Tag Archives: Turkey

9.5.2016

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.

 

 

7.18.2016

July 18, 2016
 
This is the first time since I have arrived that I have had the opportunity to sit down at my favorite café from last January. Today is a day off of work, partially as a birthday gift, partially because the two coordinators took a 4-day holiday and I doubled my work load, but mostly because I’m hitting the exhausted-sick level. That is more my fault since I still have not learned to say "no," or to take a break when I have responsibilities.
 
Yesterday was my 30th birthday. I had thought all last year I was 30 until last month, so I feel no change at all. I had the opportunity to greet the 22 new arrivals and hand them out blankets, tents, and food. It was a blessing to know that I was the first smile that they had possibly seen in months. For most cases, the first volunteer or aid worker that the displaced people will see in Europe will be the most remembered one of all the volunteers and aid-workers they will encounter along their migration.
 
andrewfrania.comI spent the afternoon with several volunteers at the beach near the warehouse. Most of us just relaxed on the beach and took a nap, trying to recharge after another long week. We all met at Pizza di Piazza for my birthday dinner. It’s been since my teenage years since I’ve had a proper birthday celebration. The waiter Manolis, one of my closest friends took extra care of us. I even had a birthday cake! It must have been at least a decade and a half since I have seen one of those.
 
The number of birthday wishes from volunteers, refugees, and locals was more than I have ever received. My phone was non-stop with notifications of friends and family wishing me the best. It was a total inspiration to have that much love outpouring to me. I really needed all the encouragement that came with the birthday wishes. So many people encouraged me to continue on, that they looked up to me, and thanks for doing my best to change the world. Thank you all. I may have only a drawer full of belongings, and a bank account with nothing but donations, but I have more than most ever will. Peace of mind, love, joy, and a purpose of life. Money can never buy what I have, you have all made my birthday the most memorable of my life.
 
Two days in a row we have received new arrivals from Turkey. After a two week lull in new arrivals we are the most prepared as we can ever be. The first day was a Syrian family who had  been helped by churches along the route. After meeting the family to help them access their needs, the first question asked by the father was about my faith. I explained to him my confusion with the church and with religion, how American Christianity largely focuses on building churches of grandeur, pastors with budgets larger than many in their flock, and how Christianity focuses more on works to decide if you are a morally good Christian or not. We talked for some time, how most Christians talk-the-talk, and forget to walk-the-walk.
 
From my experiences this last year I have learned much about Christianity and religion. I am still trying to find my way, but had I not began this chapter in my life I would still be pushing away from religion. I have seen Christianity at its best, reaching out to those of different faiths. They show that by their actions, others can see what is in their heart. I have also seen the worst of Christianity, the part that confused me and almost made me turn away. This is the side that will not help those of different faiths, forgetting the story of the Good Samaritan. They have forgotten what Jesus said in Matthew 25:37-40 “Then the righteous answered him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave the drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothe thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
 
I have learned much spiritually these past several months, but so have many of those that I try to help. For the man I was talking to a few days ago, he was perplexed how the Christians have turned their backs on both the Christians in the Middle-East, as well as those of different faiths. He referenced Matthew 5 to me, to love your enemies, do good to them that hate you. I went back to my flat and read the chapter, it was a powerful read to me. Some verses that stuck out the most were Matthew 5:46 and 47: “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?"
 
For many years I thought I had lost my faith, unable to discern from faith and the institution. I have now seen true Christians both at home and here. There have been so many that have let their light shine these past few months on my journey, and helped me discern the differences. Meeting this man the other day, and having him tell me that faith is what is in the heart, not the church you attend, is what matters. I have learned much from this man, and count it a blessing to have spoken to him. I also feel for him, since he will be largely persecuted for his faith in the upcoming months.
 
The past weekend there was a failed military coup in Turkey. President Erdogan has gone against the constitution, and a minority group in the military tried to take control. It was a 12 hour coup, which left Erdogan in more power and popular support. Many of us believe that this was just a power play. He was both able to gain popular support in Turkey and internationally, wipe out his opposition, and gain more power. Coming from a military background, high treason is not a trivial act. For this coup to last 12 hours, it seems either it was poorly acted out, or that there was an organizer behind that had many actors pretend to be in support of the coup until the actual action.
 
