Tag Archives: Kos

6.9.2016

It’s been 3 months since I left Greece and the refugee crisis. If there had been an easier and faster way to return I would have taken it without a moment’s hesitation. Rather, I spent the entirety of my time state-side working and saving money to pay for my bills back home in the states and to pay bills in Greece. While I would rather be volunteering in the field, it was somewhat refreshing to catch my breath, rekindle old friendships or forge new ones, network, and explain/tell the refugee crisis to those who knew little to nothing.
I will be staying in Greece until the end of August. My most current plans are to volunteer in Samos, Greece as the warehouse manager. Due to the Greek, EU, and Turkey sanctions our ability to volunteer may be/will be severely hampered in comparison to the beginning of the year. I’ll be spending tonight in Athens, Greece and will meet up with several volunteers I had worked with from the NGO “A Drop in the Ocean” from Norway. They are focused more in Athens and Idomeni where the bulk of the refugees in Greece are currently detained at. Depending on their needs I may find myself back on mainland Greece.
While I still have yet to reach my final destination I am relatively un-stressed in comparison to my first time out here volunteering. Flight changes and layovers have never been a problem with me. Last time I landed in Athens it was a shot in the dark as to where I was staying, how I was going to get there, where the ferry is, or who to even connect with once I made it to the islands. This time it is the complete opposite. I may even have someone to pick me up from the port when the ferry arrives in Samos.
I have no idea what the next few months may have in hold for me. Last time I learned a lot about myself and my relation to everyone else in the world, strengthened family and friend ties, met some great refugees and volunteers, and found myself immersed in the most electrifying atmosphere of humans helping humans. All I know is that I have never felt so right about myself until I began this chapter of my life, so I will continue and look forward to what life has to show me.

2.16.2016

2.16.2016
              It has been a slow past few days since my last entry. The weather has been extremely windy making the waves are 3-5 feet high, making it too dangerous for the refugees to attempt their crossing from Turkey. Nonetheless every night we sojourn on, even for that small chance that there may be refugees willing to risk crossing because of the cheaper fares. We must stay our posts, for no one else will be there for the refugees if they do cross. I get no joy in boats crossing, for the refugees are searching for asylum and a better option in life. Yet, for my team of volunteers from A Drop in the Ocean, they need the experience and the inspiration.
 
Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              Today is the last day that both Humans to Humans and many from Team Sweden will be patrolling the shores with us. It has been an honor volunteering and coordinating the night shifts with them. The 21st of February will be the last day that Team Sweden will be operating in Kos, and on the 22nd of February the last of the volunteers from Drop will be returning home. Until more volunteers are able to come, I may be patrolling the shores alone. There are possibly two volunteers coming from Norway with Drop the first week of March, but one week alone may be daunting if working in solitude. Sometime around the 10-12th of March the long-term coordinator will be here to relieve me, my Schengen visa will expire somewhere around the 20th of March. I just hope that they bring more volunteers, it is warming up, and the refugees will be coming in larger numbers this year. January 2015, 1600 refugees crossed to the islands. January 2016, over 60,000 refugees have crossed. Right now 54% of the refugees received on the Greek islands are women and children. Volunteers are still needed, please consider this as an option.
 
              I have a lot on my plate to consider for the next month. I could go to Lebanon where much work is needed, more than the islands. I have an option to either go with the independent volunteers who I have worked with and am meeting in Lesvos in the next few days, or I could go as a Drop representative and work for/with the established NGO’s under their umbrella of coordination and logistics. Another option that I have is to work at an orphanage in Turkey which is of high importance to me as well. One more option is to apply to work/volunteer for Medecines Sans Frontiers on the logistic side. They would fund me as well as giving me a slight living wage, but I also lose my freedom and ability to have an option as to what I can do to help. The last option that I have is to return home mid-March for a month. The reasoning to return home is to raise funds and awareness, but I am not too keen on the prospect of that. There is way too much work that needs to be done here, and not enough volunteers to do it. I have to figure out a way for myself and the other long-term volunteers to continue their work.
 
              While it has been a different experience living at the Hotel Oscar, we chose to move to the Hotel Catherine which is just down the block. I enjoyed the solidarity of sharing the same accommodation with the refugees, but on the long-term it would not work. Due to lack of cleanliness, no room service, and no hot-water this started to lower the morale of the volunteers, which could leave some walking away from their volunteering experience on Kos with a sour taste in their mouth. Part of the job of the volunteers is also taking care/helping themselves. If they do not feel good about themselves (lack of feeling clean) they will not be at 100% to take care of others. Hotel Catherine is newly renovated and each room is daily cleaned. When I checked the hotel I immediately turned on the shower to ensure that there was hot water. The rates per volunteer are also 9 euro/$10 cheaper than at the Hotel Oscar which also helps volunteers with their funding. All in all, I am extremely pleased with the hotel switch, and look forward to the first hot-shower in 10 days, and clean sheets and towels.
 
