Update – Lesvos & Mainland Greece

24/07/2017 – Chios has had an influx of refugees arriving for the past few years, and camps there face many of the same problems as those on Lesvos. Because many of the larger NGOs operating on the island have recently received funding cuts, gaps have arisen that are not felt on Lesvos, and Paul and I focused on identifying the aspects of care that now require the most assistance. Stocks of baby formula for newborns, infants, and young toddlers are nearly depleted, and with food in the camps lacking in many of the nutrients critical for postnatal development, malnutrition is a serious concern. Souda and Vial, the two main camps on the island, are both largely over capacity and do not possess nearly enough resources to provide the appropriate clothing, hygiene supplies, or reliable medical attention to their residents. Paul and I were able to get in contact with one of the main organizations on the island, and with their help, we carried out a distribution of supplemental food to several families with young children. After discussing the prospect of continuously supplying aid in different forms to the camps, we decided it would be best to split the aid we could provide between the camps in Chios and those in Athens. We boarded an overnight ferry to Athens to meet with Seeds of Humanity, an organization responsible for supplying medical, dental, and educational services for hundreds of refugee families. Of the families they care for, many are families with young or newborn children. Together, we organized a large scale distribution aimed at providing two hundred families with enough food for several days. Packs were made up containing rice, oil, tomatoes, tea, sugar, and flour.

After distributing them to over seventy families at the Seeds of Humanities headquarters, the rest of the packs were taken to be hand-delivered to families residing in government housing and squats. We were excited to work with both Seeds of Humanity and the organizations on Chios, and are now focusing on providing aid to these locations in addition to Lesvos. As we are in constant contact with the organizations, the items we send will vary depending on the current situations in the camps, but will aim to include infant packs (containing clothes, blankets, and hygiene items), strollers, and newborn/infant formula. Before departing from Athens, Paul and I visited the camp of Skaramangas located close to Athens’ port of Piraeus. Skaramangas currently houses over three thousand refugees and is one of the major spots refugees from Lesvos are sent to on the next step of their journey. Immediately I was struck by the difference in how this camp was operated, as it was almost completely absent of a military or police presence. Refugees had built makeshift shops, restaurants, and gardens, and had begun to assign jobs to form a sort of structured system within the camp.

Now back on Lesvos, the contrast between the camps here and Skaramangas is staggering. Without a self-assigned structure in place, and with no way to occupy time, refugees here find themselves living in an environment not at all conducive to good psychological health. Skaramangas’ adoption of a self-structured system seemed to provide both individual self-empowerment for the residents and a more positive environment for the human psyche which appeared much healthier for the many children present in the camp to be raised in. If these concepts could somehow be implemented in the camps nearby on Lesvos, it would no doubt make a significant positive impact on the lives of those who, for the time being, have nowhere else to go.