Chapter VIII: Aid


“My factory was as big as this entire area.” Sitting on a dilapidated porch, Akram Jabri, 60, extends his arms to encompass the Greek port of Lesbos. He is surrounded by his wife, two children, a son-in-law and three grandchildren, one of them a newborn baby. Their backpacks rest against a wall covered in graffiti: two giant eyes with colours that mimic the Greek flag. Akram is still astonished to be a refugee.

The Jabri family owned several factories, including one that made soap and another that made egg cartons. This was in Aleppo, which was Syria’s economic nerve centre before the war destroyed it.

“The rebels entered and we continued working,” Akram says. “But there was an offensive by the Syrian army. They fought with the Islamic State and everything was destroyed.” Akram is still incredulous. He doesn’t talk about it but his son says that he almost lost his mind when he saw that the factory had disappeared. A whole lifetime’s work had vanished in front of his eyes.

We met Akram and his family as they were about to board a ferry from Lesbos to Athens. Previously, they travelled up the Aleppo corridor up to the Turkish border, where they slept in garages for several days. Then they travelled to Istanbul. From there, they were transported to the Turkish coast, where they got into a fragile inflatable boat which took them over the Mediterranean sea  to Lesbos. Human traffickers shepherded them along the way, often in exchange for large sums of money.



Akram insists that this situation is terrible for them. They are not used to it. They were not prepared. I dare to interrupt him:

“Where did you say your factory was?”

“In Aleppo. In the industrial city.”

“MSF had a hospital there.”

“Yes, I know. We went there very often. They gave us the medicine we needed and it was free.”

MSF has reappeared in his life, I tell him, because in the port of Lesbos they have set up a mobile clinic. They look at each other, and immediately take the youngest in the family, just a month old, to see the doctor.

That’s what MSF does: provides medical care to people in need who can’t find it otherwise.