We’ve been a bit quiet for the last few weeks so here’s a quick update of what we’ve been up to. Thanks to YOUR donations over the last few months (since January 11th), we have been able to… have 29 people participate in our employability program, where we provide a personalised service, helping people one-on-one with their CVs, cover letters and job searches…
Every day, Refugee4Refugee volunteers gather children from three to 12 years old and take them on an excursion to our plot of land, where they are typically found singing songs, playing fun games and doing creative crafts, especially out of recycled materials.
The area for today’s distro was on the left of camp right next to the road and closer to the town. Omar had already been through this area with the tarpaulins and lots of the tents feel bigger and more homely structures than in the other overspill area we were in yesterday. However, I also find this area much darker.
Me and about 20 other volunteers were in the Vathy Refugee Camp ‘large overspill area’ with Omar of Refugees 4 Refugees. Our task for the afternoon was to give each of the men a brand new sleeping bag in a tent-to-tent distribution.
What a great day today! Maybe it was the bright Greek sunshine lifting the mood? It was a busy start at the Refugee 4 Refugees shop as a queue was waiting when we arrived. The women happily took a pen whilst they were being registered and, instead of kids’ drawings, Anne’s scribbling wall was soon full of lovely messages in French, Arabic and a little English.
Today we spent the day with the brilliant team at Samos Volunteers. After learning the ropes in the laundry we headed to The Alpha Centre where more than 500 pass through their doors every day. They can drink tea, play games, read books, learn and charge their phones. When you walk into Alpha there are guys everywhere!
Another busy day in the Refugee 4 Refugees shop. The brand new bras and knickers for the women, as well as the jumpers, scarf and sleeping bags of course, are so popular and so we opened the doors at 9am to a queue outside and lots of new registrations (registrating people as Anne calls it!). It’s great because it means word has spread in the Camp and the women really want what we’re giving out.
There was something about today where we didn’t just "help 165 refugees from Vathy Camp”, we helped individual people with real and unique hardships. A day when they became a person standing in front of you asking for your help.
As we drove from the volunteer house in the morning, I was struck again by the camp on the hillside. No more than a blip, a little strip of blue and white canvas above the town. When we give out tickets, not everyone shows up, but ‘show rates’ this week for the jumpers, socks, underwear, bra and sleeping bags / shelter suits has been about 80-90%. And there’s lots of women coming to register too.
There’s a brilliant buzz of activity in the Refugee 4 Refugees shop as the women come to collect their jumper packs, a new bra and underwear, and a sleeping bag for themselves and their kids. The mix of Refugee and international volunteers seems to work really well too.
We found the Vathy Refugee Camp right next to the islands’ main Samos Town (pop. 6,500). It’s been built for 700 people and is beyond bursting at the seams. The immediate hillside on all sides is packed full of tents with no sign of any facilities like toilets or showers.
It looks like a refugee camp bordering Syria, yet this is Europe. The hotspot on Samos is managed by the Greek government and funded by the European Union, but it's illegal. Welcome to Europe's shame. Share the truth on the Samos hotspot and show the world what people here have to endure everyday. 4400 people live trapped in a space built for 650. 1500 of these are children…
Doro is kind, generous, thoughtful and gentle. His story though, should chill us all to our bones. For Doro has suffered for his dreams more than I could possibly describe. His story is not unusual, but it is compelling and a real and vivid testimony, which shows why no human should be returned to Libya.
Some very good and some very bad things are going on in Paris Camps. We had a tough week. Snow, evacuations, chaos - all of it was here before but it doesn't make things any easier. I got a lot of supports from many sides and we were ready to do distribution on Friday night. And then everything went to shit. We have a criminal group that is manipulating refugees and provoking violence…
When this horror ends (because it will end) museums will be made and in the showcases there will be shoes, letters, small card photos, strands of hair, piles of torn clothes. And there will be school classes (because there will be) who will wonder how it was possible. And there will be survivors who…
Yesterday, Le Stadio Seawatche held the FIFA World Cup for people held hostage at sea. Teams came from Sudan, South Sudan, England, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Holland, Ghana, Guinnea Conakry, Guinnea Bissau, and the Central African Republic. The winner was everybody. But mostly me. Football is an international language which bonds and unites communities. You can be from anywhere in the world and have nothing in common, but drop a ball, and we play. Don’t have a ball? No problem. We’ll make one out of rags and tape. And we will play.
