“The boat we sailed in was smaller than this”, she says. I am standing in the new special exhibition ‘After the Escape – Syrian lives on Samsø’ about an hour before it is to open, and I am talking to an 8 year-old girl. We are looking at a rubber dinghy, which has been used by the NGO Team Humanity to save refuges off the coast of Lesbos. Her off-hand manner of mentioning her own journey across the Mediterranean reminds me how resilient children can be. “Our boat was orange, like that life vest there”, she says and points to one of the many life vests that surrounds the dinghy in the exhibition. They, like the dinghy, have come to Denmark from Lesbos.
She, like so many others fleeing from the war in Syria, travelled across the Mediterranean and up through Europe. Her family eventually end up in Denmark. They tell their story in the exhibition. It is not the story of their escape from Syria, but of their life in Denmark; of cycling to school in the Danish winter darkness, of playing with the other children in the school playground, of the small things in life.
But setting the frame for this mundane normality, we have the rubber dinghy. It looms in the background as a reminder of what it took to get to live this ‘normal’ life, and perhaps it whispers reminders of those that were not so lucky.
The dinghy was used by Team Humanity, an NGO founded by Danish volunteers in 2015 in response to the growing refugee crisis. In January 2016, the co-founder of Team Humanity, Salam Aldeen, was arrested and charged with human trafficking alongside one Danish and three Spanish colleagues. They were arrested while sailing along the coast of Lesbos in an effort to find two boats filled with refugees, which they had heard were in distress. The five men were finally acquitted in May 2018. Team Humanity has helped save thousands of lives on Lesbos.
The dinghy was collected by the National Museum of Denmark and can be seen in the exhibition ‘After the escape – Syrian lives on Samsø’ at Moesgaard Museum until 30 January.
Read more about Team Humanity here.