Volunteer on Chios

Welcome to my website !

My name is Janne Hegna. I am a Norwegian. I am married and we have 4 grown-up children. I hold a master degree in economics and management, and a bachelor in teaching.

I travelled to the Greek Isand of Chios in the beginning av January 2016 – and I have stayed here since – to volunteer helping refugees fleeing from war and violence.

From February to mid-October 2016 I worked as the Chios Field Coordinator for the Norwegian NGO “A Drop in the Ocean”.

I am still on Chios working as a volunteer, now focusing most on vulnerable refugees, especially children and mothers, cooperating with various national and international NGOs as well as the local authorities.

On this blog I will share my experience working for the refugee cause in cooperation with Greek and international NGO volunteers as well as the local authorities.

This is a sticky post informing about the blog. The newest post follows under. Please share a link to the blog or a post you like to others that may help by volunteering in Greece or donating money to Drop in the Ocean and other organisations  working for refugees.

Teaching refugees to swim

In Souda camp we decided it was a great idea to take advantage of the beautiful Aegean Sea in our morning activities. Initially we just took children into the water. We divided the volunteers into groups based on swimming ability.

Some volunteers went with the children that were unable to swim, some with the less able swimmers and some with the able swimmers.

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Boys enjoying a good swim

On the first day we realised that adults were also keen to join us and so our “swimming club” grew.

We now have at least 20 swimmers every day but often more and so far we have taught 6 children, 1 man and 1 women to swim!

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Diving into the Aegean Sea

In addition to the swimmers in the sea, we have families who come and watch their children learn to swim and socialise on the beach. As well as the volunteer (Drop) swimming teachers, we have refugees who help to teach.

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Refreshing bath just outside the Souda Camp

Our hope is that this activity continues all summer because not only does it engage and bring people and families together, but after the trauma of arriving the beaches of Chios Island in a flimsy dinghy boat, it helps children and adults regain confidence in the water.

Text: Amelia “Ellie” Stead, Drop in the Ocean, Chios.
Photo: Eirik “Photo Guy” Solheim, Drop in the Ocean, Chios.

Don’t just think. Act!

Thinking about going to Chios volunteering for the Norwegian NGO “A Drop in the Ocean”? Stop thinking and start acting!

All the time I hear the phrase: “I have been thinking about volunteering for refugee work with Drop in Ocean on Chios (or one of the other places in Greece where we operate”. My answer is: “Stop thinking and start acting!”. Just thinking about it is not going to do any good for the refugees… Further, you are loosing the possibility of a most important experience that you will never forget or regret!

A refugee couple hoping for a better future
A refugee couple hoping for a better future

During my stay on Chios volunteering as the coordinator of the activities of the “Drops” on this Greek Island, I have never heard a single volunteer expressing that he or she regrets going to Chios. On the contrary, many keep coming back…

It is not uncommon that volunteers describe the stay on Chios as “a once-in a lifetime experience” or “a turning point”, and that the stay “changed them (in a positive way)” and “broadened their minds”.

So what do the volunteers do on Chios (as of late May 2016)…? After having breakfast, we go to the Souda Refugee Camp (in Chios Town). By the way, you will need a rental car (for your own or sharing with 1-2 fellow volunteers).

We start handing out breakfast to approximately 1000 people in the Souda camp at 8:30. The breakfast consists of bread (sandwich, croissant etc.) and a boiled egg or a fruit (orange, banana). We try to vary the breakfast a bit from day to day.

Drop in the Ocean volunteer is playing with children in the Dipithe Camp
Drop in the Ocean volunteer is playing with children in the Dipithe Camp

At 9:30 we start serving breakfast for approximately 500 people in the nearby Dipithe Refugee Camp. During and after the meal we socialise with the refugees and make note of any special needs (such as baby milk, diapers, hygienic products, strollers for babys, clothes, shoes etc.) and play with the children.

A young mother and her two daughters in the breakfast line in Souda camp
A young mother and her two daughters in the breakfast line in Souda camp

We buy the food for the breakfast at a baker’s in Karfas. Georgio brings all the food himself to the camps in his van. Georgio shows his support for the refugees (and our work) by giving Drop in the Ocean a large discount.

Serving breakfast in the two camps is the sole responsibility of the Drop in the Ocean volunteers. If we don’t show up with food each morning, most of these poor people will have nothing to eat for breakfast.

