Sunday, 28 August 2016

Helping Refugees on Lesvos

Rebecca Harman came to the Stockport June meeting to talk about helping refugees in Lesvos. She chatted to us informally while letting pictures of her time on Lesvos play on the screen.  She and a group of friends were moved by the picture of the dead toddler washed up on the beach that was widely reported in late 2015.  They started to collect clothes and equipment and to raise money.  They held a ceilidh and an art auction among other things.

Rebecca got the chance to actually go out to help when she found herself between jobs, with a supportive husband who could provide childcare.  She encountered understanding staff at the airport who found a way to not charge for excess luggage - despite the huge bags of goods she had.

There was a well-organised United Nations camp based in an old barracks.  It was run very strictly (and unsympathetically) by local police, and would only admit Syrians.  Surrounding the perimeter of the barracks was an informal camp for everyone else - sometimes called Afghan Hill.  This wasn't being organised and run by anyone!  This is where Rebecca was helping.

Boats arrived at night, and bedraggled people would arrive at the camp where the volunteers would do their best to provide food and clothing.  Much of the clothing was too big.  Those of us in the affluent West obviously measure our affluence by our waistline.  In general people would only stay a few days; they underwent some rudimentary processing and were then given permission to travel on when they would get the ferry.

Since she was there the situation has changed.  Migrants are now being shipped back to Turkey in a rather controversial EU/Turkey deal.  If we want to help now we need to look at camps in Turkey.  Her advice was that it is generally better to send money than goods as many things are much cheaper locally - for example nappies and socks.  It doesn't make sense to buy these in the UK and ship them out.  Sleeping bags is one of the main exceptions.

We had a long question and answer session and explored the range of motivations for people arriving in Europe, and whether the perceived open German border was acting as a pull-factor for people.

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