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

Lesbos – Ali

Dit is Ali. Hij is 3 jaar en hier net aangekomen op Lesbos. De boot had veel water gemaakt en hij kwam drijfnat en koud aan wal.

This is Ali. He is three years old and just arrived on Lesbos. The boat had taken on a lot of water so by the time they arrived he was drenched and freezing.

Dry clothes and an emergency blanket prevented hypothermia. This little boy was so funny and relaxed. He was given a juice pack and was drinking it with cold blue lips. His toy zebra received a few sips every now and then as well. He played with the pebbles on the beach while his mother went into a changing room to put on some dry clothes. I was playing with him and we took turns throwing the pebbles into the water. He kept saying ‘boat’ in Arabic, pointing to boats in the distance. “He has always loved the ocean,” his mother says. He seems oblivious to the fact that he has just survived a very dangerous journey.

But Ali will be sleeping on the streets tonight along with everyone else.

(By Mirjam Borgdorff | Translation by Selma Rooseboom)

Lesbos – This is Adouan

This could be a picture of me and my nephew.
But it’s Adouan. He arrived on Lesbos 15 minutes before taking this picture. By boat. This boat. With three, or maybe even four times the amount of people that are allowed on such a boat, which is 15.

His mother hasn’t really recovered from the shock, but when I walked up to them with dry clothing she immediately handed him to me. Together we removed his wet clothing, gave him a clean diaper and put dry clothes on him. There weren’t any baby sleeping bags left in the car so I gave them extra clothes in case it gets cold tonight.

It turned out that there were two older sisters as well, soaking wet. So I held on to Adouan for a bit longer as their mother dried them off and gave them new clothes. Adouan, in the meantime, pulled my hair gently, smiled at me, removed my glasses, made gurgling noises, laughed loudly, and drooled all over my shirt. An added advantage of holding him closely was that he warmed up quickly.

When all the kids are dressed they continue their journey. The father and mother are still soaked but we ran out of clothing. Note to self: fill the car up even more next time.

I gently caress Adouan one last time and then it’s goodbye, good luck, and take care! And off they go. On their way to Mytilini. It is only another 45 km to this stopover on their undoubtedly still long and tiring journey…

(By Kirsten Alblas | Translated by Selma Rooseboom)

Lesbos – Two fingers in the air

It wasn’t long ago that I was standing with two fingers in the air. Without doubt, and with the euphoria of recently completing my degree, I swore to God that I would obey the Nightingale’s Pledge. As I stood there, I imagined walking through the hospital in my white uniform, giving people the best care possible. This summer I swapped that white uniform for a summer outfit from the Boat Refugee Foundation to parade around on Lesbos. Nursing is the same everywhere. Right?

Friday night, my wife Martine and I went to Sykiminia to help 500 people prepare for the evening. We brought baby milk and a suitcase with equipment such as a glucose meter and a blood pressure meter. When we get to the camp we go in search of an English speaking refugee to help translate for us. We see babies with fevers, children that are vomiting, exhausted pregnant women, and old ladies with sprained ankles.

When I’m on my knees, placing a leg splint, a boy comes over to me. The translator says he has a wound, and when I ask him to show me, he removes a bandage that had been covering an infected gunshot wound. What has this eighteen year old boy been through? Fleeing Syria, running away from danger, and making a dangerous journey across the sea in an overcrowded boat. That should be no one’s life.

Two fingers in the air, their eyes showing the euphoria of recently surviving the crossing. That is what many refugees look like on the selfies they make on the beach. I have never seen euphoria disappear so quickly as when they start the 50 km walk in the sweltering heat of the Greece sun, or when they have to sleep outside or the hard ground.

At 01:30, Martin and I get in the car to go back to the hotel, completely exhausted. After driving 50 meters, we see a new family and I don’t stop the car, I’m drained! Or am I? What did I swear, when I held those two fingers in the air? Exactly! I look at Martine, put the car in reverse, and call out the window, “Any medical care needed?”