People's Street Kitchen in Chios Town preparing soup for the refugees
People’s Street Kitchen in Chios Town preparing soup for the refugees
Our warehouse (provided by Kostas) fully stocked, including 80 baby strollers
Our warehouse (provided by Kostas) fully stocked, including 80 baby strollers

After serving breakfast the Drop in the Ocean volunteers assist as needed at the two street/soup kitchens on Chios Island, People’s Kitchen and Basque’s Kitchen, in preparing and serving lunch and dinner in the Souda and Dipithe camps. We also spend time in our warehouse (kindly provided by Kostas), collecting various items for the refugees and keeping it tidy and fully stocked.

 

Where has Europe’s sense of decency gone?

I am frustrated about the refugee situation in Greece; especially with the backdrop of Europe (Greece and Italy) being the cradle of democracy. The situation peaked last Wednesday at Vial Hotspot Detention Center when we saw the EU flag next to the Greek flag at the entrance.

Welcome to Vial Detention Center on Chios, Greece
Welcome to Vial Detention Center on Chios, Greece

I have had such a great faith in Europe and Europe’s ability to promote peaceful human relations for all people on this little planet that we call the Earth. So what is the situation as of April 23rd 2016?

Vial hotspot detention center
Vial hotspot detention center

We have experienced that the European countries are closing their borders for people fleeing war and terror. We have experienced that the EU is forcing Greece to create hotspot detention camps to show that they can handle the refugee crisis and continue be part of EU.

The Antoniou class patrol boat of Greek Navy, P-287 HS Kelefstis Stamou
The Antoniou class patrol boat of Greek Navy, P-287 HS Kelefgtis Stamos in Chios harbor

Vial hotspot detention center is a prison where humans are imprisoned behind barbed wire fences. According to the UN 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights every human has a right to freedom and security (Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person). The people in Vial has neither liberty or personal security. They are imprisoned without a trial.

Is this treatment of fellow humans worthy of Europe? Can we just sit and watch this happening? No, of course, we cannot let this happen and do nothing.

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Drop in Ocean and People’s Street Kitchen volunteers are serving soup for hungry refugees in Vial

I’m so fortunate that I am the Chios coordinator of the Norwegian NGO Drop in the Ocean and get to be in the frontline of refugee work on the (Greek) Island. The “Drops” on Chios (and elsewhere in Greece) are working in the field where the refugees are (and not in offices). Depending on the present needs (which may change from day-to-day) the Drop in the Ocean volunteers (and other volunteers) are taking care of the refugees as they arrive on the beaches; wet, cold, scared and dehydrated and are feeding them in the camps during their stay.

In cooperation with two street/soup kitchens and other local and international volunteers, we feed about 2000 people on Chios at present, providing breakfast, lunch and dinner. As fewer boats have landed after the EU-Turkey deal was signed, most of our time is spent on the refugees/migrants already on the island.

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Buying orange juice for refugees
Happy refugee boy with orange juice
Happy refugee boy with orange juice and sandwich provided by the “Drops”
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Janne with happy refugee children

We also provide shoes, cloths, diapers, baby milk, baby food and a variety of sanitary products. These poor people have fled from all their belongings and arrive with not much more than the cloths they wear and perhaps a small amount of money and a smartphone to keep in contact with their family.

Our organization needs more volunteers and more donations to continue our work. I urge you to spend some of your time and some of your money on these poor people whose only crime was to be born in the wrong place at a wrong time in history. Let us show them that there still is some sense of decency and humanity in Europe!

An update on the situation on Chios

As the Chios coordinator for the NGO, Drop in the Ocean (Dråpen i Havet) I have been asked to give you an update on the situation for the refugees on this beautiful Greek Island.

Wild-growing red tulips on Chios
Wild-growing red tulips on Chios

The situation has changed a lot the last few days compared to that of previous months. Before, fragile inflatable boats with 50-80 refugees arrived constantly (except when the weather was too bad). We spotted the boats and were ready on the beaches when they arrived.

Inflatable single-use boat used by refugees the trip from Turkey to Chios, Greece
Inflatable single-use boat used by refugees the trip from Turkey to Chios, Greece

We helped the people to get safely from the boats and onto the beach. We helped the remove soaking wet cloths and gave them dry and warm cloths to put on instead. We served food and water and provided care and medical aid when needed.

