Boat Refugee Foundation on Lesbos

The work of the Boat Refugee Foundation has changed on Lesbos. In 2015, the work mainly consisted of boat arrivals, rescue missions and medical activities. Today, we focus on medical aid and psychosocial activities. This means a change from emergency care to structural care, within tighter boundries and with a higher level of professionalism.

Current missions on Lesbos

Moria is the largest refugee camp on Lesbos. It is a so called registration and identification center (more than 4,000 residents, mainly single men). After refugees arrive on the island by boat, they all go to Moria for registration and to start their asylum application. This camp is being run by the army and the police. After registration, the most vulnerable refugees are moved to another camp or shelter. Moria is a closed camp, with a prison-like atmosphere. The camp is divided in different sectors by nationality. There is also a prison inside the camp. Besides medical care, there are not many facilities for the refugees. Fights and riots are likely to happen considering the condition of the camp and the hopeless situation of the refugees.

Our main role in this camp is to provide emergency medical aid during the evenings from 4pm to 11pm and at night from 11pm until 9am. We do not have final responsibility for the medical care in the camp, but we are one of the supporting medical teams. For medical services, the PSS-team supplies a crowd controller during evening shifts. The crowd controller helps the medical team to create an overview of the incoming patients, taking their personal details and keep the peace outside the medical cabin. The crowd controller works closely together with one of the doctors responsible for the intake and possible prioritize patients.

The second activity of the PSS-team in camp Moria is a social one, taking place between 8pm and 9.30pm. This activity is walking through the camp to interact with the refugees in the camp. You walk in pairs and provide refugees the opportunity to chat, and you offer a sympathetic ear to their stories and daily worries. Through this daily activity we want to show we are not only there to offer medical care, but also for mental support and a smile.

Medical shifts in the refugee camps

The medical team mainly consists of (family)doctors and nurses. The medical team works in one location on Lesbos: camp Moria. We work together with different medical NGOs so we are able to cover the medical needs of refugees as much as possible. In this way we also relieve the local hospital.

In Moria we work daily in day and night shifts, from 4pm to 9am, by doctors and nurses from our medical station. The medical care is mainly focused on non-specialized, acute and semi-acute care. For this reason, family doctors/GPs and emergency doctors are usually a good match. Medical problems vary from mild issues such as throat aches and mental issues and more serious problems, such as asthma attacks or epileptic insults.

If you’re going to work on Lesbos as a medical professional, you will receive the medical protocol before your arrival. It contains more specific information about the situation in the refugee camps.

PSS-activities in the Refugee camps

The PSS-team consists of teachers, social workers, psychologists and other relevant psychosocial professionals. We offer a varied activity program, spread over the day and week. Shifts start at 11 AM and the late shift ends at 11 PM. In between shifts you have time to prepare the activities.

Every other day we organize social shifts. This means a small team of volunteers walks through the camp to chat with refugees in the camp. Next to that we organize english classes for adult men on weekly basis in groups of 20 to 25 men.

Accommodation Volunteers

The ‘mansion’ of the Boat Refugee Foundation is located close to the airport and offers a place to stay for our volunteers. It is the place where we organize meetings and share meals together. In addition it is a place to relax and socialize with other volunteers. It is also the starting point from where we carpool to and from shifts in the camps. The house has a small kitchen, living room, diner, two bathrooms and several shared bedrooms. The house has the feel and facilities of a hostel. You will share a room with at least two up to five others (male or female). Your roommates might sometimes have night shifts or different schedules than you. To live in the volunteer house, you pay the following:

  • The first month: € 10 per night
  • From the second month: free

It is not mandatory to stay in the house, you can also choose to find alternative accommodation.

In the volunteer house you can have your breakfast, lunch or dinner. You can cook/prepare your own meals, but usually, dinners are prepared together. The volunteers do the groceries together and share the costs. For the costs we ask for the following contribution: € 2 for breakfast, € 2 for lunch, € 4 for dinner.

Car rental
Due to the long distances between the different camps, it is necessary for our volunteers to have access to transportation. The Boat Refugee Foundation has organized several team cars for the volunteers. These cars can be used to drive between camps and the volunteer house. To be able to use them, you need a drivers license that is valid in Greece and you need to be able to drive a manual car. The costs for using the team-car, including gas are: The first month: € 7 per day. From the second month: free.

The cars are only meant to use for work. If you want to use the car for private trips, you need to discuss this with your colleagues first. In case of damage, the first € 100 are for your own expense.

Vaccinations and hygiene

Any vaccinations needed for your stay on Lesbos are your own responsibility. Travelling to Greece usually does not require any specific vaccinations, but working as a volunteer in a refugee camp is a different situation. In the refugee camp in Greece, people from different nationalities live together in unhygienic circumstances. The home countries of the refugees have different health standards or vaccine programs than European ones. Sometimes we do see cases of measles, scabies, chicken pox, tbc, etc in the camp.  The countries of origin of the current largest groups of refugees in the camps are: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Congo. Therefore we strongly advise you to contact a travel clinic or a local public health clinic to inform which vaccinations are required. In general, the following advice is to check if your vaccination for Hepatitis A, B and DTP are up to date. If not, make sure to get a booster.

For the medical volunteers, we also advise to have a Mantoux test done right after your stay in Lesbos, to test for TBC. If you will have direct contact with patients for your medical work, you can get the BCG vaccination beforehand. Medical professionals may want to contact their health & safety manager about this. Are you working in a medical environment? Please consult your employer about possibly doing an MRSA test on your return.
For your work in the camp, we ask all medical volunteers to bring their own 3M mask. It is your own responsibility to have it with you in the camp and to wear it when you feel needed.

Concerning working in the camps: wash your hands regularly. First with water and soap, then with hand alcohol. Hand alcohol alone will not suffice. The coordinators on the island can tell you more about additional hygiene measure if necessary. The work you will be doing is physically challenging and can be quite intense. It is important that you are in good physical and mental health. If there are any medical challenges regarding your health before you leave, we seriously advise against participating.