Snow and a wind chill factor of -9 degrees in Samos

After having a good start of the week, with blue skies and sun, the weather started changing. A large storm woke everyone up yesterday night: the amount of rain was immense and lightning and thunder made it even more dramatic. One of our common translators had the water level rise to above the pallet of his tent, so a part of his belongings are soaked. Even though the fact very many refugees have wet clothes, the upcoming weather will possibly be even more of a problem. It will start freezing in Samos, with a wind chill factor of -9 degrees Celcius. It is difficult for BRF to prepare for the cold, with the limited sources available. There are a couple of (emergency) warmth blankets available, tea and hot water (bottles) will be distributed throughout the evening/night, and a while ago some heaters were installed next to the medical container.

In the medical container, the team providing health care (and also the ones providing the educational program and milk/tea/diaper service) now consists of a great mix of backgrounds and experiences. Working together on only a couple of square metres makes it very necessary to work as a team, be flexible and helpful. Also the translators are of great value of the service for patients. ‘Simple’ colds and headaches can be helped by using hands and feet to communicate, but more difficult medical problems require a proper communication. Some refugees believe that the arrival in Europe, immediately implies receiving better health care than in their home country – not realising that at the camp, the possibilities are still limited. Luckily, BRF can refer patients to Medin for a referral to the local hospital. The waiting time however can sometimes add up to a couple of months for the non acute problems. The BRF medical team now consists of two Dutch doctors, a Belgian-Italian nurse and a arabic-speaking medical student from the USA. Having such an enthousiastic team creates great energy to face the often chaotic, demanding and intense evenings at the medical container!

The video below is recorded by Frederieke van Dongen and will show you the terrible weather in Samos.

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Tekst: Lisanne de Graaff – Arts op Samos
Video: Frederieke van Dongen – Coördinator op Samos

5 months later

Stepping into the RIC (official name for the refugee camp in Samos) for the first time in five months brought back many memories, both good and difficult. Though the children I knew had left, I was greeted with the same boundless energy and intensity from the children there now that I had received during the three weeks I was a volunteer for BRF over the summer. The camp looked different because an artist had worked with members of the RIC to create beautiful murals on the walls, bringing some much need color to the once grey bricks.

When I left the RIC in July, I went straight into a master’s program in my hometown of Cambridge, MA. By straight in, I mean that less than 10 hours after landing in the U.S., I was seated in orientation on my first day. In hindsight, not a smart move. Though I was physically present, my mind was still on Samos, with the people I had grown to care about very deeply. It didn’t seem fair that I could leave and they couldn’t. That I could go home to a warm bed every night and they wouldn’t. But most importantly, that I felt hope for my future and they didn’t.

This weighed on me heavily during my time at school. I knew that I needed to come back as soon as possible. After turning in my last final for the semester, I got on a plane with three 70 lb bags full of winter coats and infant formula thanks to the generosity of my classmates and synagogue.

While I was back home, I kept in touch with a few families who had become friends during my time on the island. As a result, I knew a little bit about what to expect, but was still shocked when I returned to the RIC. For one thing, it is very cold. When I was here in July, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than sleeping in a tent in 90-100 degree temperatures. Now, I long for those days. For a refugee living in tent, there is essentially no place where you can sit inside and get warm. Imagine being either cold or freezing all day, every day.

In addition, while the RIC was already overpopulated by several hundred people, arrivals increased even more and they needed to expand the space to put tents. While I was gone, they opened an “extension” where tents were put on pallets on completely uneven, muddy grounds full of safety hazards including a giant hole one could easily fall in during the pitch black nights. At night, people are huddled around fires. In other RICs, these fires have gotten out of control causing injury and even a death. It was very difficult to see this part of the RIC.
Over the past few days, I have seen a few familiar faces, but for the most part, everyone I know has moved on to other camps, Athens and even other parts of Europe. At night, I close my eyes and pray that wherever the next stop on their journey is, it is a step towards a better life. A warm bed, a life of freedom, and a life full of hope.

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Text: Samantha Joseph (volunteer Boat Refugee Foundation)
Photo: (stockfoto BRF)