Volunteer Diaries: Rando in Athens

Guest blog by One Human Race (volunteer Rando Wagner)

Recap of the short but sweet trip to Athens (1st - 6th of September 2019)

Sometimes I leave Athens with the feeling of not having achieved most I had intended to, it is often only once I start doing the accounts or writing some updates, that I can judge myself objectively.

My Sunday lunchtime arrival at Athens airport was the perfect excuse for making the most of the beautiful hot day. I quickly drove into town, dropped my bags with Ale, and together with Khaled, Ahmad, Anas and Khalid, we drove to the nearest beach.

Perfect way to recharge the batteries a little before and after a busy week.

On Monday morning I ordered 700 bags of Arabic flatbread and 1800 eggs for Malakasa and Lavrio Camps to be delivered Monday and Tuesday night respectively.

I decided to visit Lavrio first on Monday night as I had some good news to pass on to Mustafa X and his 2 year old daughter. Ale had called the Dublin office in the afternoon and his family reunification with his wife in Norway had been approved by Greece and his file been sent north!

I paid a quick midnight visit to the other larger Lavrio Camp to see Yasser X and met a young Syrian Kurdish guy whose story is still giving me the chills.

His entire family had lived in Turkey for many years and been approved, including all medical checks etc, for UNHCR Resettlement to the USA ( up until 2016 the US took in roughly 100.000 refugees under this programme). The family was packing up waiting for the travel arrangements to finalise, when the infamous ‘Muslim travel ban’ came into full force. After waiting for nearly one year for the ban to be lifted , the family had no other choice than to make the sea journey to Europe.

I recently posted about a young Syrian who was released from prison after being charged with human trafficking charges. He was released onto the streets of a city he had never been to fend for himself.

I wasn’t in Greece at the time and, without having met A myself, decided all I could do to help was provide him a bed in a hostel for a few nights. However, after not only Jess, but also various Syrians had met him and unanimously told me : ‘ he is definitely 100% NOT a smuggler’, I made the decision to ask him to move into the Athens flat I rent.

A. is the quietest, friendliest, bordering on shy, young man. He settled into the flat almost immediately and as it turns out, is a ‘Monica’ (those old enough to remember ‘Friends’ will know what I am referring to) JACKPOT!

Unfortunately, his quiet almost serene exterior hides the inevitable PTSD he is suffering from. He mentioned sudden attacks of pain he is experiencing in his jaw, chest and stomach. An examination by the volunteer doctors of MVI confirmed that the pains are psychosomatic and not due to any other medical condition. After asking a number of NGO’s and volunteer groups if they could help, and receiving replies varying from :’ has he got AMKA ? to ‘ well, it will probably take a month or two until we can see him’, I made the decision to pay for a psychiatrist and hopefully have found one via a private contact who will see A at fees below regular commercial rate.

I was contacted by a German volunteer recently to ask if I could help a 30 year old Syrian who, as a result of an accident, lost parts of both his arms, the use of his legs and also suffered brain damage. His mother and sister are in Germany and, God only knows how, managed to get him to the island of Kos and then transferred to Athens.

When I walked into the flat T shares with 14 other Syrians, I could only stay for a few minutes seeing him cramped into a small bed with 5 others sleeping on the floor around him and no space to even walk.... I think everyone gets the idea without me having to go into more detail. The only ray of light was the fact that one of the other guys living in the flat was looking after T in the most commendable and caring way.

My first instinct was, I need to find a better place for T to move to, but he had clearly bonded with his ‘carer’ and I was asked for help to initiate family reunification on humanitarian grounds not to find him housing.

So early on Thursday morning, T, his carer and I drove to the asylum office in Alimnos and presented ourselves to reception. The very sympathetic lady took his papers, entered the data into the system, then asked me : ‘ What exactly would you like me to do?’. I once again explained the reason of our visit. With a smile she replied : ‘ The procedure has been initiated in Kos, was approved and the file is in Germany, you will have an answer in 2 months’. I felt like a BIG donkey, simultaneously wanted to make myself disappear and hug her.

T only arrived in Greece six weeks ago. His family weren’t aware, or as they admitted once I told them the news, were overwhelmed by all the paperwork and it got lost in translation. The only explanation is that one amazing social worker in Kos, who single handedly restored some faith in humanity for me, made the request, wrote the social report, added all necessary documents and here we are.

If any of you meet T, it would be obvious that he could not survive without his family in Greece, neither mentally nor physically, there is no higher level of vulnerability and I can only thank the unknown social worker once again for his or her humanity.

If the result is anything like it was last Thursday morning, I gladly feel like a BIG DONKEY again and again.

The visit to Malakasa to deliver 350 bags of bread and 900 eggs late on Wednesday night coincided with one of the highest Shia holidays and celebrations were in full swing in the camp’s makeshift mosque. While Gul and his team (themselves residents of the camp) distributed the bread and eggs with commendable efficiency, and according to a list of names which was used to ensure no one was missed out, Anas and I went to the mosque, as neither of us had ever witnessed the above mentioned celebration.

We were warmly welcomed, asked to be in selfies, given juice and cookies..... you don’t have to believe in the same, or believe in anything, but showing interest, respect and some knowledge of how others believe or practice their religion is a sure way to peacefully coexist.

A huge thank you to Echo100plus, an Austrian NGO who expanded their highly successful educational programme to Athens and opened the school only a few minutes walk from the Athens’ flat. Last Thursday was opening day and I am so grateful to finally have a professional school in Athens. Five of the flat residents enrolled to attend daily courses with official accreditation on completion.

The building is state of the art and, knowing the ladies running the NGO, has the funding available to be sustainable.

The rest of the trip was spent food shopping for the flat, an Afghan minor, an Afghan family and a young Syrian brother and sister who just arrived in Athens a few days ago, and taking one of the flat’s residents for an eye test and getting him new glasses.

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