We for-see the fallout of the EU/Turkey deal coming. After two weeks of no arrivals, and then 2 days of new arrivals following the coup, we stand ready. With the military confusion in Turkey, this has allowed for more freedom of movement along the coasts for more refugees to cross.
 
The warehouse is looking better and better each day. For those who have worked in the warehouse, there is less than a day’s work left of unsorted donations. It is both a relief to me, but also raises some concern. When the deal falls apart, we will not have enough to help everyone. We have already been purchasing needs, winter is coming, and I personally do not think we have enough.
 
This past week several of my friends left. A few were refugees, going to mostly to Athens, some to Thessanoliki. Those going to Athens I am scared for. There is no room in the camps, so the port and Victoria’s Square are lined with refugees and Greeks alike, sleeping in the streets, begging for money. Families lie under boxes, unsure as to their next meal. Many do not want to leave the camp because they know that their plight will become worse. This is one of the things that causes the volunteers here to think that every step we go forward; we go two steps back.
 
Several volunteers have left and I miss them dearly. There are some that I have worked closely with and will miss them as people, but also the voids in work here. Yes, others will fill their position, but we have worked so closely together. Paul and Melanie of France and Belgium, were the sweetest couple and humans I have met. Their calmness and love of everything living made them a vital aspect in the camp. Ion, my brother from Amsterdam, whom I hope to see soon, helped me find my strength when I was weak. We learned and grew so much from each other’s company.
 
For those at home, I thank you once again for following what is happening. I mourn for my America as it is falling apart. It’s painful to watch one hate create a new hate, and that another hate. Be strong, and do your best to show those at home the goodness in life. Hug those that need it most, embrace those of different creeds, colors, and religions. We must unify as people, instead of separating into different factions. “A stranger is just a friend you have never met.”

7.12.2016

July 12, 2016

              My days are beginning to blend together, it’s becoming hard to remember what I did from day-to-day. Sunday’s are the only day I can differ from the others because every business is shut and it is the volunteer’s day of rest. The past Sunday was a well needed day of rest, the wear and tear is becoming very apparent on the faces and body language of the long-term volunteers. I somehow managed to sleep until 11am on Sunday with a grand total of 12 hours of sleep. I doubt I have slept that long in the past decade. Most of the team took a drive to the south-side of the island to relax and swim in the sea. It took an hour and a half to drive across, but it allowed us to take in the beautiful mountainous landscape, the villages perched on the hillsides, the coastline, and the green forests. 

              There was a forest fire that started up near where we all work and live, and the winds spread the fire all the way down across the island. At one point the fire could not have been over 1 mile from where I stay at. For at least two days the firefighters and military fought the fire, we would watch as helicopters would fly back and forth dumping water from the port on to the blaze. I have yet to know how many houses were destroyed or casualties/loss of life. 

              As always the tensions are increasingly growing. The municipality of Samos sent a call for help for 700 local children who need their basics of life met. Athens refused them. As summer keeps on continuing with no dramatic change in tourism, the people feel their wallets growing thinner and the worries of winter survival weigh more heavily on their minds. A nearby island, Leros, has suffered a dramatic loss of support from the islands. On Saturday a group of 150+ Yazidis (the oldest known ethnic group, religious group, also referred to as “The People of Eden”) were attacked by Greek locals. The police did not intervene, and several volunteers were threatened. While the volunteers have often been threatened, it has never caused them to flee. All the humanitarian aid organizations have left, as well as the majority of the volunteers. There are only a handful of independent volunteers that remain to take care of the 8,400 refugees and to stand between the refugees and hostile Greeks. 

              The Turkey/EU deal is about to officially fall apart, thus we are planning for another surge comparible or more than last year. The EU tried their best to say they had a strong handle on the refugee crisis by not allowing them to leave Turkey. Since Turkey is not EU the EU played the card out-of sight, out-of-mind. The African’s have been protesting for two days now, leading to an evacuation of European Asylum Support Office/EASO in the camps. The precedence for asylum seekers is Syrian’s, so many of the other nationalities have been in the detention camp for up to 4 months. They are beginning to lose hope, and feel that they are nobody’s. When the Turkey/EU deal falls apart, Europe will have to acknowledge that they must find a way to accommodate the wave of humanity, not hide them outside their borders or in prison camps.