The recent Channel boat crossings have created a media storm and, while this may have been an opportunity to emphasise the deep rooted issues in hostile European immigration policies and increasingly violent and impenetrable borders, the perspective of those most entrapped by the lack of legal routes has been omitted. These are a few snippets of conversations we’ve had with displaced families living in both Calais and Dunkirk, who have resorted to these desperate measures.
Chios is snowing and there is a desperate need to buy blankets for people in the refugee camp. People live in tents and sleep right on the plastic bottom of the tent. People are shaking with cold when they queue. At the last delivery I had a warm scarf that I used to warm ice-cold hands with. If you want to be a fellow man then this is the right moment.
According to the testimony of those who knew him, the man lived in a tent in the Olive Grove, an overspill area bordering Moria camp. He had friends who were sometimes able to host him in a container. For three weeks, the man had been complaining about the cold. Winter in Lesvos has been very bitter this year, with temperatures plummeting below zero at night.
A young boy of about 13 helped me cut firewood for the group tonight. He's from Syria and lives in this squat where conditions are pretty bad. I wonder what his life holds for him and i feel guilty for having an insulated space with all my own amenities to live in when he has so little.
So let’s take a look to the streets in Thessaloniki. If we take a look on the streets, we'll find places where people have no home and are forced to sleep on the street, in abandoned buildings or empty trains. We will meet people from different countries, different ages, who are currently struggling to survive.
“Hundreds of refugees and migrants arrive in Sarajevo every week, many after attempting to cross the Croatian border. Countless people have shown me injuries, smashed or stolen phones (to prevent them orienting themselves with GPS, or to stop them contacting their friends) and told stories about their money and other objects (sleeping bags, blankets, food etc) being stolen by the Croatian police. Thankfully, these stories are now beginning to be scrutinized on the international stage, but for a long while they were unheard.”
This week I made the mistake of reading the comments section on an article about refugees rescued from a small boat in the English channel. I don't actually believe people are quite as malicious in real life as their online personas might sometimes suggest, but it's a good reminder that not everybody agrees with what we're trying to do.
An open letter to my wonderful new friends in Chios, Greece.
Dear Omar, Ahmed, Hasib, Baby, Kaled, and everyone else I had the privilege of volunteering with, eating with, taking chai with, laughing with, being told off by Greek neighbours with, being friends with, in Chios over the past week. New friends and old. I don’t really have the words, but here goes....
For the people living in The Olive Grove we found hardly any toilets (port-a-loos), no showers, just three concrete sinks for all washing - selves, dishes and clothes. And, despite the great work of groups including refugees from Moria naming themselves The White Hearts, and volunteers from Refugee 4 Refugees regularly clearing rubbish, it was still inevitably piling up….
The mood shifts of the boys are very real as the warmer weather disappears and the colder weather moves in. It’s harder to find time to really chat and find out what life is like as they are so cold and so hungry, but I also have found myself thinking that very real fears of how they will cope with sickness and surviving the cold and sleeping in ditches are more tangible.
Once again the people have thrown away their bland, small, microwave style meals in protest. The people in camp receive two meals like this for lunch and dinner and in the morning they receive a carton of orange juice and a stale plastic-wrapped chocolate croissant. Every day the same.
The father with a young teenage son and daughter were sharing a thin curtain as a blanket. The father was sat sleeping with his head on his knees and his children were huddled close to him. I took some blankets and went to them. I thought of my own son, soon to be 8, safe, warm.