I have taken a bit of a hiatus from blogging recently. This is why. After hearing more about the unfolding refugee crisis, particularly some horrific stories of what refugees were enduring as they arrived on the Greek Islands, I felt I had to to do something. A friend had set up Sussex Refugee Solidarity and through this Facebook group, me and a group of other like-minded people began collecting aid to send to the Greek Islands of Samos, Chios and Leros.
My sister Laura was very involved in these collections and resolved to go out there. We had made some contacts on Chios and she decided to forego a family Christmas and travel out to Chios over the Christmas and New Year period. I am so proud of her for what she is doing. She has sent a some updates sharing her day to day experiences on the island that I think need to be read by wider audience. Please read her accounts below and donate to her fundraiser if you feel moved by what you read.
30th December 2015
On Sunday night we had lots of boats with terrified and distressed people wet through to the neck. They said they were beaten and sometimes held at knife point metres from the shore and forced to swim to land. Their belongings were thrown into the sea and they were thrown out of the boat before the boat got to land. This included old ladies, really small children, sick and injured people. We found out recently that the smugglers (who are essentially the Turkish mafia) have run out of dinghies. So they need to make sure their remaining dinghies return to Turkey. They do this by holding Turkish locals or other refugees at knifepoint, kidnapping them and forcing a relative to take the boats filled with refugees to Chios, then take the boats back again. But they are so scared of being arrested, as they fear for their families’ lives that they panic before they reach shore and force everyone out of the boats. We used up most of the clothing stock that night because entire boats full of 60 or more people were completely drenched, from top to toe. We urgently need more clothing, especially adults trousers, (small sizes are better) especially joggers, socks for all ages, especially adults, older children’s clothes 7/8 and above, teenagers clothes, gloves and also shoes, especially adult shoes, men’s shoes in particular.
On Monday night I was on shift with a qualified nurse who has worked a lot in war zones and other refugee camps. When our shift ended at 2am we got some food and then headed to Tabakika (registration, which is in an old abandoned warehouse and is very dirty and looks like a prison camp, people often vomit just from entering the toilet area) to see if everybody was ok there. We handed out cereal bars, water, socks, nappies, and other small items to those most in need, and we found a tiny, very sick and severely disabled baby struggling for every breath. We woke the parents but it took a long time to persuade them to let us take them to the hospital. The baby was put on oxygen and made it through the night. The next day another family they were travelling with had bought the father a ferry tick on the next boat, leaving in a couple of hrs. The mother and baby were still in hospital. We had to persuade 14 people not to get on the boat, to wait for the mother and baby to be released from hospital so that the family wouldn’t be separated. Eventually one of the other volunteers stepped in, Aslam, who is this amazing Syrian guy who used to work with the Red Cross in Damascus on the emergency response team there. He has been volunteering here for over a month and was one of the people who set up the kitchen. He said he would arrange for a hotel for the entire family and pay for all their ferry tickets again (they were €44 each) if they would wait for the baby to come out of hospital. We are working with the hospital to ensure there is some coordination with a hospital in Athens, and that we have a full care plan printed off to help with communication. Very hard trying to translate the details from Dhairi to English to Greek, but we managed it with the help of a lovely Afghani guy who spoke some English and reluctantly accompanied us to the hospital (all the translators from the camp were asleep as this all started about 5am). He stayed with us a few hrs and was a very good sport!
No-one coming here is an economic migrant, they are all refugees. They are all running for their lives. They come from mostly Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, and very occasionally Iran if they have been targeted by police, experiencing brutality and ‘interrogations’ there under some draconian law. They pay thousands of dollars for a space on a dinghy complete with a free useless and fake life jacket. They often lose all their possessions and passports, wallet etc during the journey across the water. The boats are so over-packed that to prevent the boats from sinking the groups often have to throw everything else overboard. Or the person responsible for returning the boat to Turkey throws their stuff overboard near the Chios shore.
Please donate if you can, I will ensure any donations are spent on what is needed the most here. Probably joggers, socks, nappies, sanitary towels or food, or some combination if the above.
We really need disposable baby bottles. You can’t buy these here so if anybody can find them online and order them direct to here they will make such a difference to families with hungry babies.
The clothing donations we sort here in the stock room include lots of things I remember packing up back home in the UK from Sussex Refugee Solidarity collections so please be assured that your donations are getting out here to people who really, really need them. Thank you to everyone who has donated so far to either clothing collections or fundraisers! Xxx Update: the baby is doing much better now but has had severe breathing difficulties since birth due to her complex disability. She also had a cold or chest infection which threatened her life but has cleared up a lot now and this will give her a good chance. She also had other infections; she has antibiotics for these. She was severely malnourished as she was too weak to feed for a long time, although the mother does breastfeed her, but not for long enough. She has been on a drip to help with this. She is three months old and weighs 3kg, the same as she did at birth frown emoticon the nurse I was with does not think the baby will survive but the doctors at the hospital seemed more hopeful and Aslam believes the baby will definitely survive. She surely has to be pretty tough to have made it this far, given her circumstances.
