The young Syrian men who have been robbed of all their savings stride off purposefully in the direction of Molyvos village, where a team of volunteers are waiting in a car park to hand out bananas and sandwiches.
Until a few weeks earlier, it was against the law for any public or private vehicle on Lesbos to take a refugee as a passenger. While that law has now been changed, most locals and taxi drivers still refuse to take lifts for fear of being arrested for people trafficking.
MSF’s Elisabetta, meanwhile, fills her hire car with mothers and babies, while a French man and an American woman pick up more families with young children.
— Vickie Hawkins (@VickieHawkins) August 6, 2015
But most people must walk the 8 km. The temperature is in the mid-30s, the route is shadeless and the sun is overhead. We start off up the road with some Iraqis, but after less than a kilometre, come across a family group from Syria, collapsed next to a barn full of of goats. Among them are a young boy and the pregnant woman in pink from Aleppo, who says her name is Sherin.
Sherin is perspiring and pale. In a mixture of English and Arabic, she tells me she is five and a half months pregnant, but for the past five days hasn’t felt her baby move. Her husband passes me a mobile phone, and I talk to Fouad, a family member in Norway, who speaks good English. He pleads with me to help get her to Mytilini so she can book into a hotel and rest before going to hospital for a scan, and is adamant that she can’t spend the night in a refugee camp. I reassure him that once she has registered with the police, they can find a hotel room in town.
Elisabetta drives up in the MSF car. She has space for one person, and urges Sherin in. But Sherin refuses to go without her husband – exhausted and heavily pregnant, she would prefer to walk uphill for hours in intense heat than risk being separated from him. Lost on the refugee trail in Europe, two people amongst hundreds of thousands, how long would it take to find each other again?
We stay put. One man in the group pulls up his T-shirt to show me shrapnel scars on his chest from a rocket attack in Syria. Another has fuel burns on his legs from the boat journey. The questions they ask hint at what they’ve been through. “Turkish police – they are here? They will beat us?”
Again, I try to reassure them, but who am I to tell them they are safe?
They’ve made it as far as Europe, but who knows how many razor-wire fences, border guards and traffickers they still have to face before they reach their destination? They’ve fled through a warzone, but I’m in little doubt that the worst dangers and terrors of their journey still lie ahead.
I visited the Greek island of Lesbos in August with MSF UK director Vickie Hawkins. MSF had launched an emergency response a few weeks earlier as the Turkey-Greece sea crossing became the most popular route for refugees trying to reach Europe. In July alone, 50,000 refugees arrived on the Greek islands, the majority of them on Lesbos and Kos.