Policeman Konstantinos Vaggelis received a memo in August while serving in his hometown of Ioannina in northwestern Greece, informing him that he was being transferred to the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos.
Vaggelis was not surprised at being called up as he knew that officers were needed to manage the tense situation that was growing at the island’s migrant and refugee processing center in Moria. He didn’t balk at the prospect of what he knew would be a daunting task that would expose him to human misery and pain. Feeling that his career had prepared him for the emotional pressures of such a job, he set off. What he hadn't accounted for was the close connection he would form with Bares.
The officer was on just his second day of duty at the migrant camp when the 6-year-old Iraqi boy suddenly ran into his arms. This spontaneous gesture marked the start of a close friendship that lasted throughout Vaggelis’s stint on Lesvos.
“We developed a very special bond from that day,” he tells Kathimerini. “I was won over by his lively eyes, his smile and his optimism. Bares kept me company during all of my duties. His parents weren’t worried about where he was when I was on duty, because they knew he would be with me.”
Vaggelis often brought small gifts for the boy, who was always pleased to receive them but never took them for granted.
“He would be happy to see me whether I brought gifts or not,” says Vaggelis, who also developed a friendship with the boy's family. “He was a very expressive, sociable child, and not just with me.”
A few days ago, Vaggelis, by then back in Ioannina, received a phone call from his colleagues at Moria telling him that Bares had died in a fire at the camp on the night of November 24. The policeman had heard the news of the gas cooker explosion that claimed the lives of two camp residents, an elderly woman and a child, but it wasn’t until the Sunday that he learned this child was Bares.
“I was gutted. Of course, it was painful regardless of the child’s identity. Even before I heard the name, I was shocked by the news, just as I was shocked seeing the bodies of small children washing up on the shore,” Vaggelis says.
That Sunday night he did something quite out of character. He wrote a very personal post on his Facebook page, a tribute to Bares that has triggered a wave of emotional responses on social media.
“I felt the need to share what I was feeling with others. The only message I was trying to put across was one of humanity,” says Vaggelis. “From my first day there I came into contact with many people and also with children. My colleagues and I tried to help these people by being there for them, by trying to make their day-to-day lives a little bit better. There were difficult and dangerous moments and in many respects moments of intense emotional pressure, but the humanity was prevalent.”
Vaggelis spent two months in Moria and in the short life of young Bares. “Two months is enough to make up your mind and to form a connection.”
Below is an English translation of Vaggelis's Facebook message:
“A few words for Bares… a small angel from Iraq who never got a chance at life… You came to me, my little angel, and wrapped your arms around me… from that day on I had you with me at every shift… And then suddenly, my colleagues called and told me you were the soul that perished in the Moria fire, my spiritual child… You paid for your parents' European dream, for war, for deracination… You became a victim – where are the victimizers? So long, my little angel, I wish I could hear you running down that hill calling out 'police' to me, or 'pulice,' as you called it.”