3rd Jan 2016
We had another all-nighter on Friday night. Maybe 25 or 30 boats … Apparently it was the busiest night they’ve ever had here. About 1,500 refugees altogether arrived in one night. 50- 60 in each boat. Every car was out, every team was busy all night. We were supposed to be third in line as back up but we were meeting boats from 11pm – 7am, so was every body. After this i spent the whole morning and early afternoon in the hospital and Tabakika.
There were so many very wet and cold people, one boat in particular that i know of had a very difficult landing. As the boat was landing we ran down the cliff path to the waters edge, as I was descending I could see children being thrown from the boat into the water, which looked deep, and everybody was screaming. The children and young people I was helping up the cliff were distraught, they were so traumatised they kept just collapsing to the floor in despair, they could barely walk. Eventually we discovered that their families were still on the boat, but the person navigating had left again, people still aboard, and people were saying that the boat had turned back to Turkey with refugees still aboard. Families were separated leaving some children and young people entirely alone and distraught, terrified for the safety of their relatives. We dressed the children and young people first but they were inconsolable, understandably so. Eventually we discovered that the boat had returned but slightly further south, so they had been picked up by another team of volunteers at the next village. One volunteer and one man from the second half of the arrivals ran the 500 metres up the road – he had no shoes only emergency blankets wrapped around his feet. He ran to his family and explained that everybody had landed ok – such a relief for the kids and all those who were separated from each other. We bundled the kids and women all in the car and drove them down the road to reunite them fully. I helped dress the women next, while I was doing so the police arrived, lights flashing. There was lots of shouting and I heard someone yelling “give me the baby, you are under arrest”. There is so much confusion in these situations, i don’t believe the people driving the boat who drove away necessarily did this for bad reasons. Sometimes they drive away because they are too scared of being arrested – they know if they are driving they will be unde suspicion. Or maybe they realised that it was a bad place to land (everyone who got off the boat had to swim or be rescued by the Spanish lifeguards as the water was so deep and the were so many rocks). So maybe they turned back to find a safer place to land. I don’t think the people navigating were smugglers, I think they were refugees who panicked, but three men were arrested. We heard later that they were released and allowed to enter the usual registration process.
The buses that night often took hours to come as they were so busy. It was absolutely freezing – the previous night it snowed for hours, almost a blizzard and it was still utterly bitter, so while we waited we would pile all the children and mothers into the cars on top of the clothing and put the heating on full blast. The pirates would bring a barrel and wood and make a fire for the men. One car, the battery died because the lights and heating was left on without the engine running. No one had jump leads. An ambulance arrived to take a sick woman to hospital. Literally the moment it left a family told me that their baby had just vomited after hitting its head on the rocks. We emptied the car with the flat battery (the only one which wasn’t full of sleeping children (we’re talking 12-17 in each vehicle) and rallied a group of young men. We pushed the car down the gentle slope trying to start it, but got to the point where we were pushing uphill. Samar, a Syrian volunteer who came with the Norwegian volunteers knew what to do and so we pushed the car backwards down the slope and he got the car started in reverse. We got the mother and baby into the car, and I found a woman who spoke good English to accompany us to help translate to the doctors. A local drive us to the hospital but he was terrified of being arrested as its illegal to drive or walk refugees anywhere, you are supposed to make sure they get the bus. So he dropped us round the corner from the hospital, we went to a & e. The doctor and nurses were so wonderful, very patient and they wanted to keep the baby there for a few hours to observe and run some tests after a certain amount if time had passed to check if it was concussion, or not. So the next few hours I spent going between the hospital and Tabakika (registration area) to make sure the two separated families knew what was happening with each other and where they were. Eventually I got to bed around 1pm but only got one hrs sleep until we had to move again.
Last night I went to bed at 11, and awoke at 9 – finally a good nights sleep. My roommate woke me asking, “do you have a stocked car, a boat is arriving at the nearest shore”. We pulled on our clothes and rushed over to two successive boats. This time the landing were easier in the daylight and the people were not so stressed. Hot tea, bananas and socks!
Then over to Karfas store to clean and sort clothing for a few hrs. Now I will spend the rest of the day trying to organise more tea urns for each patrol car in case we gave to wait ages at night in the cold for the buses again.
I will focus some funds that i raise towards tea urns, thermos storage and facilities for heating storing tea and gas. If you would like to donate please visit this link and SHARE to your friends to help support this cause xx