There is another reason why few refugees have arrived over the last 24-48 hours. This happened (beware, there are graphic photos). Thirty-four people died yesterday when their boat(s) capsized after leaving the Turkish coast on their way to Lesvos. I think this barely made headlines overseas. I believe this brings the number of deaths crossing to Greece this year up to 35, as a 2-year old boy drowned a few days ago.
I’m not certain why the boats stop after this. It could be that Turkey cracks down on letting them leave, the smugglers stop for fear of being caught during a sensitive time or that the refugees don’t want to go because of the dangers. Could be all three.
It’s sad, heartbreaking and anger inducing is what it is. All these emotions and more that politicians in Turkey and Europe can’t work something out where these people aren’t forced to cross the Aegean Sea in boats that have no business being on the water with life preservers that are often just that in name only, paying exorbitant amounts of money to smugglers who are little better than human traffickers. By the hundreds of thousands (!!!). The refugees are not welcome in Turkey nor are they welcome in Europe, and the policies of many countries make it more difficult rather than facilitate their presence. Human rights abuses pile up on their slow and (now very) cold migrant march. It’s shameful.
Is it that surprising though? Not really. I’m going to wager that both Europe and the US will have refugees leaving their homes in my lifetime. The Paris Climate Change conference was successful and all, but we’re already seeing the severe impacts of climate change in many parts of the world and this is not going to slow down anytime soon. And, the US already has an example of refugees with Hurricane Katrina. They were internally displaced persons (IDPs), so not even leaving the country, and look how that went. Let’s try to remember that this could happen to us one day.
Today was slow again in terms of refugees. I think only a few boats arrived last night and they were registered by the time I arrived at Tabakika this morning. Apparently, Frontex is back and working now. Welcome back!
I attempted to shoot a video of the whole registration process, kind of like a Tabakika tour, but my battery died 2/3 of the way through, so if there is another day when there is no one in Tabakika, I will try again. If not, I will post the video that I do have, as it gives you a little idea into how it all works.
I haven’t mentioned this up until now, but I’m finally feeling more or less healthy after 3+ weeks here. It’s really hard to stay healthy. If things are busy, you’re working a lot (in theory) and it’s hard to take breaks, because you just don’t want to or find it hard to escape. You don’t eat well, because there is no food for staff or volunteers in Tabakika. If you do take a break and make it down to A La Crème, the best you can do is coffee and a sandwich that, well, I don’t think I can even eat them anymore. Other than that, maybe some cookies or crackers that you find. When things were super busy and I’d maybe have a coffee and some cookies during a long shift, I would regularly eat two full dinners at night.
Then it’s just been really, really cold and you’re mostly outside. In the Tabakika main hall it’s a bit warmer than outside, but not by much. Most staff have some sort of something going on sickness-wise and then the refugees… Many, many are sick from their long journey and probably getting wet on the crossing and you’re interacting with them often.
The sanitary conditions are not ideal. I should actually carry hand sanitizer with me at all times. There are hand-washing stations, but you would need to escape often to go there and go back just a few minutes later. The best you can do is just try to remember to not touch your face with your hands until you’ve washed them or wear latex gloves.
All that being said, I’d been sick with a cough (what I’ve called “volunteer cough” or “camp cough”) almost my entire time here. It’s still lingering, but not what it used to be. Until now it just felt like that I was kind of permanently half-way sick and I couldn’t get rid of it (confirmed by Spanish doctor during our daily afternoon chats). My body also took a beating from the beginning, which didn’t help. I hadn’t been used to doing a full-time job that involved physical labor for some time. Moving 5 pallets full of bottled water by hand is not an insignificant amount of weight to carry. I’m lifting boxes full of clothes all day and am in general used as a mule when necessary around Tabakika. But, combine that with the long hours and just the general stress of the situation you’re working in and I would wake up some mornings feeling like I’d been run over by a bus.
I’ve been joking that if you want to go on a diet and get in shape, just come volunteer on Chios!
Today being slow I was back at trying to organize clothes distribution and storage at Tabakika and the overflow camps. Tabakika is basically done and with the overhaul of the last day or two, you could see what gaps there were in terms of needs. I have known for some time that there were three UNHCR containers near the Chios airport that had clothes in them, some sorted, some not. There remains a need to figure out how to smoothly get those clothes to Tabakika on a regular basis, already sorted, to create another level of redundancy in the clothes distribution system.
I worked it out with NRC and UNHCR to go with a UNHCR staff member to the airport to scope out what they had out there and then help with sorting the last half container that needed to be sorted. Talk about a goldmine. Boxes of the stuff that we are so very low on right now (men’s pants, shoes and jackets). Two UNCHR staff and I sorted through 80% of the remaining boxes and four other volunteers joined us to finish up. The UNHCR staff member was so happy about the work that on the drive back to Tabakika he was practically begging me to go tomorrow to empty out as much as I needed for Tabakika. He has no idea. Full-size van raid tomorrow.
One last point for today… The GoFundMe campaign has exceeded all expectations I had in terms of success and, because of this, I will be shutting it down as of 10:00 am EST tomorrow, 7 January. I want to ensure that I am able to spend all the funds that have been kindly donated. So, if you’d like to contribute before I end the campaign, please do so. Every little bit helps!!! I can say that seriously when I can buy a pair of thick socks for less than 80 cents US.
Photo: Main harbor of Chios