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95 New Arrivals in Lesvos - Greece

Yesterday afternoon I came up to Skala Sykamineas to meet our partners Refugee Rescue and Lighthouse Relief - together forming Lesvos’ north shore response team. They kindly let me sit in on a team de-brief discussing the days’ three landings, working with the coastguard (I hadn’t realised all the different coastguard boats were from different European countries, each taking a shift) and the support given at Stage 2 Camp - the north shore’s holding camp for new arrivals before they’re bussed to Moria.

I jumped at the chance to join the 8am - 2pm shift at Stage 2 this morning. 95 people were there from two landings. All Afghans as far as I know, which is very common for Lesvos. Three medical cases to be aware of - a pregnant woman who had been sick on arrival, a man with an infection from shrapnel wounds and a hearing impairment that was traumatic inside the big tent (so he had happily been moved to one of the smaller iso boxes).

Taking over initially consisted of ‘pass the friendly cat’ and I happily had a cuddle. But, as the morning progressed, our little volunteer area resembled a happy crèche (and the cats were nowhere to be seen!). The kids were adorable. Brothers and sisters looking out for each other. Us trying to persuade them the cleaner’s gorgeous dog was nothing to be scared of! None of us speaking the same language so resorting to face pulling, tickling and acting things out! Every now and again an adult would come over to ask for help with something - wet wipes, pampers, some soap.

Breakfast was a croissant and a carton of juice. It always is for refugees. How bored they’re going to get of that...

The families had to stand in a line and we have to put a mark on the wristbands they’ve been tagged with (think hospital) - white wristband for first boat landing and yellow for second. We mark them so everyone has breakfast, but no one gets two...

About 9.40am the bus came from Moria. Two escorts - male and female - in uniform with medical gloves and, later, the man put on a face mask. I’m sorry. I really struggle with this. We’re dealing with normal people, not infectious tropical diseases. Imagine someone spoke to you from behind a mask in case he caught something?

It took a while for everyone to pack up. White wristbands first, but then the bus didn’t want to do two journeys so I wasn’t at all surprised when the man wanted everyone on board. One journey because there were a lot of little kids. He wasn’t concerned they get to their destination, only that they take up less space so he could fit more people on. I guess when you’ve been doing this for four years...

I felt the now familiar lump in my throat and dread for what they’re heading towards. All those cute little kids will not go to school. They won’t have a bedroom of their own. They’ll not taste crisps or chocolate (except in those damn pre-packed croissants) or ice cream...

We gave them our biggest smiles and shook hands with those who wanted to as they left. One older women gave me the biggest smile and hugged me, kissing me on both cheeks. We waved to all the kids we’d been mucking about with for the last couple of hours. And, with Stage 2 camp empty, we did our share of the cleaning and left.

It will all repeat itself in the next 24 hours. And the crew and volunteers of Refugee Rescue and Lighthouse Relief will be there with smiles and croissants and safety every time.

Good luck to today’s 95 people. It was lovely to meet you all and help bring calm and warmth to your first day in Europe. I’m sorry about what awaits you in Moria and Europe. So incredibly sorry.

Mo Chara is the former RNLI Lifeboat operated on Lesvos’s North Shore by our partners Refugee Rescue to support the Coast Guard

Mo Chara is the former RNLI Lifeboat operated on Lesvos’s North Shore by our partners Refugee Rescue to support the Coast Guard

Looking across to Turkey from Skala Sikamineas. It seems very close.

Looking across to Turkey from Skala Sikamineas. It seems very close.

Stage 2 Camp offers a few amenities to new arrivals including the all-important phone charging station.

Stage 2 Camp offers a few amenities to new arrivals including the all-important phone charging station.

The main tent has been humanised somewhat by these drawings tacked to its canvas walls.

The main tent has been humanised somewhat by these drawings tacked to its canvas walls.