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Newly arrived refugees on Chios

Afterwards, we arranged transportation to the camps. We visited the camps daily providing meals and cloths. We talked with the refugees and played with their children. We arranged transportation to the ferry to Athens and provided food and cloths for the long journey northbound in Europe.

Rental car stacked with breakfast for the refugees
Rental car stacked with breakfast for the refugees

March 21st the new EU agreement started working. This led to Greek authorities emptying the camps sending most of the refugees to Athens (and many further on to Idomeni). The ones that were left on Chios or have arrived afterwards are kept in the so-called hotspot camp, Vial, treated as prisoners. They receive insufficient food, water, cloths and other necessities.

On handing over the responsibility of running the camp to the First Reception personal, there was no overlap or effort to try to learn from the personal and organizations previously responsible. Watching the worsening conditions and being left out and not listened to, most of the large organizations left the scene as a protest, including UNHCR and NCR. On the last meeting with NRC (Flyktningehjelpen) a prominent representative told me with tears in the eyes that from this moment only Drop in the Ocean could provide proper care and hope for the refugees.

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Drop in the Ocean volunteers at Vial detention camp

We had to use all our negotiation skills to gain access to Vial after the takeover by Fist Reception and withdrawal by NCR and UNHCR. After almost three months working for the Drop in the Ocean I have got to know a lot of persons in important administrative positions in government, police and military, and these contact have been very useful for making it possible for our organization to regain access to the refugees and continue our important work. Further, we have a fantastic collaboration with People’s Kitchen (and coordinator Michael) and the Basque’s Kitchen (and coordinator Daniel) in preparing and distributing three daily meals for the refugees – at the moment approximately 1,200 people.

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Janne and Michael at People’s Street Kitchen preparing food for refugees

The camp in Vial consists of numerous containers furnished with 14 beds each. Some of the container building are packed with 24 people. There is no hot water. The sanitary facilities are extremely poor and the toilets look like a pigsty. Clearly the routines for cleaning these facilities are insufficient. We are prepared to help with this type of work, too, if we get the chance. After some problems these first few days after the takeover, it seems to me that we once again will be able to our work in Vial as we did previously in the other «open» camps (that are closed for the moment).

Vial detention camp
Vial detention camp

We will prepare and distribute food and drinks and provide cloths and shoes. We will meet the people in the camp and talk to them. We will provide toys for the children and play games with them. We have to Arabic speaking (translators) volunteers in our group making it possible to take care of special needs (such as baby milk, bras and shoes in correct size, toothbrushes etc.).

Drop in the Ocean and People's Street Kitchen are getting ready to serve dinner in Vial
Drop in the Ocean and People’s Street Kitchen are getting ready to serve dinner in Vial

I was in a meeting with UNHCR today and they told me that they expect that each refugee already in Vial, as well as the ones that continue to come, will spend a long time in the camp as the legal processes including family reunification in European countries (and deciding which refugee that are going to be deported to Turkey) are very time consuming.

Drop in the Ocean volunteer and refugee toddler on Chios
Drop in the Ocean volunteer and refugee toddler on Chios

Thus, in my opinion, our Drop in the Ocean organization will be needed on Chios more then ever !

Flyktninger – hvem har ansvaret?

Flyktningene kommer – det er i allefall helt sikkert… Men hvem har egentligt ansvaret? Og hva er å ha ansvaret… Politikken i Europa ser nå ut til å være: “Jeg er meg selv nærmest…”

Det synes som at lederene tenker: “Bare vi stenger grensene og lukker øynene, så eksisterer ikke flyktning problemet lenger.”  Men jeg spør meg selv: “Er dette løsningen?”

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Hellas tvinges til å stenge grensene og internere flyktningene

Historien viser oss at det til alle tider har vært mennesker som flykter fra sitt land. Nå er det sivile – i øyeblikket mest kvinner og barn – fra Syria, Afganistan, Iran og Irak som er i denne situasjonen.

