Kayla Dutton returns from front lines of refugee crisis

by Jonathan Huang staff writer

Equipped with a small notepad and a hefty backpack of photography gear, Kayla Dutton set out with Justin Macris, a Moody graduate and Hellenic Ministries media director, to Lesvos, a scenic triangular-shaped island in the northeast Aegean Sea.

“We wanted to document the journey of the refugees as they crossed the sea from Turkey,” Dutton said.Kayla Dutton/Freelance

It was just about one week ago that Dutton, senior communications major, returned from Greece, where she conducted a journalistic media trip to document the Mediterranean migrant crisis.

Dutton’s journey, which lasted roughly a week and a half, served the twofold purpose of gathering audio and visual material for a documentary for a directed study course at Moody and to aid the media production team of Hellenic Ministries, a Christian organization based in Athens.

The Greek isle of Lesvos’ close proximity to mainland Turkey has resulted in its transformation into an escape checkpoint between western Asia and European soil, particularly for those fleeing ISIS-occupied territories and the Syrian civil conflict. Despite the treacherous six-mile journey by sea between Turkey and Lesvos’ cliff-like coastline, hundreds of migrants continue to risk their lives each day in hopes of finding asylum in EU territory.

According to Dutton, typically after bribing local police to access the peripheries of the Anatolian shores, migrants pay staggering amounts of money to smugglers — anything between 1,000 to 2,500€ (approximately $1,100-$2,800) — to lead perilous trips in makeshift rafts across the Gulf of Edremit.

“We would begin filming as boats appeared along the horizon,” Dutton said. “You can see Turkey in the distance.” One pregnant woman, upon arrival to shore, shared with the volunteers that her water broke during the two-hour boat ride. She had walked for seven days across Turkey before the dangerous crossing.

Coordination and resources on the once-tourist island are severely limited. According to Amnesty International, there have been over 93,000 arrivals in 2015, which is more than seven times the number in all of 2014. Arriving migrants must rely on the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), local volunteers, and NGO activists such as Dutton and her teammates to receive basic provisions, emergency foil blankets, and water.

After the journey by sea, the sojourners must continue their exile on foot, walking roughly 38 miles (on several dirt roads) across the island to reach the main port of Mitilini to board a ferry to Athens.

“There were families of all ages,” Dutton said. “And they were everywhere, whether they had set up their own little tents for shelter, sitting on cardboard, or just laying on the sidewalks. There was just no place for them.”

Despite all of the chaos Dutton saw around her, she left the island with a sense of accomplishment and hope.

“I left with a greater understanding of the crisis,” she said, “as well as with a hard drive full of photos and videos that will be useful for [informing Christians about the work of Hellenic Ministries] around the world.”

Amidst the turmoil, Dutton learned that “at the end of each day working in crisis zones, we have the privilege as Christians to lay these burdens at Jesus’ feet.”

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