              The group of volunteers have been amazing. We have almost finished sorting all of the donations, which means that we need donations to start coming back in. The past week I have had the pleasure of having Ion Wolf working with me on projects. The team sorting has been doing so well that I have been able to focus on projects and slowly catch up. There have been several volunteers that I have worked closely that have left, it’s hard saying goodbye to people who are in sync with each other working on the same goal. The amount of work we accomplish as a group was noticeable enough for Medecines Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders to help fund the group. It was a huge victory for the group to know that our toil had not gone unnoticed or appreciated.

              I would like to thank all of my donors who have helped me out. I had a week of stressing out about my funds since we have to pay for housing and transportation now. Your donations relieved a lot of worrying that was compacting on top of everything that I am doing out here. You gave me the ability to breathe again, and also remind me that I am not alone on this. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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.

2.8.2016

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.
 

2.3.2016

2.3.2016
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              The past few days have been a massive blend of work and more work. When I am not actually doing “volunteer” work, I am on my computer doing work on a larger scale. Since we (the volunteers helping with the refugee crisis on Lesvos, Chios, Samos, and mainland Greece) are unsure if the current flow of refugees will stop due to military action, we must look for new opportunities to help the refugees. In two weeks, we have no idea if those volunteers that continue to help the refugees in Greece will be criminalized for “human-trafficking” or whatever the EU and FRONTEX wants to charge us with. The flow of refugees has slown down, and if the military takes over the waters, then there will amost be no need for volunteers on the island.
 
              Sometime next week I will be taking the ferry across to Turkey. There are at least 2.2 million known refugees in Turkey, possibly upwards to 3 million refugees there. I have spent some time searching the web and social media for indicators of where help is needed, but it seems that everything just points to Istanbul. There are roughly 50 more camps south of Istanbul, most closer to the Syrian or Iraqi border. I intend to go for 2-3 days to find where help is needed most, since Istanbul seems to be the “Lesvos” of Turkey. I have talked with some others, and they suggest that Jordan and Lebanon need the most help. There are 3000+ volunteers working on the refugee crisis in Greece, and all eyes are looking east. Someone needs to find out where these 3000 should go, as well as the several thousand who have already volunteered and yearn to return, and for those who have not volunteered but have the innate desire to help.
 
              Turkey is also where one of the orphanages that Mari and I have been interested in looking at so we have an idea of what we are getting into when we establish one in Greece. Already my NGO from Lesvos has put me in contact with people there as well as asked if I was interested in volunteering there while I remain out of the Schengen for 90 days due to my visa. Things are slowly starting to fall into place, another 15 days and Mari, Kristina, and Marian will be back on the islands. Soon we will be able to begin figuring out our funding for the orphanage, logistics, administration, and bureaucratic loopholes that we must jump through.
 
              I have had the honor of working with Medecines Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders these past three days. The first two days they sent up 12 of their employees to aid us (the municipality volunteers) at the warehouse. This has alieved a large amount of stress off of my shoulders. We were able to get ahead on shoes that needed to be ready to be sent to the port-camp for wet refugees, as well as sort through over half of the unsorted children and baby clothes.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              I was very fortunate that there were several women that knew the difference between baby clothes and children’s clothes as well as the difference between 0-2, 3-5, and 6-8 year olds. If it had been myself, there would have been boxes that said ‘baby clothes’ and ‘children’s clothes.’ They made the job for the volunteers changing wet children at the port much simpler and efficient while also relieving myself from getting aggravated volunteers.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              Today the lead coordinator of the municipality volunteers and myself met with and coordinated with some of the MSF (Medecines Sans Frontiers) logistics coordinators. Since we give them some of our boxes of clothing to distribute in the camps, they swapped with us bag-packs, ponchos, and UNHCR gloves, hats, and scarves. The repertoire has slowly begun among the established NGO’s here, which will alleviate problems with different groups distributing simultaneously, sharing of resources, and tensions. This also allowed me to speak with the logistics managers about future work possibly with MSF. They told me that I should apply for a position, that they could put references down for me, and that though French is very important, it is not totally necessary. They did tell me that my 2 years of French will help, and any other studies in the language would be an aid as well. I must retain this information for future use, for I still have an orphanage that needs to happen.
 