Under annen verdenskrig var det mange i våre norske (og europeiske) familier som måtte flykte – og vi tok det som en selvfølge at de fikk hjelp der de flyktet til. Bør vi ikke kjenne vår historie, og forsøke å hjelpe mennesker som er på flukt fra et helvete de selv ikke har bestemt å være en del av…

EU har nylig bestemt at Hellas ikke får være en del av Schengen avtalen dersom de ikke “får orden på” flyktningekrisen. Men er det Hellas sitt anvar at fluktruten fra Afganistan, Syria, Iran og Irak i stor grad (tilfeldigvis basert på geografi) går gjennom Hellas – og at kyniske menneskesmuglere i Tyrkia sender mange av dem ut på en kostbar og potensiell dødelig reise til de greske strendene?

janne hegna
Janne Hegna er koordinator for Dråpen i havet og har vært på Chios siden 15 januar.

Hellas sin desperate løsning på eventuell utestenging fra Schengen, er nå å bygge såkalt HOT SPOT leirer for flyktningene. Dette betyr i realiteten at de greske myndighetene nå selv må ta hele ansvaret for flyktningene. Frem til nå har det på Chios vært frivillige organisasjonene, som Flyktninghjelpen, Røde kors, Dråpen i havet, lokale frivillige og andre frivillige, som har stått for førstelinjetjenesten. Det er fortsatt mange frivillige aktører som kan og ønsker å arbeide med flyktninger.

På de nye HOT SPOT stedene er det militæret og politiet som skal drive campene (på oppdrag fra myndighetene).

Myndighetene planlegger nå å ta hele ansvaret for flyktningene, men med knappe ressurser og med krav om omstilling på minimal tid – og i dragsuget forsvinner dessverre antagelig velfungerende registreringsentra (som Tabakika) og velfungerende flyktningleirer (som Souda). Istedet oprettes HOT SPOT leiren Vial, og tilsynelatende uten at det er testet at den faktisk vil kunne fungere som tenkt.

vial leir
Ny flyktningeleir ligner mer på konsentrasjonsleir.

De frivillige er i utgangspunktet utestengt, med det resultat at flyktningene ikke får neppe får tilstrekkelig mat – det er det jo frivillige som har sørget for til nå, både i Tabakika og Souda. De får neppe heller nødvendige klær – det er det også de frivillige som har organisert.

Jeg var nettopp på et møte med gresk militære, politi, diverse andre etater samt viseborgermesteren og forklarte  hvorfor det var et stort problem at Dråpen i havet ikke slipper inn i Vial. Heldigvis lot det seg gjøre med tilgang etter at vi var blitt enige om at alle Dråpen folkene måtte fylle ut skjema avgi kopi av pass. Vi får derfor inngang i Vial med egen ID.

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Syrer som slapp med skrekken etter klasebombe angrep.

I Souda og Tabakika fikk vi adgang fordi vi hadde Dråpen i havet vester, som viste at vi var medmennesker som brydde oss om andre mennesker i en svært vanskelig situasjon…

Europa synes i ferd med å utvikle seg til et langt mindre medmenneskelig og kaldere samfunn…

Vial ser ut som – og vil sannsynelig fungere mer som – et fengsel, og jeg tenker jeg har sett dette før i historiebøkene. Historien gjentar seg og vi er igjen på vei til å internere mennesker som i konsentrasjonsleire fra en tid ingen ønsker seg tilbake til…

Store porter og piggtråd stenger disse menneskene ute fra friheten – en frihetsberøvelse som i fengsel, men uten lov og dom. Kan dette være riktig? Jeg er dessverre sikker på at historien vil dømme oss – som vi har lest om i historietimene på skolen om andre regimer, vi ikke ønsker å identifisere oss med.

Jeg håper inderlig at politikere og alle vi i Europa, som stemmer på dem, kan finne en løsning for disse stakkars menneskene, som er mer verdig og medmenneskelig enn det vi nå er vitne til!

Ondskap satt i system

Flyktningene, som kommer fra Syria, Afganistan, Pakistan, Irak og Iran, må bruke menneske-smuglere for å komme seg til Chios.

Flyktningen forteller at de blir tilbudt en “all-inclusive pakke” som inkluderer reise til Hellas i en cruisebåt (som de får se bilde av), klær og mat på Chios – og gode innkvarterings forhold under veis videre til deres bestemmelses sted.

Dette tilbudet er vær avhengig og de betaler 500 euro hvis det er dårlig vær, 1000 euro hvis det er greit vær og mellom 1500 og 2000 euro hvis det er fint vær.

