OAKLAND (CBS SF) — A recent report from the International Organization for Migration says more than 100,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Greece already this year.
That’s a number the group says wasn’t reached until July in 2015. Tens of thousands of those people come from Syria. It is also why Youssef Kubis of Oakland has decided he can’t stand by and do nothing.
“I was born and raised in Syria,” Kubis explained. “I ended up here in the United States for the past 22 years. I have most of my family back at home in Syria.”
Tragedy struck Kubis’ family last November when his brother and 22-year-old nephew were killed in Syria.
“So sort of that was my changing point for me where I decided that I really want to do something about the refugee crisis to support people who are leaving Syria seeking asylum in Europe,” Kubis said.
So Kubis launched the Syrian United Refugee Fund or “SURF.”
Several of his friends jumped in to help and built a website to collect donations. It wasn’t long before they had more than $70,000 and a plan to go to Greece.
“We quickly decided what we wanted to do in terms of planning a trip to Lesbos and take the money with us and use it on the island to support the refugees,” said Kubis.
The Greek island of Lesbos lies about six miles west of Turkey. It’s the first European shore for migrants trying to reach a safe port. But it’s a rocky shore and the journey is dangerous.
“The process is done illegally by smugglers,” Kubis said. “They put the refugees in the boat. So in a boat that could legally fit 20, they put 60.”
The smugglers questionable practices don’t end there, according to Kubis.
“And they appoint one of the refugees as the captain of the boat, a person who may have never touched a boat in their entire life,” continued Kubis. “And there were many incidents where they were provided with fake life vests and actually it would take them down in the water instead of making them float.”
The SURF team of Youssef, and friends Amy Wellersdick, Lisa Price, and Kathryn McCarthy say their mission was to help receive the refugees, help them into dry clothes, get situated in tents, feed them, and get going on their journey the following day.
They used their donated money to buy food, clothes, and ferry tickets for refugees to get to Athens and then farther into Europe.
“We went to the port where they take the ferry for Athens,” Kubis said. “We bought water, and we bought hot chocolate, and we served them ourselves, one by one.”
McCarthy described the situation as a “crisis zone.”
“It was hard sometimes to not get overwhelmed by the scale of the problem,” she said.
And hard for Kubis to stop looking for familiar faces among the refugees.
“The thought that my family would have been on that boat didn’t leave my mind, every time, every day,” he said. “Because that could happen. In reality could happen.”
The SURF team is planning another trip. Interested parties can make a contribution here.