The police closes the gates of the small medical area in the camp. All our volunteers are now locked-in with the new arrivals. We cannot go anywhere, surrounded and enclosed by fences and barbed wire. The new people arrived on the island three hours ago. Some are shivering on our benches below our cabins, still cold and soaked from the water that splashed into their boat. Under the benches, next to their muddy shoes are their small backpacks, also covered in mud. In these backpacks are their whole lives: these are probably all the items they took from the place that was once their home. A baby is crying constantly. The older kids have wet themselves and smell anything but fresh. The police is standing spread amongst us. The women cry, the men stare with hollow eyes. The atmosphere is tense, emotional, and weighing on our shoulders. We, volunteers, look at each other. Determined this time. Thís is the moment that we are able to show these people that they are not forgotten in this big, scary world. Thís is the moment to give them back some humanity and to roll up our sleeves.
What an amazing team we have. Together we speak, among others, Arab, French and English. We offer everyone a cup of hot tea. In the milk room we have clean diapers, baby wipes, juices, milk and cerelac for the baby’s. The small children are able to see our doctors immediately to get a health check. We offer hot cerelac so the mothers are able to feed their hungry and cold children. The soft, warm baby blankets appear and are being handed out. We place our electric blanket on the floor and play games with the children to make them smile again. Because of the many languages we speak, we can answer many questions and we make the scary moments for the new arrivals a little less frightening.
After two months I am back home in The Netherlands, sitting on the couch watching reruns of the show about farmers looking for love. With a hot cup of tea it feels as if I never left. It almost feels as if the past two months never happened, it seems to surreal.
I want to thank the Boat Refugee Foundation. I want to thank them for their presence on the island. Thinking about Samos, I know how hard the life is for some people in the camp. Every day the endless waiting. The endless waiting for what? Not knowing what was coming, realizing more than ever that they had to leave almost everything behind, they left for Greece. And there a life surrounded by fences and wire awaits them. A life in which they sometimes need to spend the first, frightening moments wet and cold in an enclosed medical area.
And just there, just over the border into Europe are the volunteers of the Boat Refugee Foundation waiting in the camp for these people. Every day, regardless if its a national holiday, a free day or a Sunday, the milk room and medical cabin are open. We are always there to provide a cup of hot tea, to provide fathers and mothers with baby supplies, to organize kids activities and to see patients. It is comforting to know that, while I am no longer there, other fantastic volunteers will do exactly what I have been doing. It gives me hope that there are still people that will provide new arrivals with a cup of tea when they are still waiting wet and cold in the medical area. And above all, I am grateful that there are volunteers in the camp with a shoulder to cry on and a sympathetic ear to, where possible, give back a little piece of humanity to the people in the camp, a place surrounded by high fences.
Text: Rozemijn Aalpoel
Photo: Arie Kievit