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