I Wasn’t Prepared For The Sight Of It All

“It was desperately cold when we performed the burial rites of the drowned and deceased refugees on Lesbos. I’d come from Karachi to help give Muslims a proper burial.

There were 80-90 bodies in the morgue and they were slowly released to us as land for the graveyard was arranged. When the white van drove into the graveyard with the bodies inside, the female volunteers were asked to carry the corpses of women and children.

Gender plays a very important role in Islamic burial – which is why women, like me, were needed for women’s and children’s burial. The men washed the men and vice versa. It was like an assembly line. One by one, the bodies were carried, washed, buried and prayed upon.

I wasn’t prepared for the sight of it all. In the van the bodies of adults and little children were stiff. I will never forget how cold the little boy’s body was I carried that day, as we prepared to bury him. The loud wailing of his mother broke the silence of the graveyard.

A few days later I went to the ‘village of altogether’, an abandoned school house surrounded by huts, set up by Canadian and US volunteers for refugees with special needs. I met a woman whose husband and children I’d buried. She hugged me. Her eyes were glazed over as if she was hoping to wake up from this terrible nightmare.

The children in this camp looked happy but the drawings on the wall told a different story. Some drew pictures of houses they had left behind and others of the tragedies they’d experienced, drawing boats and people drowning in the sea.

That night we went to another camp where we met some volunteers from a church. We all held hands under the stars and said a prayer for the refugees, for each other and for humanity.”

Farah Haji, 37, from Karachi, Pakistan: volunteer in Lesbos, November 2015

The Guardian have composed a collection of volunteer accounts, detailing individuals’ experiences of this awful refugee crisis. You can find more accounts like Farah’s here.