              Tonight will possibly be a busy night. This morning the sea was calm, almost flat. The other islands had received refugees already during the day, so we are preparing for a busy night. We have information from two different sources that they have friends or relatives crossing to Kos. I must get some sleep, I haven’t slept since yesterday. I had shift on the beach yesterday night/morning and after dropping off some volunteers to the airport I immediately had a 6-hour meeting with the UNHCR and International Medical Corps. We always serve supper to the refugees at the Boomerang Steak House, so I am running a little ragged. I should probably end this now while I have a couple hours to rest before another night on the shores.

2.13.2016

2.13.2016
              The sun is rising in the east over Turkey, the church bells are ringing in the background, it is the morning of St. Valentine’s Day here in Kos, Greece. Unlike most other Valentine’s Days in my past, I am not sitting at a bar thinking about who I could or should be with, or spending luxurious amounts on a girl to prove to her that I am still worthy of keeping. This Valentine’s Day I am just about to fall asleep after driving up and down the wind-swept beaches of Kos, patrolling for boats and refugees who have come ashore. Today as I am about to go to bed, I spent my Valentine’s morning searching for humans who are trying to find people and nations to accept them and love them. I could ask for no better way than to have spent my morning.
 
              The Turkish Coast Guard and Greek Coast Guard have had a heavier presence on the Aegean Sea as of late. One cannot go half an hour without seeing one close by, with another coast guard boat in the distant horizon. I have yet to see one of the NATO warships yet here at Kos, but volunteers I have worked with on Samos have already seen them in the straits between Samos and Turkey. Turkey has received their 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion dollars) for slowing down/stopping the flow of refugees into Greece. Ever rising pressure from the EU on Greece, the finalization of the military hot-spots, and the added presence of NATO has almost stopped the flow of refugees into Greece. Yet we, the volunteers, are still manning our posts, ever vigilant, looking for humans that need help, until the day that we are no longer allowed to continue here in Greece.
 
              We have received no boats on Kos since I have begun patrolling the shores other than Osama’s family. Most of the other islands are under the same predicament. Volunteers are beginning to become a little anxious and antsy. It’s interesting and sad to see some of those who have come just to only be part of the beach rescue. These are the ones that we see online asking if any other islands are receiving boats, because theirs is not, and they want some “action.” While there is so much work to be done on Lesvos, like taking care of the camp, cleaning the island, and helping with the infrastructure, it is easy to see the ones that are here to build their own ego. They are the ones who want to have pictures of themselves with a baby, so that they can show their friends and the world on social-media how much of a hero that they are.
 
              I have been talking with some friends who have volunteered with me in Lesvos about future plans when and if we are no longer allowed to work here on the islands. We know it is not a matter of if, but rather it is a matter of when. The shores, especially at Lesvos, no longer need volunteers searching for boats and receiving refugees. The flow has almost stopped. While there are roughly 2000 volunteers on Lesvos, of which 1500 are vying to do the same task of beach patrols, only 20-40 are needed on the 30 km stretch of beach. The majority of these volunteers are holiday volunteers/short-term volunteers who have come for what they thought was a need or to depict themselves as heroes. Several hundred NGO’s have appeared and left after a short stay of a few weeks. Instead of coordinating and pooling resources they all simultaneously do the same task, wasting both volunteer time and funding.
 
              A small group of friends and associates are looking eastward as the international talks continue. Since we are no longer needed and will probably not be allowed to continue on the islands, we have turned our attention toward Turkey and Lebanon. Since many EU nations have doubled back on the Dublin Agreement, which means that they can deport refugees back to the country of registration, Greece, Greece could look at several hundred thousands of refugees inside of its borders. Greece has also decided that Turkey is a “safe third country” which means that Greece can deport refugees who made transit back to Turkey, not registration, but walked through Turkey. NATO has now deployed warships into the Aegean to turn back refugee boats to Turkey so that the flow of immigrants into the EU can be stopped. Summed up, there are 5+ million refugees that are already stuck in Turkey, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. That is the reality of the refugee crisis, not Lesvos, not Kos, not Samos, not Leros, or Chios.  
 
