They’re still there. The refugees.
Now that the EU countries have more or less closed their borders, most refugees remain in Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey. Meanwhile, over 60,000 refugees are stuck in Greece: a country that is still enduring the consequences of economic crisis and financial strangulation. Most of these people arrived before the “deal” that was struck with Turkey in March 2015. Hundreds of people still arrive on Lesvos and the other islands of the North Aegean every week. On Lesvos, for instance, there are now over 5,000 people who are not allowed to leave the island. The vast majority fled from countries where war or other large-scale violence threatened their survival: Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Over one-third are children, many of them unaccompanied minors. Some of these children have not attended school for eighteen months now, or longer.
They’re still there. The volunteers.
Thousands of volunteers are still active in Greece: Greeks and foreigners work alongside one another. Repeated studies have shown that these small volunteer groups are far more effective than the major international aid agencies. See e.g. the following article:
A few examples from these thousands:
Trace Myers, who played a key role in Starfish in 2015, is still in Greece, where she works tirelessly in Thessaloniki, largely with Syrian families. She has founded the small organisation Filoxenia International, and is slowly succeeding in arranging proper housing for some of the most vulnerable families, who are often living in squalid conditions in camps.
Peggy Whitfield, who also worked with Starfish, is now in Athens, where she strives day and night to help the refugees there, especially the 2,000 who are living without resources in squats.
Lucas Burghardt, the young man who taught me how to make bus tickets in Starfish, founded the organisation SolidariTea, and worked with the refugees for a year. He bought a caravan and distributed tea and comfort. This organisation left Greece in August 2016.
Fred Morlet, who has worked tirelessly in his organisation Humanitarian Support Agency (HSA) to make Kara Tepe a livable camp, is still there. He is also trying to achieve something similar with Agios Andreas, a camp near Athens, but bureaucratic obstacles make it unclear if he can continue at this second camp. Laura Jansen is still on Lesvos, working with a group called MovementontheGround.
Maybe you could go and help too. In Thessaloniki, in Athens, on the islands, volunteers are always needed. You can really make a difference.
Here are a few links for people who are thinking of volunteering in Greece. Please bear in mind that you will need to finance your own travel, and usually also your own living expenses. You need to be able to speak good English. Other languages (Arabic, Farsi, Greek) are very useful.
There are other ways in which you can help.
First of all, by donating money.
- For instance to Filoxenia International:
Euro Account Filoxenia International, Josefstrasse 158, 8005 ZurichIBAN: CH60 0900 0000 9183 0912 4 BIC: POFICHBEXXX
- Or to the Humanitarian Support Agency:
Bank Name: BBVA Bank
Location: Palma de Mallorca, Spain
Account Name: Humanitarian Support Agency
IBAN: ES74 0182 4901 3102 0155 0306
- Or to the Hellenic Rescue Team, which recently won the Nansen Refugee Award:
Bank Account Hellenic Rescue Team
ΙΒΑΝ : GR20 0260 2570 0002 7010 0642 665
- Or to Movement on the Ground:
IBAN-rek.nr: NL86 RABO 0307 9928 10
t.a.v. Stichting Movement On The Ground
If you can’t go to Greece and you can’t donate money, you might want to consider volunteering with refugees who have settled in your own community.
The most important thing, perhaps, is to try to influence public opinion. Some may choose to exert political pressure, while others will simply disseminate knowledge within their own circle, and counter prejudice. My experiences with refugees and volunteers have made me more optimistic about humanity. But let’s translate our good will into actions, each person in his or her own way.
The net proceeds from A Month with Starfish are donated to one or more of the groups mentioned here.