(By Christian van der Spek | Translation by Selma Rooseboom)

Lesbos – It’s a holy mountain, that Moria

It’s a holy mountain, that Moria. A mountain where temples were built during biblical times and whose waters reflected the magical beauty of the movie stars from the Lord of the Rings. But on Moria on Lesbos, not much of that can be found.

Yes it is a mountain, but that’s where the comparison ends. Children play amongst the trash. Tents and other makeshift shelters are built all over the place. It smells everywhere and it is uncomfortably hot. Even before entering the camp we feel the urge to turn around and leave. This Moria has nothing magical. This is not Moria. This is Mordor, or hell.

A young man is wandering through the chaos, searching for something. He had gotten lost from his friends during the journey and is hoping to find them here at the camp. But he doesn’t know where to search. He joins us as we’re equally lost, horrified and astonished. There are people lying around everywhere: lots of Afghans, but also Pakistanis, Somalis, and Eritreans. Some of them have a dark, gauzy cloth hung up above them for a bit of shade, others lay unprotected under a tree. They tell us that theft is a huge problem, especially at night. When the scarce food supplies are handed out, fights almost always break out. All those nationalities together, how will this work peacefully?

Somewhere in a corner some boys have invented a game using the embers from extinguished fires. We walk along a ridge and slide down some loose gravel. A boy of maybe 8 years old shows us how he can turn a stick on his fingers. A mother retreats into her tent to breastfeed her baby. A group of children gets into an argument and some older boys try to calm things down. Another group runs past us and retreats into the toilets. When we go look in there, all sorts of insects and vermin can be seen. The air pungent and clearly unhealthy.

We walk up a steep concrete path. A bus from Doctors of the World comes down. It moves very slowly and carefully inches past the tents which have been set up on the concrete. Our young companion lets out a cry, “there are my friends!” And there they are, under a tree: a man, a woman, and two small children. They look very tidy, as if they don’t belong there, like they’re resting at a stop along their journey with their bags still on their backs.

We join them. How was your trip? Did you have a long walk or was there a bus to take you? Do you have a tent already? Where do you want to go? The young woman answers our questions in perfect English. We compliment her and her sons, who snuggle up closer to their mother. She puts her arm around them. “Do you have food?” we ask. The answer she gives stuns us, “the money is gone.”

This Mordor, this hell, is unforgiving. “The money is gone.” It means no tent, no food, no ticket to leave the island, no dreams, no life. “The money is gone” means “staying prisoner in this hell”. As she says it, she turns her head away and wipes at her eyes. Her sons clutch onto her. We want to help, but realize how much we stand out and are being watched by all these people who also have nothing. Giving something could be dangerous, even more so for them. We sit with them in silence for a while. Then René briefly pats her on her hand. It is against all cultural rules, but it felt right, as if it was the only thing we could offer in this situation. When we’re in the car I ask him, “Did you give her something?” He nods. I didn’t see it. I hope no one else did either…

(By Alfard Menninga | Translation by Selma Rooseboom)


Lesbos – Does my daughter have a future?

You’re four years old. And on your third escape attempt from Iraq, you finally made it to Lesbos with your mother. During the first attempt your boat sank. And the second time you were sent back by the coast guard. Now your home is a piece of cardboard under a tree in the camp Kara Tepe. Last night your mother kept you warm under her jacket. Your father? He ran away 6 months after you were born because he couldn’t accept the fact that you had a deformed hand. Now it’s just you and your mother.

Your mother cries while telling your story to two friendly men from the Netherlands. She is so worried. She has no idea where you will be sleeping tomorrow or if you will have food to eat. She heard that there are doctors in Germany that could operate on your hand. But she has little hope to ever arrive there travelling by herself.

She feels lonely and despondent.

Beaming, you pose for the picture…

(By Annerieke Berg | Translation by Selma Rooseboom)

(Photo’s by René Berg)