              Myself and fellow group of volunteers are intending on heading to Lebanon. Some are going to head there at the end of the month, others will go there mid-March. I will be going there hopefully around the 10-15th of March. That allows me about 5-10 days left on my Schengen visa, enough time to make transit through Europe whenever I need to return back to the states. We are not sure how we will be able to be funded, some of the volunteers are selling their belongings, so that they no longer need to pay for an apartment. Most of us are going to try to end our responsibilities in our home nations so that we can save more money to continue our work rather than to uselessly pay bills for living and commodities that we no longer use. My one friend Todar, just returned to Lesvos today, and we talked via social-media for quite some time. If we cannot find the funding, we have tents and sleeping bags, and we are more than willing to live in holes in the ground if that is what it takes. I thought that I had been volunteering of faith for funding already, but that was not the reality. A large portion of my funding has stopped due to bureaucratic paperwork, and though crowd-funding is trickling in, what I have to work with financially is shrinking dramatically. But this is what we do, we never really know exactly how it is going to work, but people need us, and we will find a way.
 
We always do.

2.12.2016

2.12.2016
              It’s been a busy last few days. I have gotten soft working 9-5’s at Samos, the late night/early morning beach patrols have definitely wore me out. There are four other members from A Drop in the Ocean that have joined me down here. Therese, who is one of the directors for A Drop in the Ocean, also worked with me for a week in Samos is here. She brought her daughter and one other from Norway. There is one other American from my hometown of Oshkosh, Molly Freid. Before I had left I had told here about the refugee crisis and what I was intending on doing. She was taking a semester off of school because she was not sure what she was going for, nor wanted to spend the money for school for no reason.
 
Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              She had intended on traveling and finding herself, so I approached her with the opportunity. Really happy to see another American make their way over, for she can help raise awareness, plus the eye-opening experience it will give her.
 
              My first few days have been meetings trying to establish Drop here on Kos. It was some work, nothing in comparison to the attempt on Samos. We had a 4 hour meeting on the codes of conduct with the UNHCR which was useful, but for many of us who had been sent from other NGO’s it was a bit redundant. The other meeting we had with the UNHCR was a meeting with all of the coordinators on the island. Almost all of the NGO’s we have worked with on Kos, Samos, Chios, and Lesvos. Those meetings for us, Therese and myself, were focused more on networking and finding out where we are needed the most. One thing that works against me is my appearance of young age. I’ve found that in every aspect of my life, but looking 20 years old works against my favor when I’m meeting with coordinator and director heads of different NGO’s. Youth to them looks like lack of experience, and I really have no interest in introducing myself with a long list of personal accomplishments.
 
              Mercy Corps has contracted out a local restaurant to feed the refugees, and the orphan boys from war-zones. Everyone is served at the Boomerang Steak House, a beautiful Greek restaurant. There the staff makes a meal of rice with a vegetable based soup/stew on top with fresh bread. The children are served macaroni with bread as well. Everyone gets to sit down at a table, and we come out of the kitchen with their meals on trays, serving them like we would have served anyone at this proper restaurant. Sometimes there is enough for the refugees to even have seconds.
 
Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              It’s an awesome experience to see the refugees given the dignity and respect that they deserve, instead of seeing queues of them standing, waiting for their styrophone cup of soup. At the end of each meal the refugees also take a cup of chai, and often sit out front relaxing for a few moments. This is where we can interact with the families and children the most. Many of our tables can sit 8-12, so we reserve those especially for the families.
 
              Once all of the refugees have eaten, all of the volunteers take supper as well. Often there are some families still there so we mix the time eating and interacting with them and the children. The volunteers that have been helping with the supper are from the NGO’s: A Drop in the Ocean- Norway, Humans to Humans- Sweden, Team Sweden, a few independent volunteers, and the staff of the Boomerang- Greece. It doesn’t take us to long to clean up, it’s more of a networking and bonding experience. Serving dinner is the beginning of our day for the volunteers.
 
Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              After dinner Drop, Humans to Humans, and Team Sweden all sit together and figure out the plan for beach patrols for the evening and early morning. It does not make sense for three different groups to work simultaneously on the same stretches of beaches. We coordinate who group will work what stretch of beach at what time, share phone numbers, and continue building rapport among the different groups and individual volunteers.
 
Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              Beach patrol here is much easier than at Lesvos. The beach road on one side of the island is flat and runs within 10 meters of the shore. The other side of the island we drive on a main road within 10 meters of the shore line as well. There are about three spots one each side of the island that we can stop and look for boats.
Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
               Until Drop sends more volunteers and equipment, we must wait more for boats to arrive on shore rather than looking for them. We have no night vision, or thermal scopes here yet, so most of the time we wait for a boat to arrive on the beach, or drive up and down, actively searching for refugees who are walking down the road looking for help. This gives the volunteers time to talk and get to know one another since we are in a car for 4-8 hours at a time in the pitch black.
 
