I was asked earlier today to wait in the Tabakika parking lot for a bus that was coming from the port to drop off refugees so they could register. There had been some confusion when they boarded the bus and two groups from different days (different colored bracelets) had been allowed on the bus and only one set of people could get off. In the end, it was non-issue.
But, while I was waiting in the parking lot, I turned to look back at the entrance to the main building of the compound and there were two young refugee boys, probably in their mid to late teens, either Syrian or Iraqi, taking a selfie together. That one snapshot (of mine in my mind, not theirs) was an indication of what this refugee crisis is like compared to others in the past. I just had to smile.
There has been press throughout Europe of citizens complaining that the refugees have smartphones, so they seem to be wealthy enough that they don’t have to come to Europe. For one, smartphones are not that expensive and buying a SIM card, much like I did when I arrived here, is very cheap. And, most of the refugees arriving in Europe are not doing so, because they just want to leave their home due to poverty or seeking a better life (although there are those as well), but most have left because they have been bombed out of them in the wars of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, not because they don’t have money.
The picture above is of a poster that is on the side of the clothes boutique and can be found in any number of places all over Tabakika. I’m not sure who is funding it, but there is free wifi throughout the compound. Incredible, right? That actually means they don’t even have to have a SIM card and they can talk/text/Skype anywhere in the world. Even send a selfie. Quite different than refugees prior to even few years ago when it could take years to get in touch with family again after leaving home.
I was chatting with a French ICRC coordinator the other day at the port and a refugee came up to us to say that the mother and 8 children of a family were there, but the father was missing and asked how they could go about finding him (after all of us struggling to communicate in broken English – an everyday struggle). The ICRC coordinator explained back about the Restoring Family Links program they have, which connects families that have been separated. Mostly done through mobile technology. I’m not sure how effective it is, but I find this all to be amazing.
One of the questions I get asked the most as I walk through camp is where they can charge their cellphones. I would have to think about it, but it may be the number one question (other potential winners would be about when do they get food, asking for diapers and for clothes – coolest question was when two guys asked me which way east was so they could pray). It’s definitely the age we are living in.
Today was non-descript… I helped construct a dozen of those outdoor restaurant space heaters (the tall ones with the hoods), because they are going to try to heat the entire Tabakika hall at night (as it’s freezing, the concrete is frigid and that is not helping these people’s constitutions). I then, with 2 others, started to try to organize all the cloth donations in the two containers that we have on the premises. Ugh. This will take several days. It’s a constant battle to keep up with refilling and back-filling, creating a redundant system, so you have backups of backups.
Several hundred refugees arrived today, but most have been dry, so it creates a more calm atmosphere around Tabakika when that is the case.