Actor and activist Mandy Patinkin recently witnessed first-hand the refugee crisis engulfing Europe.
Alongside International Rescue Committee aid workers in Greece, he met families who had fled Syria and other war-torn countries in hopes of finding a better life for their children in Europe.
“Standing with them, I did not see strangers to be feared but the faces and stories of my own family.,” Mandy wrote in a commentary published by The Washington Post on Dec. 6. “I saw Grandpa Max, who left Poland to escape the Nazis, and Grandma Masha, who was forced from Russia during the pogroms. And now I could help this family reach the safety of Germany — a place my ancestors had fled — in search of welcoming arms.”
Mandy was moved by the mountains of lifejackets left behind by refugees arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos: More than 440,000 refugees from conflict-ravaged countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq have crossed the Aegean Sea to the island, where the IRC is providing critical aid to thousands of people sheltering in refugee camps.
“This is all they had to keep them alive if they went in the water and, as we all know, many people didn’t make it. This is a graveyard of life preservers,” he says.
In the Kara Tepe refugee camp in Mytilene, Lesbos, Mandy met Khoder Al Assy and his wife Safae, who lost their money and passports to the waves. The Syrian family was hoping to reach Germany with their two little boys to reunite with relatives.
“I just don’t get it. I don’t get how people in different countries all over the world can be frightened of people who suffered so much, who are so in need, who are so desperately asking to have freedom, justice and dignity,” Mandy says in a video of his visit. “Just give them a welcome.”