Frank Giustra and the Syrian Refugee Crisis
“If you saw what I saw, you too would want to help.”
— Frank Giustra, President, The Radcliffe Foundation
Frank Giustra has witnessed plenty of misfortune throughout his life. But when he visited the Greek island of Lesbos in November 2015 to see the refugee crisis firsthand, he was shocked.
“We were staying in a tiny little inn near the beach where refugee boats were landing,” he recalls. “We were heading back to the hotel on a gravel road late at night when we saw two flashlight beams on the shore. We stopped the car and I saw two guys I thought were volunteers. Our fixer, a member of the Greek special forces, said no, they’re smugglers.”
He and his friend Amed heard voices, and gradually a boat materialized out of the pitch-black darkness. It was a flimsy vessel, packed with desperate people – women and kids and the elderly. Frank Giustra helped with the boat, holding it to shore as people scrambled out.
“A woman handed me her three-year-old boy,” he recalls. “Suddenly I’m cradling this terrified child and watching people get off the boat. Some are laughing and thanking God. Most are solemn, in shock and disbelief. “That’s when it hit me: what if this were me, and my child? Imagine risking your life at night in a flimsy boat on the crossing between Turkey and Lesbos — ‘The Journey of Death,’ they call it. They know that many people drown, it’s no secret. When we asked people why they would take such a risk, they said, ‘Well, at least you only die once in the water. Sitting there with nothing, no future, we were going to die forever.’”
He was still holding the little boy. When the mother got off the boat, he handed the child back to her. “I was speechless. I couldn’t say anything for the rest of the night. I went back to my room and I just lost it. That’s when I knew I could not stand by and do nothing. If you saw what I saw, you too would want to help.”
“This is the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of our generation, of extraordinary proportions. Join me. Make a difference. It can be done.”