Humanitarian activist and author Becky Sakellariou is a first hand witness to the refugee crisis currently affecting Europe. She spoke on Friday, March 3, in the Strafford room of the Memorial Union Building (MUB) about the work she had done with refugee camps in Greece in an event titled “Refugee Lives Always Matter” put on and organized by the UNH Muslim Student Association.
The event began at 6 p.m. with a brief speech by Abu Ibrahim, the imam of the Islamic Society of the Seacoast Area, before Sakellariou was introduced to the crowd.
Her presentation centered around a slide show of images from various refugee camps in Greece, along with showings of the documentaries “Desperate Journey: Europe’s Refugee Crisis” and a video about the non-governmental organization (NGO) Adventist Help and their humanitarian work at the Oinofyta refugee camp in Greece.
Much of Sakellariou’s speech centered around the need for individuals and non-governmental organizations to take care of refugees, given the fact that the European Union closed their borders in April 2016. Having grown up and lived in Greece, she starting getting involved in humanitarian work in 2015, when the first massive wave of refugees began as a result of the Syrian civil war.
“I couldn’t not pay attention to it,” Sakellariou said. “How can you sit in your living room and watch this stuff and not do something? And I’ve always been an activist in various ways, so it just made sense. And I started going around to camps and asking them what they needed, basically.”
Sakellariou spoke about how Greece, as a border state, is one of the first stops for Middle-Eastern and African refugees fleeing to Europe. By the time that the European Union closed its borders, Greece had to create permanent camps for refugees to live.
“This is a major, major migration of people,” Sakellariou said. “Greece wasn’t ready for this, under any circumstances.”
Sakellariou explained that the decisions made by the European Union thwarted the plans of many of the refugees, who saw Greece as a temporary stop on the way to Western Europe.
“(Greece) is not a rich country. They wanted to go to a country where they knew they could get social services, housing, a stipend, language studies,” Sakellariou said.
The remainder of her speech centered on the work that she and other organizations had undertaken to care for refugees in Greece. She pointed out that one-third of the refugees stuck in Greece are children. Nevertheless, Sakellariou maintained that the work of various NGOs has made an enormous difference in the well-being and care that these refugees have received.
“I think it’s a situation that we don’t see much of in the world, where the world came together to help each other,” Sakellariou said.
She closed her speech with a reading from a powerful poem from the perspectives of various refugees, and a lengthy Q&A session followed.
“I think it’s important to raise awareness about the issues that refugees face,” freshman economics major Nooran Alhamdan said. “And it’s good that a lot of people at UNH are trying to put more emphasis on education to reach people who may not be as educated or ignorant about the crisis.”
Those interested in humanitarian volunteer work can email Sakellariou at firstname.lastname@example.org.