September 5, 2016
It has been three months now since I returned back to Greece to volunteer. This past winter volunteering the borders will relatively still open, now the borders are closed. Those who came to the islands came for a couple days to a couple weeks, now they are here for several months; some have resided on the island for over 6 months now. The refugees who came this winter came knowing that they were only making transit on the Greek islands, while those coming now know they will be here indefinitely. There are many who came to the Greek islands right as the hotspot camps began, thinking that they still would be able to move on to the mainland; 6 months later they are still stuck in the camp, on an island, an unescapable prison.
My dear friend who I shall keep anonymous traveled from Central Africa by himself at 22 years old. He was one of those who came right when the hotspot camp was created, when all the borders closed. He has been waiting for his asylum paperwork to process but so far only Syrians, Pakistani’s, and Palestinians have been processed. Many refugees have left the island to the mainland without proper paperwork, for they know that they will either be stuck here indefinitely or risk getting arrested. If they get arrested they know the risk is imprisonment for 6 months and deportation. He had found a possible way to escape the island, but his family would not allow him to take the risk. He was told to wait for the legal way, I watched him as his hope fell apart this weekend. I want him to leave this island, I’ve seen the psychological effect this has had on him; I also was worried about him leaving as well if he was not going the legal means.
I have two other friends, both Palestinian Syrians. While they both come from Syria, neither have paperwork or documentation from Syria because as Palestinians they have no rights. Two more friends of mine have no desire to stay here in an internment camp, have no home to return here, and no nation that wants them. For them everything is a closed door and an explicit “No!” These are not isolated cases, every refugee here has a story such as these.
This past week has been extremely stressful. The other coordinator and myself have had to balance several other people’s responsibility due to voids in volunteerism. Every day is another day of hurdles, bureaucracy, and issues that cannot be remedied with ease. Some issues come up over and over again, we sit at meetings imploring the UNHCR to do something, yet each week nothing is done. The volunteers themselves while both being helpful can be a handful simultaneously. Either with good intentions they want to do something, but fail to understand the larger concept, or they are here for only a week or two and have to be instructed the whole time. This past week the UNHCR for the island came out with their report. There were several parts that they said they had done something or were doing something that they failed to do, or had no part of. While it is important for them to report so they can continue to receive funding, it is also depressing to have them say they have been doing things that they failed to keep their promises.
For those that are involved in the refugee crisis international politics and news are very important. I have beforehand mentioned President Erdogan’s threat to blackmail the EU. Either the EU grant Turkish citizens the same visa rights as EU citizens or he will allow all the refugees in Turkey to migrate into Greece. This past week, Angela Merkel of Germany lost to the right-wing who are anti-immigration. Next year will be France’s presidential elections. One candidate, Marine Le Pen, is offering French citizens the option of leaving the EU. Her slogan is “Frexit,” modeled after the disastrous win in the UK “Brexit.” The EU is slowly starting to crumble and NATO is falling apart as well.
While the world seems desolate and hopeless, the Samos Volunteers have been active. A few weeks ago we began swimming classes for the women in the camp. Of course only female volunteers instruct the women. Each Saturday the women in the camp and the volunteers go to a nearby beach. This beach allows the conservative women to both have time to enjoy themselves in the company of each other, without the eyes of men or without children running around. It at first started out with 8-9 women; now this weekend there were 19 women who came to the swimming class.
We have over half of the winter clothing sorted now. It is a massive relief to know that with a low amount of volunteers, the majority of warehouse work is finished. We hope to have a couple different groups bring some trucks of donations we need dearly in the next few weeks. We have one truck coming this week from Switzerland. This for me is amazing how networking made this happen. The lady that has been collecting clothing donations was here this past winter, her son and I worked together closely. The man bringing the truck was here for a month this late-summer and has never met her. They both volunteered here in Samos at different times, and now they are both collaborating together.
On Saturday we had 46 arrivals come from Turkey. We spent today distributing clothing and hygiene products to all them. Right as we finished a group of 30 refugees came into the camp. They had landed at some point this morning. We distributed sleeping bags, blankets, tents, and some dry-food. Tomorrow we will distribute clothing and hygiene products. This month has just started and we are already at 75% of last month’s arrivals, and we are working on 50% of the volunteer group we had. If you had ever entertained the possibility of volunteering, now is the time we need you most.