Once again I am tardy on updating this blog. We have been slammed with an influx of new arrivals landing on Samos. Since my last update we have received new arrivals almost daily. Every morning I wake up to new messages on the different WhatsApp groups notifying all the actors/organizations on the island of new arrivals. By the time I collapse into my bed there are still messages going back and forth, the end of the day is not the finish of work by any means.
The month of September still has some days left in it, yet the numbers of new arrivals to Samos and into the camp/RIC has doubled the combined number of new arrivals in July and August. The camp approximately 50% above capacity with 300+ people living in tents. While nobody is happy living in a tent for an extended period of time the change of weather here raises more discontent. The tents that are distributed to new arrivals are very thin and are not water-proof. For many that have been here 5-6 months their tents have rips and tears. The most recent rain fall has shown the flaws in the tents with the occupants finding everything inside drenched with water. There are no long-term solutions for other forms of accommodation due to lack of space in the camp. We are currently struggling to find organizations who have the funding to take over distribution of tents. We ran out of tents late last winter, but were fortunate enough to collaborate with MSF and distribute their tents. Now that MSF is leaving the island we no longer will have access to their stock of tents, and have a 2 week supply. Sadly no other actor has stepped up to be responsible and I fear that soon we will have people sleeping in the open air, vulnerable to the weather.
Autumn and winter on the Greek islands can see a little snow and some ice, but mostly on the islands north of Samos. Winter here is rainy season, which usually begins in October and extends into February. This past winter it rained almost daily on Lesvos when I was there, and there were few days on Samos that it did not rain as well. With the weather change to cold and wet we have to focus on combating sicknesses to alleviate the work load on the medical teams. It has become a race to give additional blankets and warm clothing to all the residents in the camp.
The volunteer team has been slashed in human resources in half of the summer staff, and even then it took 5-6 weeks to cover the entire camp. There are only 6-9 of the volunteers with access to the camp. New arrivals take precedence and receive clothing before we continue our systematic distribution to camp residents. The influx of new arrivals has shifted our attention to their needs and causes us to neglect the needs of warm clothes. This past week we decided that we have to address all the warm clothing needs; we are now doubling our distribution times as well as extending distribution into the weekends. The past few days have been straining. Most of the volunteers with access to the camp are long-term (4 weeks or more) and the work load is very tell-tale. Almost every volunteer is sick, and the tiredness mixed with sadness is much more evident in their faces.
September 9, 2016
The past week and a half to two weeks have been non-stop; the daily summer routine I had grown accustomed to has come to an end. We no longer have the strength in numbers of the volunteers this summer had seen. While we still continue every activity (school classes, activities for kids and adults, warehouse work, hygiene distribution, clothing distribution, etc.) we are performing with less than half the volunteers. By then end of next week we will be below 10 volunteers in comparison to the 30+ during the summer months.
Along with the end of summer is the end our tourism both here in Greece, but also in Turkey. The end of tourist season in Greece means more Greeks will head to the mainland for winter jobs; this also means there will be less work available for the refugees who have paperwork to allowing them to work. Winter for the NGO’s and volunteers means additional distribution of warmer-clothing, health concerns from a cold and wet environment, and of course an influx in new arrivals seeking asylum. Turkey’s end of tourist season marks the time when tourist revenue comes to an end. Refugees will no longer be “driving off” tourism. The refugees seeking passage “lengthen” the tourist season of Turkish coastal cities, thereby helping the Turkish economy when normally there would be little to no profits made off of tourists.
Last week we spent the majority of the week either helping the new-arrivals who had a arrived on the 3rd of September, or continuing our activities. It was just a preparation for this week; to make sure that we were on our toes, ready. Saturday, I woke up to a message on the Samos Humanitarian WhatsApp Group: “Good morning to all!! 38 New arrivals will be at the camp in about an hour from now!” I had intended to sleep in that day, since the weekend we do not do regular distribution, just distribution to new arrivals and emergencies. We arrived at the camp at 8:30 am, but it was not until after 3 pm that myself and a volunteer were able to hand out food, blankets, tents, hygiene kits, sleeping bags, and mats.
Sunday was another hopeful day of some rest, but I was woken up to a message saying that there were 12 new arrivals. Myself and the volunteer from Saturday immediately went to the camp. The community-helpers from the camp where there as well to translate and help. Upon our arrival to the camp, we were advised by the police that another 33 new arrivals would be sent to the camp within an hour. The volunteers and community helpers waited again from 8:30 am till 4 pm to do our distribution. The other organizations both days left within the hour, handing over the responsibility of ensuring distribution of their items to Samos Volunteers. While their staff only works on emergency basis on the weekends, it is a job they get paid for. Nonetheless, volunteers are here and will be to fill the gaps.
Monday was distribution at it’s best. All 83 arrivals from the weekend had been accounted for and given the new-arrival clothing distribution package. A couple full sets of clothing, towel, shoes, sandals, etc. Since we have only received new-arrivals on the weekends, we were not expecting the news on Tuesday: 47 new arrivals. Right away the volunteer team went into action. Those who had classes and activities carried on, but those who could shifted their day to helping with basic -needs distribution, finding spots for them in the camps, and preparing the re-stock for clothing distribution while keeping in mind to add extra for the 47.
We were able to distribute to all 47 new arrivals their clothing the next day. The day after Samos Volunteers distributed shampoo and body-wash to everybody in the camp. It was great to see how well the team responded to the surge of new arrivals and that with a smaller team we were still able to accomplish each task with little difficulty.
Last Friday the volunteers were made aware of Eid al-Adha, the second biggest holiday in Muslim culture. Last Eid we distributed bags with toys, coloring books and crayons, and bubbles contributed from the UNHCR. We also had about 4 weeks to plan and coordinate expenses and activities with the other volunteer groups and NGO’s. We had three days notice, not enough to get permission for music in the camp, not enough time to coordinate with an NGO to purchase some toys, and not much time to even coordinate an event. We did not have enough toys to give to every child in the camp, so I was disappointed, and worried the children would be as well.
Usually on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays the volunteer Group ‘Friendly Humans of Samos’ coordinates a tea and coffee event at the camp in the evening. Luckily they were flexible and switched to Monday. They purchased tea, coffee, sugar, and juice. We had about 25 kilos of raisins and dates that we distributed along with fresh watermelon. There was candy for the kids, but I dared not be the volunteer holding or handing out the candy. Several of the community-helpers and refugees mentioned how good it was to see the children happy and that they themselves had an enjoyable night despite the camp. So even though we were unable to distribute toys, Eid al-Adha 2016 was a success and every child had enough sugar to keep them up all night.
I am hoping that I can find some time this weekend to update everyone on the actual situation here. If I find time I would like to update you on what is going on with the different organizations, the Greek government and local issues, etc. If I am not working directly in the camp or warehouse, I am usually in a meeting and have much to fill the readers in on what the larger picture is.