              The rest of the day I assisted the lead-coordinator, Vale, in small tasks. For the past 4-5 days she has been escorting journalists around and has not had the ability to focus on her tasks. Though it was not possible for her to take the day off, she was able to focus on tasks at the hostel versus running around Vathi/Samos town on errands. Thankfully there are long-term volunteers to shoulder some of her work: Saleh who runs the port, myself who runs the warehouse, Melinda who handles the children and women changing, and Elyssa who bridges all of the gaps.

2.1.2016

2.1.2016
              Today of course, was another day at the warehouse. I had initially intended on working another 12 hour day to try to keep/catch up with the logistics at the port and at the camps.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
               For once the dynamics changed, but this time in my favor. Around noon about 12 people from Medecines Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders came to help. I had not intended on that many volunteers coming, and only had a dozen or less boxes. The game plan immediately went from sorting clothes and boxes to sorting and labeling shoes. For about 5 hours all of us worked together, and the majority of the shoes are finally labeled and put in the right boxes.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
               The past two weeks I have intensely worried about shoes, and until a week ago had none. Then donors came and bought shoes, but they need to be taken out of their individual boxes, labeled on the back their size, tied together, and then put in a big box. This expediates the process of changing wet refugees over, as well as prevents trash from piling up all over the island. Together we were able to sort 70% of the shoes, and for the first time since I’ve been on Samos, I do not have that weighing on me all night long.
 
Samos Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 
              The ferry strike ended, so roughly 400 refugees were able to take the ferry to Athens. This alleviates a lot of stress for both refugees and volunteers. The kitchens will be able to save some money not feeding as many, as well as not have to use as much man-power. The NGO’s and volunteers will have a much easier time with logistics, and the refugees will not be as crowded. Tensions and stress will begin to diminish again.
 
              There is a dark cloud on the horizon. Today we received no refugees as did the other islands. This has been happening for several days, and today we found out why. The Turkish Coast Guard and Navy are now coordinating with the Greek Coast Guard and Navy. They have been heavily patrolling the straits between the islands and Turkey so the smugglers have not been sending refugees. Turkey will now escort or fill their own boats with refugees and then transfer them immediately to the Greeks in international waters. Though this will minimalize the lives lost in the crossing, it will end the volunteer work on the islands. For the next two weeks the Greek military will continue to drop refugees off to Lesvos for registration, but then after that no refugees will be coming onto the island. The Greek military will immediately take refugees on boats or from the Turkish military to one of two detention camps on mainland Greece.
 
              The media says that the camps will be “open-in-and-out,” but there is no way that a government would spend that much money without a reason. These two camps are abandoned military bases. A few days ago it was proposed that the Greeks make a detention camp for refugees to stay in so as to not enter the EU or Schengen. FRONTEX is also working with the military now, which focuses on closed borders and preventing immigration. It seems that Greece and Turkey military are working together, which before hand they did not tolerate each other, so that Turkey can get the 3 billion euro from the EU and Greece will be pardoned 50 euro from the EU. Greece will be allowed to stay in the EU and Schengen if they stop the flow of refugees. There is no way that the broken Greek economy would spend money on military action without deeper reasoning. The news is saying that any volunteers helping the refugees after two weeks will be arrested immediately. That should not be an issue since the refugees will no longer be coming to the islands on their boats, and those that do will end up in detention camps. News travels, if the refugees in Turkey and other countries hear that they will end up in detention camps and not allowed to leave they will stop coming here.
 
              The dynamics are always changing. I had already planned on working in Turkey for a couple of month. It now looks like the entirety of the volunteers from Samos, Lesvos, Athens, and Chios will be moving to Turkey very soon. It will be hard to see all of the work we have done torn apart, but most of us have dedicated the next 20 years of our lives to helping refugees wherever they are at. We can start a new process, learn from our mistakes, and concentrate with more vigor together. We may have lost this battle on the Greek isles, but we haven’t lost the war. Until there are no more refugees, until there are no more borders, we will continue on as we have been doing so.
 