              This gets me to the success side of one of my missions here on Kos. A few weeks ago a family that had crossed to Lesvos and made it to Germany made contact with volunteers that had worked with them. They used WhatsApp and Facebook to find and contact the volunteers. These volunteers then got in contact with A Drop in the Ocean, and told them this story. Their relatives had been attempting to make the cross from Turkey into Greece. Most boats are loaded with the children first in the center, and then the adults. Right after the children were loaded onto the boat, the Turkish police showed up. They began arresting the smugglers and refugees on the shores, so the boat, partially filled, immediately took off and landed on Kos. There were two children on board, ages 4 and 7. They watched as the Turkish police showed up, as their family was being arrested, as the shores of Turkey where their family was at shrank as their boat moved toward Greece.
 
              We were able to find the girls. We were relieved to find out that their uncle, Mustafa, was with them as well. He was deeply concerned and we were able to contact the girl’s father via WhatsApp and allow them to speak. The uncle had lost his passport and his money since it was with the rest of the family in Turkey. He seemed somewhat relieved to know that we were there to help, and that we would not leave until the family was re-united. Two nights ago as I was on beach patrol, we came across a group of 13-14 refugees who had just come ashore under cover of night. They were immediately ushered onto the UNHCR bus to be taken for registration and then rooms at the Hotel Oscar. The next morning, I woke up to Therese telling me that in the group of refugees that had come in, it was the two little girl’s family.
 
Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              We were able to see the re-united family last night at the Boomerang Steak House. It was all smiles there. The uncle, Mustafa, looked so relieved and happy to have the burden of responsibility lifted. The girl’s dad, Osama, who spoke English very well, was all smiles as was the rest of his family. He could not thank us enough, even though there was no reason for a thank you. Instead of feeling like we should receive gratitude, we want to give more, knowing what each one of them has been through. It has been a huge honor to have been part of this process. Though we have only had a few boats come in since I have arrived to Kos, seeing a family re-united is the sweetest part of this entire chapter of Kos.

2.8.2016

2.8.2016
 
Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              I’m sitting on a ferry from Samos to Kos. Since I have nothing but time I might as well as catch up on entering the refugee crisis. I thought that there was a direct flight from Samos to Kos but there was not, and the only ferry leaving was today. I had about three hours to pack up, do a quick run-down of my responsibilities, purchase tickets, and gain a semblance of a game-plan for the next day. I really have no idea what is going to happen on Kos, the Swedish volunteers who gave me a lift to the port had just come from Kos and told me that the police, municipality, and people were hostile toward the refugee crisis. I still do not have a hotel or car lined up, for that matter I will be the first of my NGO to arrive on this island.
 
Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
             I have to take this ferry to a different island, Patmos, and have a “lay-over” for about 12 hours. The next ferry does not leave until 0330 so I am unsure if I should rent a hotel or just sleep at the port. If there is a building I will be fine with that, but if there is not I do not know if I want to chance the 30-40 degree temperature or spend money just to stay warm. First world problems.
 
Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
 
              The ferry I am on is roughly 50 feet long. I’ve worked on boats back in Oshkosh the same size, so I am not to enthralled about riding this puddle-jumper across the Aegean Sea. I suppose if the propleller plane I took from Athens made it that I might as well keep on riding my luck. I am pretty sure my friend Mari would not have even stepped onto this ferry, the ferry to Athens was half the size of a cruise ship and she was hesitant. The good thing is that since Greece has 10,000+ islands I can vaguely see land the majority of the time, just in case…
 
 
 
 
              Current conditions for the migration have changed, are changing, and the changes are not for the best. Two days ago, Greece decided that Turkey was a safe third country. This means that the refugees can be deported back to Turkey. This does not mean the refugees who have registered in Turkey, but all refugees who have made transit through Turkey. If this passes, we are looking at 1-1.5 million refugees that could be deported back to Turkey at a minimal. Turkey already hosts 2.2 million refugees, and those are the registered ones. There are possibly 3+ million refugees in Turkey.
 
              Germany has begun to reverse their admittance of refugees. For the past several months they have been the number one destination for the majority of refugees. This is due to Germany’s economy and their youth leaving for better jobs. There has been a void of youth and able-bodied employable people. Now that Germany has gotten what they want, they want to seal off their borders.
 