Disse stakkars menneskene som har reist fra alt de eide, betaler luksuspris for en svært ubehagelig, utrygg og potensielt dødelig overfart (i en skrøpelig gummibåt) – en tur som europeere kan gjøre helt trygt i en skikkelig båt for 10 euro. Alt det andre de er blitt lovet, får de ikke (dersom ikke frivillige trår til og hjelper).

Flyktningene blir meget overrasket og redde når de kommer til den udugelige gummibåten og får flytevester som ikke virker særlig sikre. Da blir de ofte truet med kniv og skytevåpen – så de må bare komme seg uti båten…

Hvis det er dårlig vær i Cesme og bølgene er høye inn mot land tar menneskesmuglerne dem i egne båter ut forbi bølgene og hiver dem i vannet slik at de må komme seg opp i gummibåten selv. Etter det har de en skrøpelig gummibåt og en liten motor – og lysene i Chios – å navigere etter (og dette er ikke sjøfolk – og mange kan ikke svømme).

Noen menneskesmuglere tauer gummibåtene inn til tyrkisk side igjen etter avgang for så å kreve betaling på nytt!

En natt og morgen det kom 15 båter, møtte Afsane (som snakker flytende arabisk, farsi/persisk og fem andre språk) og jeg en gutt som hadde blitt mishandlet av menneskesmuglerne. De hadde helt kokende vann over armene hans. Vi måtte få tak i lege fordi sårene var så store og stygge, så vi ringte Isabella i Spanish Lifeguards, men hun var blitt syk så da kontaktet vi WAHA (Women and Health Alliance International) som også har lege. Han ble forbundet og fikk smertestillende.

Den skadete gutten kom om morgenen i halv seks tiden. Da hadde vi vært på vakt siden kl 23 og allerede tatt imot 9 båter (med 60 mennesker pr båt). Vi fulgte ham inn i registrerings-campen, Tabakika, fordi bussen som frakter flyktningene til Tabakika hadde gått mens han ble behandlet av lege. Vi måtte hjelpe ham gjennom registreringen fordi han virket så sløv. Vi fikk ham gjennom alt det formelle og først i køen der hvor alle blir registrert offisielt.

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Gutt med brannskader påført av menneskesmuglere

Jeg møtte ham dagen etter i Tabakika og da var han heldigvis ved friskt mot. Dagen etter dro vi til Souda for å sjekke om han hadde det bra. Han hadde ikke fått nytt skift siden Tabakika, og Afsane som er helsearbeider, tenkte hun kunne skifte bandasje. Det viste seg dessverre at vi ikke hadde alt utstyret som skulle til for å skifte på sårene, så vi kontaktet lege i campen. Det var litt merkelig at gutten med skader ikke hadde fått noen informasjon om at det fantes lege på Souda – og på døren til legen stod det bare forkortelsen til organisasjonen WAHA.

Vi møtte også en kurdisk familie fra Irak bestående av besteforeldre og to voksne barnebarn. Foreldrene til de to jentene var blitt halshugd av Taliban. Familien håpet inderlig på en fremtid i Europa…

kurdisk familie
Kurdisk familie med besteforeldre og barnebarn. Barnas foreldre er drept av  Taliban.

Det finnes så mye kynisme og ondskap rundt disse sårbare menneskene på flukt. Afsane og jeg skulle følge noen flyktninger på ferden til Athen. Da oppdaget vi at billetten deres var på en ferge som hadde gått kl to om natten den dagen de skulle ta fergen. Disse menneskene kan ikke forskjell på pm og am og dette brukes kynisk av en araber, som er ansatt av fergeselskapet, slik at flyktningene som er så uheldig å ikke forstå, må kjøpe ny billett fordi fergen er gått… Afsane konfronterte denne såkalte tolken om dette og vi har kontaktet flyktninghjelpen og også fergeselskapet for å få slutt på dette.

At andre mennesker kan utnytte disse menneskene som er så sårbare, er uforståelig. Jeg tenker det er godt de møter “Dråpene” på deres vei som er medmennesker og bare vil dem vel.

Jeg er stolt av å være en Dråpe i havet!

NRK besøkte Chios og Dråpen i Havet

Kristin Solberg og NRK besøkte Chios og Dråpen i Havet.

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De frivillige fra den norske organisasjonen Dåpen i Havet setter seg i biler og kjører raskt på svingete kystveier i retning bålet.