My Refugee Journey – 6th March 2016
OK, hoping this is as detailed as I just wrote, as the crappy laptop I’m using that really needs replacing decided to shut down and reboot and didn’t auto save my work that I was just working on, my whole blog for today lost!
OK, I so don’t want to miss out anything I have just written before it was all lost… So first off, Nicolle Hodges from Canada, she came to volunteer at Kara Tepe Refugee Camp for a couple of days before she had to leave back to Canada. Nicolle had already been volunteering at the main camp, Moria, where she had started up an art programme for the kids and coming to Kara Tepe, she brought with her a load of art supplies to offer the same at our camp. Nicole was accompanied by her father who had come out to see for himself firsthand the refugee crisis himself and to see what his daughter was doing. Together they started up something that has been not only welcomed and loved by the kids, but all the NGOs on camp too, with great words said about how great the art programme is and how happy the kids are painting and drawing.
Nicolle and her dad came up for their last time today for bring a load more art supplies and join the kids painting one last time before they head back to Canada. I only got to meet with Nicolle for a very short time but hope to stay in contact with her as what she did here was amazing and something I hope to continue at Kara Tepe from my own fund raising.
I don’t think I’ve actually in any detail explained, how the whole system works with the refugee camps in Lesvos and how Kara Tepe came about and how its different to a normal refugee camp.
Refugees arrive to the island one of two ways, either they get picked up by the coast guard and brought to the Mytilini Port where they are picked up in UNHCR coaches and transported to the main refugee camp called Moria where they are all registered and given papers to travel through Greece to Macedonia, or they make it all the way to the shores of Lesvos in their little boats that they pay for to the smugglers in Turkey. When they hit the shores of Lesvos, there are many organisations there to help them ashore and provide blankets etc while they wait for an UNHCR coach to pick them up and take them to Moria.
Once at Moria, all the refugees are processed and given papers to continue their journey through Greece to Macedonia. Those that are Syrian and together as a family are usually brought to our camp Kara Tepe where they will stay till they get a place on a ferry to Athens. If they are single male Syrians or Iraqi, then they stay in Moria again till they get a place on a ferry to Athens. Anyone else the journey has ended for them… Afghan refugees are allowed to get on the ferry to Athens and head towards Macedonia, but at the best of times Macedonia only ever let a few Syrians through and the odd Iraqi through their boarder each day and often close it to everyone. Afghan refugees as I write this and have been for some time stopped from crossing through into Macedonia.
For everyone else not Syrian, Iraqi or Afghan, their journey has ended! They will be detained and are able to apply for asylum, but the reality is that as soon as they start asylum applications they are automatically processed for deportation.
For those that get to come to Kara Tepe, I feel they have the best treatment here on the island of Lesvos while they are waiting for their ferry to Athens, Kara Tepe is run by the local Greek Municipal and its Mayor. Basically like our local councils back home in the UK. The Mayor was actually very instrumental in the setting up of Kara Tepe, even though in its early days was not looked upon with delight from many corners from the locals to the wider picture of Greek government. But the Mayor has been from the beginning a supporter of the refugees and has really changed opinion of people to support the refugees and welcome them.
The camp is run by Stavros, a man I’ve got to know a little and someone Id love to get to know a lot more… His compassion for the refugees is very genuine and you can really tell he loves what he is doing and has really made Kara Tepe a very welcoming place for the refugees with the help of a number of NGOs and volunteers.
When you chat to Stavros about the refugees, you will quickly find he doesn’t like the word refugee and uses words like guests and visitors to describe the refugees arriving at Kara Tepe, the camp itself which started out as just tents, now has semi permanent huts for each family to take shelter in during their stay at the camp provided by and built by IKEA. The camp has been built to resemble a small village that can house about 1500 people and has a large marquee tent that can hold at a push I guess another 500.
There is a small community square in the middle, where we serve the tea which has been called Kara Tepe Square, and where we now also do the art, painting and drawing with the kids. There is also a small area where the kids can kick a football about and there is a slide, roundabout and swing… Dotted around the camp there are many park benches to again just give that welcoming feeling.
As for the rest of my day, I served plenty of tea as usual, around 350 cups of tea in less than 30mins during the day and then brewing up another load of tea that takes about 1hr, and of course spending a couple of hours painting and drawing with the kids.
Then finally at 10pm we all pack up and leave for the day… I tend to head for ‘Damas’ the bar/restaurant most of us hang out when not on duty, where I tend to meet up with other volunteers from other groups and organisations and catch up on the local gossip. And I get to chat on Skype or Twitter for a couple of hours before I head back to the house for a good nights sleep.