              The past week there has been massive airstrikes on Aleppo, Syria. Turkey has closed off their borders with Syria. Two days ago there were over 35,000 Syrians fleeing the rubbles of what was once Aleppo. They are now congregated at the border with no chance to enter Turkey and with nothing left to call home. The coalition, Russia, Turkey, China, Iran, Cuba, the entirety of the world has destroyed Turkey and left nothing. I remember driving through Fallujah, Iraq and thinking “oh snap, what have we done?’ Fallujah from OIF, Dresden and London from WWII, and even the no-man’s land from WWI look like peaceful paradises in comparison to the wake of death and destruction in Syria.
 
              I had been intending to head to Turkey to scout where volunteers are needed, but I have friends already on the ground. This works out since my current mission is to help establish my NGO (A Drop in the Ocean) on the island of Kos. Many volunteers and groups from the islands believe that Kos will become the new refugee hot-spot. Do not mix this with the government hot-spots. The Greek and Turkish Naval and Coast Guard blockades have deterred the smugglers and refugees, but when one route closes another one opens. It looks like I will be here for a week+ to help, before returning to Lesvos to plan the next month or two with my friends.
 
              We are relatively sure that the volunteers will no longer be allowed to work in Greece, more especially the islands, within the next couple of months. As I have said before, all eyes are looking east. Even in Turkey we are unsure what we will be allowed to do, some volunteers have been arrested last week in Idomini. My friends are making a loop through Turkey, Lebanon, and possibly Jordan to see where and if we will be able to volunteer there. The issue that did come up with their travels so far was figuring out what zone they were in. Just like the military, there are safe-zones in Lebanon. They tier as such: Green, Yellow, and Red. Red is the most dangerous, Green is the most safe. My friends had booked their hotels in the red-zone which is Hezbollah country.
 
divider blk
Somewhere out there a voice cries in the darkness.
We can never bring them home or give them their homes back.
We can be the light in the darkness to guide the way.
divider blk
 
              I forsee us either working in Turkey or Jordan. Turkey may soon play host to 3-5 million refugees and will need coordination and volunteers at a massive level. What we have done in Lesvos, Athens, Calais Jungle, Dunkirk, Idomini, and Samos are mere child-play in comparison. Jordan needs massive help as well. The camps there were established in 1947 for the Palestinian refugees. The refugees are now on their 4th and 5th generations of living in the camps. The refugees there know only the camps, as did their parents, and their parents-parents. Footage of the camps show structures and tents for as far as the eye can see. There is no end or beginning.
 
              There is no way that any of the refugees can return home, for there is nothing left. Everything has been destroyed by air-strikes and drone attacks. What was home will never be home, for some, they have no idea what home actually is.

2.6.2016

2.6.2016
              I’m sitting at a table for supper typing this. Around me sits 12 volunteers – none of whom are from the same country. A few of us speak English as our first language, but not everyone. We have some Arabic, English, French, Italian, Greek, Spanish, German, and Portuguese conversations in which everyone participates. Some have to use a translator, some of us are multi-lingual so we can converse or participate in the conversations by following context. Those coming from America have just one language, English, while almost everyone else is fluent in at least three languages. I’m thankful for my studies in Latin, Arabic, French, and Spanish because I can follow along. I am in no way a master of any language, my American English slang is so mumbled most of the time that even the Irish have no idea what I am saying half of the time. Still sitting here among a multi-national table of volunteers is a blessing, for we are a group that represents our nations, we represent peace and solidarity.
 
              Finally, I have a friend from the States coming; I requested her to bring a bottle of Siracha Sauce. I dearly miss eating Mexican food, or anything with spice. Every morning I eat some eggs, and I immediately think of salsa. I think the only other thing I have her bringing is some gummi bears from the local butcher in Oshkosh, Ski’s Meat Market. Haribo Gummi Bears are alright, but they do not quite cut the cake.
 
              I have a busy next two days coming up. Because of the international politics it was almost impossible to finalize any plans. I thought I was going to go to Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan to find out where volunteers are needed, but my friend Todar is already there. I worked with him in Lesvos with ‘A Drop in the Ocean.’ He has since broken off and helped found the NGO ‘Northern Lights’ and also helped found The Hope Center. The Hope Center is a hotel on the beaches of Lesvos – this allows refugees to come directly from boats and have personal rooms to change, make chai-tea, and to rest and recover before they move to the camps.
 
              The next two days I must coordinate with Medecines Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders (MSF). They have planned on working in the warehouse with me for three days. On Tuesday I must go to the island of Kos to help the volunteers there set to look for refugee boats on the Aegean Sea. One more island, one more adventure. I have one day to hand over responsibilities to the new long-term volunteer, Bogdin from Hungary. Tomorrow will be a very busy day.