Letter from Lesvos

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Dear friends! As we all know, Lesvos is undeniably experiencing a humanitarian crisis.

IMG_0859Fortunately, several large international NGOs are present in Lesvos and they obviously perform a work of great importance to manage the current crisis. However, the needs far exceed the capacity of their staff. Me, Anna and Nikiforos (SKALA Ecovillage, Greece) have visited the island and researched the possibilities for a longer term team of volunteers from the GEN, to be there and help.

On Lesvos, several local teams of volunteers are at work. Doctors without borders are there, and IRC, the Islamic Relief, Red Cross, Action Aid and many others. These groups are based in different places of the island and try to collaborate as much as possible. However, they have so much to do that often lack time to coordinate their efforts.

Most refugees arrive by the northern coast of the island, but some of them reach Lesvos by the South. 80% of the refugees arrive by boats on the north coast between Molyvos and Sykaminia. 30 km long beach. They come by small plastic boats, overloaded with 60-80 people or by old fishing boats hugely overloaded with 200-300 people. If the boats get to trouble the volunteers go into the water to rescue the people. Several amazing teams are working on the north coast of Lesvos. The most important is that the people come alive out of the sea. A Spanish/south American crew and a Greek crew with jet ski operate there, they go out quickly and rescue people in the middle of the sea. I could see with my own eyes a rescue action, while trying to make a photo and I had to take my heart into my hands and praying for the safe result.

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We went to Skala Sykaminias, an arrival spot – with a strong presence of Greek anarchists, plus various NGOs and individuals, they welcome the people, who have just arrived by boat. They have a small kitchen and they provide the refugees arriving by boat with dry clothes and shoes, rain ponchos, sleeping bags, food, medical help, information, bus tickets, etc. From there buses go to the “Hot Spots” and Mytilini.

We were also in Molyvos – Captens Table of Melinda – NGO Starfish. Melinda McRostie and her great team are also providing arriving refugees with water, basic food, clothes, buses. Melinda runs the Starfish organization that runs the Oxy camp and provides shelter in the harbor.

We need to have in mind that people who arrive here are coming from extremely difficult situation, war, long walk, the long travelling through Turkey (for some of them two months), often without water or food, then they go on a boat and are even more terrified and so, when they come here, in Lesvos, they feel lost. Some of them don’t know, if they are realy in Greece or in Turkey, if they are safe, what is happening next… People offen feel powerless and confused.

An humanean welcome is of great importance. The volunteers take care of fine things, like, for example, to stay calm, not to overreact when they see an overloaded boat coming, or to try to give to the people choices, so that they can gain again the feeling that they have the control of their lifes. For example to be free to decide, if they want to take the bus or not, if they want to keep their old clothes etc. Or offen, young mothers ask for formula milk, because of the traumatic situation the milk from their breast has ocasionally stopped. The volunteers inseast on breast feeding, because this is the best for mothers and children in this difficult situation and also because of hygienic reasons. They have a long traveling in front of them and dirty milk bottles could be another desaster for them. I saw the volunteers aproaching very respectfuly the hole situation.

The teams offer: First aid, food, water, blankets, informations – so that people can feel less anxious, they bring them to buses – give free tickets…

OXY is a bus station – not a camp, there is no permission for this. They are functioning like a camp but they are not a camp. But this can also change, because it depends of, if the buses stop longer or not.

From there, the people take a bus to continue their jurney. There are different buses, going to the different registration camps (“hot spots”), in Moria and Kara Tepe and to the Village of All Together.

We spoke with the organisators of Starfish, and are very happy to cooperate with a team from GEN. What they need mostly is a team which stays longer than a month. The accomodation could be in Molyvos, costs about 300 euros pro person a month. There is an international field there, a core organisation and a respectful approach. Twice a week there is sharing circle for the volunteers, organized from Red Cross – where Despoina a psychologist, coordinates it.

We have been also in Moria “Hot spot”– registration centre. In Moria come people from Syria, Erythrea, Palestine, Afganistan. It is an old military camp and an olive land, where they have built tents. On the way to Moria, we took 3 Syrian young men in our car, travelling to the registration camp. They have walked for two months though Turkey and they want to go to Germany.

Kara Tepe – another “Hot Spot” – where arrive families and people from Syria, who have papers and can finish fast – they leave the island faster than the others.