1.28.2016

1.28.2016
              The volunteers and I were right on our discussions about the Schengen deal. We were surmising that Schengen would just be the beginning. True enough the next day the EU had a meeting and gave Greece the ultimatum of 3 months to stop the flow of refugees or be kicked out of the EU as well. Of course this has more to do with the economic finances more than anything, but the EU can use the refugees as a scapegoat just like Schengen. The EU had been trying to give Greece the boot for the past two years, so now they have the leverage. This has more than Greece’s finances though. Some of the EU nations can use Greece to prove that the EU and the euro are part of a broken system, so it goes much deeper. Of course this was just a blip on the international news because the governments and media do not want the world to see this happen. If the world was to see this, more especially the US and other nations that could possibly interfere, their plan may stop or slow down.
 
              The EU told Greece that they have one of the largest navys so they should have no problem in stopping the refugees. It seems much easier said than done. Either Greece must sink the refugees, turn them around so that the Turkish Coast Guard can sink them, or immediately detain them and deport them. The EU also proposed a camp for the refugees for 500,000 refugees either in Turkey or Greece, which has never been done in world history. This would be the biggest squalor of human-rights violations, death, sickness, and hopeless despair. The EU also offered Greece 50,000 euro off of their debt, which is tempting when balancing their debt or lose all trade and the euro. If Greece continues to accept refugees the EU wants to build a fence across the northern frontier and have an army standing there to stop both refugees and Greeks from entering into the EU.
 
              We lost another boat, some survived, at least 24 are confirmed dead. All efforts to spot boats has come to a screeching halt due to the international fiasco. The world and local governments seem to be working against the volunteers and refugees right now. It’s all about the money. It’s heart-wrenching to know that there is so much that we can do to prevent these human losses, yet our hands are tied. If we try to go out and spot boats we could end everything for volunteers on Samos. We have to accept that we do everything and more in our power, and must take joy in the lives we have changed.
 
              The warehouse is a beauty compared to what it used to be. The negative side is I see what we are low on, have nothing of, or looking at the long-term know what we will not have. Eventually donations from Europe both in shipments and money will dry up or else the donors will grow weary of the same fundraisers. If a large disaster happens elsewhere then a large portion of our donations will stop because donors will shift their attention. “Managing” the warehouse has me worried about the long-term sustainability more than most volunteers, but then I also volunteered at Lesvos. Lesvos has hit the wall a while ago, we still have yet to start telling the refugees we have nothing to give, but the day will soon arrive. Luckily for now we have donors come and purchase the immediate needs here. One of our shipping containers was redirected to a camp in Syria, and the other one is in limbo, partially due to the ferry-strike, partially due to the three plus shipping time-line. The last time we received a shipping container was the 5th of January. Right now men’s shoes, all ages and genders socks and underwear, hats and gloves are only available because of donors who come here. If we do not get a container in the next week we will have to start turning refugees away for certain items.
              I’ve been working slightly longer days at the warehouse so that I can spend the next day searching in the un-sorted boxes for the impending needs as well as preparing for the next day for the volunteers sent to the warehouse. The past few days there has only been one or two others besides myself here. Everything that we do all day gets immediately sent to the camp, there is no getting ahead unless I work longer. Everything is ready and in place if I had a group of volunteers sent, but right now we are down to less than 10. We have lost about two-thirds of the volunteers since I first arrived, I am thankful for the time and work that the volunteers did put it before they left. There is no way that we could handle the influx of refugees had it not been for their hard work and dedication.
 
            I must say influx because due to the international politics every refugee is clamoring to get into Europe before it is too late. There is also the fact that the refugees do talk to each other and know the routes to travel. Already this year the amount of refugees coming across the Greek isles have double from this time last January. We had over 1.1 million refugees come into Greece in 2015, and the estimate was 2 million for 2016. This was before the propositions by the EU and Schengen. Every refugee knows that there is a deadline, and they pass it on to their families and friends back home. We are going to see a mass migration in the next couple of weeks/months. We are short on funds, clothing/shoes, and volunteers. Yet we will continue on as we always do; I have seen miracles happen already.