Refugee Perspectives: Traumatic Waters
Written by Melissa Dalton-Bradford
There’s nothing terrifying about a beach walk at sunset.
If you are very lucky.
Maybe you grew up near a beach, or visiting beaches, large bodies of water, lakes, reservoirs. Family trips, you know? Chances are, you swim. Swimming lessons every summer? You might even waterski, scuba-dive, go boating, kayaking, canoeing, white-water rafting? If nothing else, you’ve at least been to an inland water park, ridden a water slide, inner-tubed the Lazy River. Water might be your happy place.
Not to my refugee friends. Not a one.
Which has to be why they have recounted to our team their escape from war, terror, bombings, persecution, bloodshed, they have been able to tell about the deadly trudge over deserts and mountains, past armed vigilantes and border guards, through forests and under barbed wire—most without breaking down.
But their tone shifts the instant they get to the part about crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. The part about WATER. Many of our refugee friends grew up in landlocked regions. Water activities are nowhere part of their culture. No one we have interviewed knew how to swim.
“I was sure we would die,” person after person told us.
“We held our children to our hearts then, when the water started spilling in, above our heads.”
“The smugglers took 600 Euros per person.”
“The boat was for 20. They packed in 50.”
“We crossed at night. Everything was black.”
“They threw my backpack overboard. It had everything.”
“I raised my prayers to Allah. Allah kept us afloat.”
“We knew the boat before ours had sunk.”
“Who would I save? My wife? Or our little daughter?”
“We paid for our death.”
You understand now why for me a family stroll on the beach (like the one we took last night) is no longer just ... a family stroll on a beach.
The moon patrols with her indifferent glint. The high tide slaps its insouciant metronome. Wet sand seeps between my toes and I tighten my grip on my husband’s arm, and we turn toward higher ground, backs to unfathomable water.
To me, the label “refugee” is a badge of honor. I invite you to honor and celebrate refugees and welcomers with me this month and to meet some of these heroes at TSOS's Virtual World Refugee Day event on 17 June.
As we strengthen our relationships with resettlement agencies, friends, and community partners, we are discovering that the work doesn't have to be big to be important.