Currently, we carry out two missions on Lesvos: the Psychosocial Support (PSS) mission and the Medical mission. An average PSS team exists of eight volunteers. For the Medical mission this comes to an average of twelve volunteers. We also welcome interpreters in our volunteer team, supporting both missions and we usually have one media volunteer present on Lesvos as well.
The PSS team and medical team are led by the PSS coordinator, the logistics & administrative coordinator and the medical coordinator.
Before you go to Lesvos, you should know that you will come across violent, inhuman conditions within the refugee camp. The situation in Moria is critical and unfortunately we cannot help everyone. This might be very frustrating and depressing for you, especially during the first few days. It is good to be prepared for this and to talk about it during your stay on Lesvos. The coordinators are always there for you to answer questions or help you process the first impressions.
Moria is the largest refugee camp on Lesvos, run by the police and the army. Moria is a reception and identification center, in other words a hotspot area. This means that all refugees who arrive on the island per boat are taken to Moria for registration and to apply for asylum. After registration, the most vulnerable refugees and their families, are brought to different camps or shelters. If you would like to know more about the asylum procedure, you can visit www.refugee.info/greece > Asylum in Greece.
The number of residents in the camp fluctuates around 20,000 people (February, 2020). Initially, the camp was built for 3000 residents to stay for only a short period of time. Since the EU-Turkey deal there are more people arriving on the island than leaving it. This has resulted in an overcrowded camp, which leads to improvised sleeping arrangements and hygiene problems caused by scarce sanity conditions.
Refugee camp Moria feels like a prison. The camp is divided into different sectors per nationality and there is an actual prison within the camp as well. It has limited facilities for the refugees. There are often fights or riots in the camp, most of the times caused by the bad status of the camp and the hopeless situation the refugees are in.
The PSS programs are run from our Community Center in Moria. Our PSS mission strives to empower people. This means that our programs are run by refugees as much as possible. For example, men and women who are teachers in their country of origin, are teaching in our schools. Multilingual refugees help with the translation of our workshops. The interior of our Community Center is made by carpenters from different countries. Boat Refugee Foundation facilitates, supports and guides the programs where needed. We do not offer one-on-one consults or psychotherapy.
The PSS team consists of teachers, social workers, psychologists and other relevant psychosocial professions. We offer a varied activity program. The first shift starts at 9 AM, the last shift ends around 10 PM. You have time to prepare your activities outside of your shifts. As volunteer you work on average 4-7 hours per day, 6 days a week.
A few days per week you will have meetings with the PSS team in the volunteer house (the so-called Red House). During these meetings the work schedule is discussed, the programs and activities are evaluated, you will talk about your experiences and you can ask questions. Also several trainings are given. Besides these meetings and trainings, you will have dinner together with the whole team every day. Finally, a meeting is held every other week on Tuesday with the full BRF team, followed by a team lunch.
1. Moria School of Hope
Part of the Community Center is Moria School of Hope. Here we provide classes for both children (6-10 years old) and adults.
The children go to class five mornings per week, learning English and math. The classes are given in their mother tongue (mostly Farsi and Arabic) and taught by teachers who reside in Moria. The PSS team supports these teachers by helping them prepare and organize their classes, offering supplies and recruiting new students or teachers. At the moment 80 children are registered in one of our classes.
Three times a week we offer English classes for adults. These classes are also given by teachers living in Moria. The PSS team supports them too with the organization and preparation of classes. We offer three different levels of English. The classes are mostly practical and focus on the use of English in daily life.
2. Social shift
Five days a week the social shift takes place in the camp. During this shift a small team volunteers walks through the camp. The main purpose is to have conversation with camp residents, but the shift includes multiple tasks. First, we lend an ear to the refugees, in case they feel the need to talk. The social shift is a good way to get to know the people in the camp and inform them when necessary about our programs. During the social shift we can also inform parents and their children how they can register for the School of Hope and hand out flyers when we start a new program.
3. Emotional well-being workshop
Several days a week there is an emotional well-being workshop, meant for men and women of 18 years and older. This workshop offers psycho education about several subjects concerning mental healthcare, as a lot of people living in Moria have to deal with this every day. Having trouble sleeping, stress, anxiety, coping mechanisms and suicidal thoughts are a few examples. We stimulate the exchange of experiences and advice. The workshop is given by someone of the PSS team, in cooperation with a translator.
4. Stress Relief Class
Several days a week, Boat Refugee Foundation organizes a Stress Relief class for men and women of 18 years and older. The Stress Relief class is a practical training in decreasing psychological and psychosomatic problems. For the training we use the basic technics of mindfulness and relaxation. The training is given by someone of the PSS team in cooperation with an interpreter.
There is a library in our Community Centre where we have English, French, Farsi and Arabic books for adults and children. The library is open on fixed hours during the week, for everyone who is interested. There are a few liberarian, all residents of Moria, who run the library, make an inventory and are responsible for the borrowing and returning books system.
The purpose of the medical mission is to improve the quality of life in Moria by increasing the accessibility of medical care and by making sure there are always doctors present in the camp. We do this by providing primary care and limited emergency care from a clinic in the camp during night shifts. The clinic is fully run by our volunteers and often supported by interpreters from the camp. For our work we keep close contact with the Greek government, other medical NGO’s and the local hospital.
1. Team composition
The medical team consists of doctors, nurses and support crew. The doctors and nurses usually have a background as general practitioner or in tropical medicine, emergency care, psychiatry or another clinical specialism. Their experiences vary from veterans with thirty years of experience to volunteers in their twenties, often still studying for a specialization. All these differences contribute to the strength of the team. Because no background is the perfect preparation for all the patients we see, it is a big plus that we can complement each other.
Next to the medical volunteers, the team usually has a support crew. The support crew consists of volunteers without a specific (medical) degree, but with a common background: standing their ground, strong social skills and the ability to organize. Their job is mostly crowd control and patient support outside the clinic.
2. Procedure and shifts
From our clinic in a cabin we offer medical care to refugees who are living in camp Moria. Our clinic is open 7 days a week from 4 PM to 11 PM. During the day, medical care is provided by a Greek government agency and other NGO’s.
All medical volunteers (including support crew) work 6 days a week, 8 hours a day (including a break). Outside these shifts you are off, but several things need to be done in and around the house and clinic, like supplying materials and the sterilization of equipment. There is a schedule of these tasks.
Twice a day we have a medical meeting in the volunteer house for all team members. During these meetings we discuss relevant casuistry, developments and there is time to ask questions. Furthermore, several trainings are given in for example psychological first aid and cultural awareness. Besides the meetings and trainings, you usually have dinner together. Every other week on Tuesday there is another meeting with the complete BRF team, followed by a team lunch.
3. Target group and psychiatry
The medical mission of Boat Refugee Foundation, focusses partly on primary care and limited emergency aid. We restrict ourselves to newly created problems or immediate worsening of chronical problems.
The problems that we see vary from flu-like symptoms to life threatening conditions, with a strong focus on psychological problems. Almost all refugees in Moria have fled because of war or prosecution and are often victims of (sexual) violence during their journey to Greece. This, in combination with the horrible living conditions in the camp, is causing PTSD symptoms and often panic attacks among many of the refugees. Our job is to provide psychological first aid, taking care of acute problems like panic attacks and to refer if possible. The latter is often, to our frustration, difficult because of a very restricted offer in psychological and psychiatric help.
To get you prepared as much as possible, you will receive medical protocols far in advance before you leave. We will ask you to study these protocols very well.