Two days ago, on the way to the “Village of All Together”, we met many Syrian people, families with young children the most of them, who have just arrived, walking to Mytilini. We decided to stop and take one family with two children (about 1 and 3 years old) and to bring them to Kara Tepe. They had nothing with them, no water, no food, nothing, were exchausted and the mother couldn’t hold in her arms the small baby, so I have helped her and accompanied them in the place, where they had to stay and wait. The infrastructure there is very minimal and the despair of people who have lost their roots, undiscreible… These children could be also my children… Why is the “low” of some people, who decide for the war, the terror and the fear more powerful than the ethic of life? Why do we allow it?

We have visited also the Village of “All Together”, in the South of the island, in Pikra, close to the Airport.

In the beginning they created this network to support Mytilinean citizens, who found themselves in a difficult situation, because of the crisis. When they saw pregnant refugees in the streets, they went to the municipality and asked for the keys to Pikpa, a summer camp built some years ago for young people, which has been deserted for 2 years. Since 1st December they have supplied a place to stay and 3 meals a day for those refugees not arrested by the police. Apart from the local people, the University of the Aegean has supplied, Doctors without Borders are on site to provide medical assistance and many volunteers join the work.

The Village “of All Together” is a self-managed-autonomous space, which has hosted during this time more than 6.000 refugees, some for few days and others up to a year. The refugees include asylum and family unification applicants and/or vulnerable groups of newly arrived refugees e.g. people with disabilities, sick, pregnant, refugees, who have experienced lost of parts of their families after sinking, etc. There, the volunteers offer food, clothes, medicines, hygiene, legal counseling, and medical help as well as they organize activities for children and classes of Greek and English and occasionally, they provide them transport expenses and social support.

In the Village “of All Together” there are small wooden houses, many big tents, a big professional social kitchen, where they cook warm food for 600-1200 refugees per day, a medicin place, central Store house, where they collect clothes, food etc… They share the food to the different camps, in Moria, in the port of Mytilini, in Kara Tepe. At the moment 60-80 people live there, but this can change very quickly.

What they need is psychosocial support because they stay longer there. They have spoken also about commitment for a longer term programm. There is also need for technical support, help in the Kitchen, work with children, creativity and art, empowerment for women, children, creative actions, to create a child friedly room, social spaces for sharing, musical experiences etc. There are 5-6 volunteers, who work permanently, full time. The volunteers have to stay in Mytilini, that means that it is needed to rent a house there for them and a car for travelling or bicycles. Bicycles are always very welcome! I think we have a lot to offer there and they are open also for a cooperation with the University of Aegean.

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The island of Lesvos knows very well, what does it mean to be a refugee, because the most of the inhabitants also have been refugees 2-3 generations ago. The local people try to support and help the refugees, who come to the island. They show solidarity and try to help. Some people live at the beach, watching the sea for the boats. Everybody in the local community has been living with this experience. And some of them need an extra help. Local people and volunteers and refugees share the sadness in the eyes. The day before yesterday only in the night, more than 25 boats have arrived on the island. Over the last years many people (local people and volunteers also) have experienced the lost. Michalis, our contact person from the University of Aegean, told us that people get crazy after all sinking. Many local people can’t sleep – it has an impact in their life, in their work, in their families, in their children… It’s a quick and challenging situation. There is no war but death is around – offen in the water. That’s why supportive places, where people can speak to each other, are so important. After the terror attack in Paris, one more fear has added. The fear that one after the other the European countries will close the boarders to refugees, who run away from the same terror, and the hole island or the country will become a huge “parking place” for these souls, who can’t go back and it’s difficult to walk forward…

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Another big problem in Lesvos is the enviromental one – all the beaches are covered with plastic boats, plastic life jackets etc. They need ideas, what to do with all these plastic materials.

If we decide that the team starts from the “Village of All Together”, the accomodation could mean to rent an appartment or a house in Mytilini. Mytilini is 5-6 km away from the Village. There are Transfer possibilities: Buses every ½ an hour, bicycles or rent a car. If you need the contact persons, please send me an e-mail and I will give them to you.

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Needs:
In the near future they will give priority to the collection of:

– firewoods
– medicine that has not expired
– food with a long expiration date [rice, pasta, legumes, nuts, sugar, oil, milk, honey, tea, beens, preserves, coffee, tomato paste, baby milk, jams, preserves, dried or salted food, etc.]
– household consumables [toilet paper, gas canisters, matches or lighters, soap, shampoo, bleach and other cleaners]
– clothing. Mainly: blankets, socks, baby-cloths
– services offered by plumbers, refrigeration technicians, electricians, teachers, translators, doctors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and lawyers as well as volunteers who will work in the call center of the VoAT but also in other actions.

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Warm regards,
Anna

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