Like thousands before, another rubber dinghy rolled perilously on the waves and crashed ashore on the beaches of Lesbos, carrying some 50 passengers wrapped in bright, orange life vests. All of them hoped for a warm welcome after enduring a long, cold trudge—their journeys having started in their distant countries embroiled in war and conflict.
Mohammed Aref Naseri, a father from Afghanistan, scrambled to help his family out of the tiny raft and handed his five year old daughter, Masuma, to Mandy Patinkin, an actor and supporter of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) who came to witness Europe’s tragic refugee crisis first-hand.
Masuma, bundled in a pink coat with a white face mask, looked as though she were unconscious, her arms limp at her sides and her eyes closed. Fearing the worst as he held her in his arms, Mandy breathed a sigh of relief after feeling her hand gently squeeze his finger.
In the chaos of the landing, the family was swept away by the crowd marching into town. That’s when I called our IRC team of aid workers: A girl in a pink coat is on the way, I told them, and I’m not sure if she’s okay.
Her name means innocence
By the end of 2015, more than one million refugees and migrants reached Europe, by sea, half of them arriving to the Greek island of Lesbos. The small island continues to be the main entry to the continent for refugees fleeing Syria, Afghanistan and other countries affected by conflict, despite plummeting temperatures and increasingly turbulent seas.
"I took this risk for safety for my daughter and children,” says Mohammed, who understood the escalating violence propagated by the Taliban and other extremist groups posed grave risks for even young innocents. “They don’t have mercy on one small baby."
The family also had other worries. Masuma, whose name means innocence in Farsi, had been born with a breathing disorder and suffers from epileptic episodes. She bore up as best she could during the seemingly endless journey—when the family crossed the border into Iran, they were sent back to Afghanistan, then had to borrow money from friends to try again—but the sea crossing had been too much. With help from others, Masuma and her father were taken to the nearest hospital.
“I knew that here they know about humanity, that’s why we came,” says Mohammed.
The IRC helps reunite the family
Doctors at the hospital ministered to Masuma and provided medication to keep her healthy. Once she had stabilized, her father turned his attention to the next crisis: Mohammed and his daughter had been separated from the rest of the family.
The IRC helped transport Mohammed and Masuma from the hospital to Moria—the point of registration for refugees—where our protection officer, Aziz, once a refugee from Afghanistan himself, assisted them to complete their registration.
Aziz and his team provide specialized services and equipment for children, the elderly and the sick (from medical referrals and psychosocial support to baby strollers and wheelchairs). They quickly located Rahima and the couple’s other children at the Kara Tepe refugee transit site, where they had found a place to rest in a prefab shelter.
As the sun set over the busy transit camp, Mohammed carried his daughter, wrapped in a fleece blanket, up the gravel entrance. His youngest son’s eyes lit up when he saw them, his sister dancing along just behind. They hugged their father and kissed Masuma, ecstatic to see them safe. Mohammed, overwhelmed by the day’s events, broke down, weeping.
The IRC’s protection team brought the family’s meager belongings from the hospital and Aziz helped to translate the instructions for Masuma’s medication. They would have enough to get them to Athens, but the road further would likely be uncertain. But for the first time in months, the family had something in short supply—hope for the future.
“I’m so thankful for the IRC’s help,” Mohammed says. “I forgot my pain when I came here.”