rest of my life.”
But she says there’s no way to really be prepared for what she’ll see.
“I don’t really know if you can. I think we’re both ready to deal with anything, but you can’t really prepare yourself – or we don’t really know what to expect, because the situation has been changing daily. You don’t really have the time to be in shock. And that’s not important too, you want to get out and help as much as you can.”
From a place of compassion
Hannah says at the heart of it, it’s a mission of compassion for people in a desperate situation.
“People, when they arrive on the shores, are soaking wet. Because there’s 50, 60 people on these boats – they often capsize before they reach the shore.”
Her mother agrees.
“These people have just risked an immense amount to just do this crossing. They have a huge ordeal ahead of them. But if they’re welcomed, like, warmly welcomed, and hugged — it just kind of lifts them back up again. So that’s a really big part of choosing to go here.”