May 7 2015 – May 7 2016

1 year Boat Refugee Foundation!

How could that be reason for celebration, you might say? And justifiably so. To celebrate that you are in existence for a year, as an aid organisation, somehow feels a bit off. But then again, we can celebrate the help we were able to give this past year:

800 volunteers working, letting their hearts speak and rolling up their sleeves on Malta, Lesbos, Kos, Leros, Samos and in Athens and Idomeni. We were able to help tens of thousands of refugees with their first shelter, clothing, a place to sleep, food, drink, relaxation, medical care and personal attention. A warm welcome in the midst of all despair!

40 employees ensure that all teams in Greece are able to do their work well. That the planning is correct, the volunteers are being screened and prepared, that the supplies are all in order, the boats are able to head out, the teams are complete, that everybody does what it expected of him or her.

This way, we all contribute to the well-oiled machine which is now the Boat Refugee Foundation. From a small group of volunteers to a professional organisation with a firm foundation. Of that we are super proud!
Our annual report for 2015 is nearly finished. It was a hell of a job, it being a first time. We hope to put it online next week.

Thank you for your support this past year! Will you continue to follow us? Now that we will go full steam in 2016 to offer a helping hand to refugees?

Dutch Remembrance Day – When freedom costs you your life

Tonight we commemorate the victims of war. For the employees and volunteers of Boat Refugee Foundation that were or are active in Greece, this Remembrance Day will have an extra layer. The war came really close. The consequences of worldwide conflicts, in particular in the Middle East and Afghanistan, can be seen daily in our work. We also remember the many boat refugees that lost their lives at sea this year, or on their way to Europe.

We got this movie from Arianne Kattenberg. Last April she was on a medical mission via Doctors of the World, one of the alliance partners of the Boat Refugee Foundation. Together with this organisation we work in Camp Moria.
Arianne Kattenberg: “This film is about the dreams of refugees and their right to speak their minds. Now Europe decides their fate. Unfortunately this violates a great number of human rights and the situation is horrible, also on Lesbos. I want to send this message to the world so the more times this gets shared, the better. Together we must stand firm for this.”

Lesbos – Mytilini Hospital

For the beginning of this story we have to go back to October of last year. To the huge disaster that took place at that time. Dozens of refugees were killed in the sea at Lesbos. Our medical team was prepared and did what it could to save human lives. Several children were resuscitated and transported to the hospital in Mytilini. Having arrived there, while resuscitating, we unfortunately had to discover that the medical knowledge and equipment were lacking. This literally cost human lives.

Our medical co-ordinator at the time, Michel Abdel Malek, could not stomach this and started to look for sponsors for Boat Refugee Foundation, for new medical equipment to provide first aid in the hospital.

Last week the moment was there: over 10.000 euros worth of high tech equipment was presented to the hospital staff in Mytilini.

Doctors from the AMC in Amsterdam joined forces with Boat Refugee Foundation and provided training for the hospital staff. This way, the staff became familiar with the new equipment.

These were great days! Aid workers on Lesbos are now fully prepared to save even more lives (boat refugees ánd Greek).

Would you like to support our work?
Please donate to IBAN account number: NL97 RBRB 0918 9326 37 f.a.o. Stichting Bootvluchteling .
Or through the donation button at the top of this page.

Medical Mission – Medical team at work during riots

Eye witness account from Moria

Yesterday afternoon and last night, riots broke out in Camp Moria. Team manager Marko explains: “For several months now, the medical team of Boat Refugee Foundation provides nightly medical consultations in Moria. When we heard of the news about the riots, our new medical co-ordinator Jelmer Kooistra decided that it would be wise to go to Moria outside of our normal working schedule, to provide medical assistance.

Firstly, the camp was evacuated, which means that all relief workers had to leave the camp. For a long time, the police sealed off the camp hermetically, to get the situation under control. The riots were caused by two isolated incidents. Anger of the men in the camp about the treatment of a boy in the closed ‘unaccompanied minor’ area, and later on, a fight between Pakistani and Afghan boys in that same closed area.

After the seriousness of the situation within Camp Moria became apparent, we have been able to convince the authorities to allow us to go into the camp with our medical van. This after our doctors had already treated the first patients outside the camp. We were one of the first medical teams present and in the right place at the right time with our van. We have taken care of around twenty patients, most of them with fractures and head injuries.
Together we feel we can be proud of our medical team, and of our field team that came to support us later in the form of blankets, warm clothing, food and drink.

Any relief worker in Moria will be able to tell you that the events of yesterday did not occur overnight. If the situation does not change, it will not be the last time. There is a shortage of everything and the hopelessness of the refugee situation only makes this worse. We hope that Boat Refugee Foundation will be able to remain helping these people, who need our help so desperately.”

Without your help, our medical team would not have been able to provide this medical care. Thank you very much for all donations. You can donate through the button at the top of this page or to account number NL97 RBRB 0918 9326 37 f.a.o. Stichting Bootvluchteling.

Medical mission – Work conditions

Boat Refugee Foundation remains active in refugee camp Lesbos

Doctors without Borders is leaving refugee camp Moria on Lesbos, as the NOS reported today. UNHCR also limits its co-operation. For now, Boat Refugee Foundation will remain active on the medical post in the camp.
Moria has changed into a high securition detention center, a prison. We are horrified by this, but the fact that medical assistance is still needed has not been changed by this. We do not want to abandon the refugees at a time when they need us the most.

Our doctors are now working under police supervision. That constrains us and irks us and does not feel comfortable, but withdrawing from the camp would mean that the refugees will no longer receive medical attention. This would send a clear signal, but one of which the refugees would be the biggest victims.

For now we consider it our duty to provide medical care to people in need. Even if this means we have to work behind high prison fences. It is a complicated moral consideration. And we understand and respect the decisions of other organisations such as UNHCR and Doctors without Borders. We also decline to be part of an inhumane policy. At the same time, we want to put the needs of refugees above anything else.

Photo: Marjan van der Meer

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:


Door Michel Abdel Malek
Arts Stichting Bootvluchteling
Doctor boat Refugee Foundation