October 31, 2016
To say that the past month has been intense cannot be an understatement. The island of Samos has seen more arrivals this month than we have since the Turkey-EU deal this March. The total number of arrivals this month is 1354 far outpacing Lesvos, Chios, Kos, and Leros. Up until this month, Lesvos and Chios always received more arrivals, but the smugglers have changed their operations making Samos the busiest island. Our camp is at triple it’s capacity which is evident the moment one would step into the camp. One could not move without having to move around a tent or a group of people waiting in queue. Everywhere there are children running, women with strollers/prams waiting for baby food, people frustrated in large groups as their asylum claim continues to be neglected.
With Samos now the busiest island in Greece this comes both as a surprise and logistical issues. For the past year and a half Lesvos and Chios were the busiest islands receiving the most media attention as well as aid. Due to bureaucracy Samos has only 2 volunteer groups, one a medical team, and then my group. When I had left Lesvos there were over 300 grass-root volunteer NGO’s of which all received individual financial aid and clothing donations. These groups were able to collaborate to fill basic needs, while here on Samos we have no one to collaborate with on clothing and hygiene needs besides the international NGO’s.
While we have struggled to make ends meet this past year, this month has been extremely testing. For the past two months we have had to purchase through donations the majority of our needed items. October has depleted our funds; meeting the needs of 2000 people who no longer make transit here is a challenge. Before the camp was static and the borders were open we only had to meet hygiene needs for a 3-7 day stay on Samos, and supply a set of dry clothing. Now we must meet the every day needs of people in clothing and hygiene, some of which have been here 8 months. Per example we currently must purchase €400/$440 a week in baby wipes, and this number will just rise with new arrivals. Other items we must purchase are shampoo, soap, diapers, laundry detergent, etc. to meet basic hygiene needs.
While hygiene needs are extremely high, our clothing needs are even higher. While we had been crying out for help for several months, the aid has been slow in coming. We have run out of men’s small/medium coats, trousers, t-shirts, long-sleeves, shoes, socks, underwear; women’s items we’ve run out of are leggings, bras, underwear, and socks. Most of the items we can purchase here at the local Chinese shops in bulk, but purchasing 100 men’s underwear at €130 a day per example is far from sustainable. We had been distributing sandals, which we could purchase at €2 a pair but the weather is to cold now. Sandals did alleviate the amount of shoes we purchased at €7.50, but these knock-off Converse cannot withstand the winter weather here. For the past week we have not given shoes to anyone because we can neither afford nor have donations.
This past winter Samos Volunteers allocated their tents to the UNHCR. After we ran out of donated tents we had to turn to Medecines Sans Frontiers for their stock of tents. Until a month ago we continued to distribute their tents, while forewarning the other actors in the camp that we would eventually run out. We finally ran out two weeks ago without anyone stepping up. The European Commission is supposed to supply the Greek government with funding to purchase items for housing allocation, and the Greek government is supposed to have people under First Reception Services to supply tents. Of course, none of this happened, which left people sleeping outside in the cold for five days.
I made a call out for help to one of the Safe Passage groups I worked with on Lesvos and Kos. The response was immediate. It was amazing to see the network created between solidarity groups this past year and a half. By the end of the day several groups on the WhatsApp chat group immediately responded. By the next day a group from Chios came with clothing, diapers, and tents. We were able that night to distribute the tents to the people who were sleeping outside. A few days after one of the groups I had interacted with on Lesvos sent boxes from Lesvos.
The days are long and grueling. It’s not the actual work in the camp that is exhausting, but rather the immense amount of emails, messages on Facebook chat and WhatsApp, texts, and phone calls that are draining. Even after 10-14 hours of work in the camp, my day usually is not over. Having volunteered on the other islands networked me with several Safe Passage groups whose mission is to ensure boats that are crossing make it safe. Before midnight I usually receive messages notifying me of a boat intending to launch from Turkey. Due to legality we never get a precise time of when launching, and never get the GPS coordinates on Google Maps until the boat has crossed international waters. The only reason coordinates would be given before crossing international waters is if the boat is in distress. We must respond immediately and notify rescue teams or the Hellenic Coast Guard that there is a boat. This process often leaves me awake until 4 or 5 am, leaving me with 2-3 hours of sleep. With the increase of new arrivals this month, sleep has become a idea.
Though the days grow longer, and the workload increases we will continue our presence here undaunted. There are needs here that the NGO’s should be filling that they continue to fail to fill. Today we had to purchase toilet paper, and will have to do so for the next week till the designated group receives their order. It’s cases like this that remind me of the importance of continuing here as a volunteer. Thank you all for your support, prayers, and donations. I will continue to stay my presence here as long as you continue your support and deem me as an necessary asset to the refugees here.