Lesbos medisch – Rock Bottom

The past week on Lesbos has been very tense and consisted of many highs and lows. Often you can make a child smile by giving them a popsicle. Sometimes, we see very sick children or mothers that are in need of quick medical attention. These highs and lows can be either small or big, but you know they alternate rapidly. Yesterday, however, the situation here hit absolute rock bottom.

I was enjoying my coffee on my morning off after being on call during the night. A van stopped and the coordinator of another organisation called me in, saying there was an emergency in the harbour. After shouting to the shop owner that I’ll be paying later, I got into the van and we rushed to Molyvos harbour. “A child, that’s all I know”, said a fellow doctor who’s also on the bus. In the harbour, we jumped out and ran to a boat, not knowing who or what we’re looking for. After a quick search, we got called to a boat where the Red Cross were waiting for us. Two children, drowned in the sea, were presented. One critical but stable 12 month old girl, the other a boy 7rs, lifeless: no pulse, no breathing, lungs full of water and an ice cold body. CPR was already performed by RC for 45 minutes but didn’t yield results. Some more was done, but it me and my fellow doctor agreed it was medically pointless. Time of death was noted and I pulled the blanket of the kids face, as I don’t speak the language of this kid’s family.

His father lost it however, starts crying and tried to perform CPR by himself. The situation got uncontrollable with the grieving parents and when the ambulance arrived it took the boy’s body and his 12 month old sister to rush to the hospital. This image haunted me and made me unspeakably sad, I couldn’t perform my other duties and decided to take the day off.

I grieved the whole afternoon. Fellow volunteers comforted me, I called friends at home and had dinner with a local friend to put my mind off the situation in the morning.

Nonetheless, around 17:00 the text messages poured in: A boat of 200 or 300 sank in the sea and more drowned kids were expected in the harbour. As hesitant as I was, not knowing for sure if I could be of any use, I decided to not let it go ignored and rushed to the harbour. This time however, my organisation and several other were there and they were well prepared, well equipped and well trained, totalling five CPR teams ready to go. Just as our team finished preparations, the first boat of the coast guard docked and pulled of three kids that drowned. An hour later, another one arrived with more children and then another one, and another one and so on. We totalled seven successful paediatric CPR’s, in which I participated in three of them, our team (in different combinations with other organisations) in five. All of them were sent in critical condition to the hospital.

One of our doctors went along and reported about situation in the hospital in Mytilini: Understaffed, under equipped, no paediatric intensive care doctors, no paediatric anaesthesiologist and no air bridge was established to Athens. I truly wondering whether what we did was of any point, if at the end children don’t get the medical care they deserved.
Last night, many, many families were torn: parents, children and other relatives went missing in the rough and icy sea, of exploitation by smugglers and of inept politicians. Official reports say three, but I can guarantee that you can multiply that number by at least 10. Every single volunteer I’ve spoken yesterday was shocked, grieving and felt powerless. And the ice cold truth is: the winter hasn’t even begun yet.

So, I got three messages that stuck with me that I’d like to share:
1. Future generations, please take note: This is Europe in 2015, a politically -totally inept- union where border regions are left to their own and where human lives are used as political change in negotiations with neighbouring countries. Local authorities lack knowledge, infrastructure, organisation and planning to effectively give aid for the needing. Not because they don’t want to, but because they can’t. We need a change of thinking and a direction to move towards to.
2. To NOS (Dutch News Organisation): Get your facts straight and don’t show stock videos. It’s misleading and it doesn’t do right to the truth. It was immediately evident that there were more than hundreds of refugees in the harbour, not the 90 you reported last night.
3. Volunteering on Lesbos: You have highs and you have lows. And then, sometimes, a boat sinks and you have lows, lows and more lows, before hitting rock bottom.

Help ons helpen/Help us to help:

Donate: https://bootvluchteling.nl

Door Michel Abdel Malek
Arts Stichting Bootvluchteling
Doctor boat Refugee Foundation

Lesbos – Camp Moria

Since July 2015 Boat Refugee Foundation has established itself in the north of the island of Lesbos. We co-operate closely with the other humanitarian organisation in that area and the logistics of the process in our location have been professionalised further. Our focus is on the arrival of refugees on the coast, in particular the most vulnerable among them: mothers, pregnant woman and children up to the age of 8.

Their arrival here is only step 1 in the Greek part of the journey of a refugee. They will remain in one of the smaller camps (Transit areas Oxy and Skala), before they continue to Camp Moria or Kara Tepe for registration as a refugee and to continue their journey. The living conditions in all camps are dramatic, with Camp Moria as an excess. We regularly receive questions about this, which fall into two categories:
1. Why has Boat Refugee Foundation not yet organized itself (structurally) in Camp Moria?
2. I can contribute to the improvement of the living conditions or the organisation of the registration process in Camp Moria; why won’t you use that to their benefit?

Becoming active in Camp Moria is something which is high on our wishlist. We are fully aware of the great needs in the camp. However, we do not want to get stuck in several ad hoc initiatives, but want to offer help on a structural basis. The lack of organisation and management complicates matters for us in this respect. Even though every initiative has value, we do not want to throw ourselves on a camp with 7.000 – 10.000 refugees with only some tents, sleeping bags or fruit. Consultations with the organisations that are present in Moria already are in full swing and we are working hard on a problem analysis and plan for aid, given the possibilities that we have as a foundation and in line with our mission.

The Greek government – more specifically the police (and Frontex) – are in charge of the registration process the refugees have to undergo. This is a complex administrative process which cannot be executed by another party, not even partially and not even by another Greek organisation; according to Greek law, this is not possible. Which is a shame, but a reality we cannot ignore. Even experts in administration and registration that have offered their services to us will not be able to mean anything in this area.

Apart from the registration process, the Greek police appears to undertake limited activity with regard to the living conditions of the people wanting to undergo this process. Things like lodging, food and hygiene (apart from some form of garbage disposal) are not yet sufficiently organised.
For this reason the government is supported by several parties, of which UNHCR is the most important. They advise the government on how to deal with the practical and humanitarian side of the situation.

We are in close contact with UNHCR and other parties around Moria, to see how we can contribute. For instance, we could deploy medical professionals to help the people living in the camps and are looking for sustainable ways to keep people dry, warm and safe and give them access to food.

When our presence in Moria makes more headway, we will announce it as soon as possible.

Photo: Peter de Jongste

Lesbos – Making Choices

Who do you give a bottle of water, a ride in the van, a banana, dry socks or shoes? With limited supplies, you have to make choices. Some of these are easily made. The vulnerable such as babies, handicapped and the elderly first. Some choices are harder. With over 50 people on a single shabby boat, you may have to leave behind one family and take the other, give clothes to one soaked girl instead of the little boy next to her. Sometimes you make the wrong choices, sometimes the right choices.

It’s not the long hours of work, lack of sleep, dirty conditions or hard work that makes it tough, it’s the choice between one human being and the other that lingers in your head at night. it is making that choice to go to bed at three in the morning while leaving behind hundreds of people wrapped in blankets under the sky.

One such choice I made when handing out water to hundreds of people in the line for the bus under the blazing sun, the choice between who gets a bottle and who doesn’t. I wasn’t handing out tickets to a concert or luxury items, I was simply handing out the first and most basic human need while denying exhausted and dehydrated people a bottle of water. While water is provided in plenty by the Boat Refugee Foundation space in the car and people to hand it out are limited forcing you to make these difficult choices…

Door Peter van Zoeren