Hope you can join us.
For those of you who have kindly followed my volunteer work with refugees over past months, this is a chance to meet some of the people who helped make it happen:
Dr. Curt Rhodes, Founder and Executive Director of Questscope, who has worked with youth in the Middle East for over two decades.
Mr. Roy Moussalli, a Syrian national who heads Questscope partner operations in Syria. He will join us from Damascus via Skype.
Lunch generously sponsored by Neomonde. RSVP to email@example.com
Moon vine (which only blooms at night) blooming at the full moon.
Germans are not known for eating white, highly-processed bread. That said, this bread looks violent. I had a slice. It did not bite back.
Angela Merkel campaign poster in Berlin. The slogan is "Success for Germany". I made sure the walk signal in the foreground was on green for good luck.
This is the super right, neo-Nazi party placard. He looks like Mr. Rogers in his sweater vest and she looks like she works for a large accounting firm. Who would know?
In Berlin, Germany to participate in UN Principles of Responsible Investment Summit. Today happens to be a national Election Day. Angela Merkel must be feeling pretty comfortable because she doesn't have that many signs up in Berlin. You can see from picture that the referendum on Tegel Airport (whether to keep it open when new airport finished) is somewhat heated (small pasted on signs say "give me the sky back" "yes to Tegel
I went to Malta (island nation just south of Italy) to visit Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), one of the first non-profit, volunteer boat rescue operations in the Mediterranean. Operating since 2014, MOAS had evolved into a serious rescue outfit with a 23-person team on board, including professional sailors and medical, as well as aircraft that fly reconnaissance looking for refugee boats. They had saved 39,000 lives since 2014.
They called me a couple days before I arrived to say they were pulling the boat out of the Mediterranean and sending it to Southeast Asia to provide humanitarian aid to the Rohingya in Burma. (!)
The back story: non-profit boat rescue has been controversial because seen as aiding unwanted migrant flows to Europe (counter argument: refugees are coming no matter what so they can die at sea or you can rescue them). The Italian government has been providing cash to Libyan militias (there is no functioning national government, militias hold significant power) to stop migrants from leaving Libya. The straw that broke the camel's back: non-profit boat rescue outfits that found refugees that made it past the militias and out to sea, were fearful they would have to send refugees back to Libya, as opposed escorting them on to Italy. Given that Libya was not viewed as a safe place to return people to, humanitarian rescue groups believed this to be in conflict with their duty of rescue and protection of human rights.
Long story short, Europe is outsourcing border controls to increasingly authoritarian governments bordering on Europe - Libya, Turkey, etc. Not a pretty picture.
Had 18 hours in Athens. Went to the National Archaelogical Museum. Photo of sculpture of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty from the 2nd century AD.
If you have any plans to come to Greece, you should come to the island of Lesbos.
Lesbos was a focal point for the flood of refugees into the country back in 2015/16. Lesbos residents have been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for their empathy and assistance.
While the flow of refugees has now slowed to a few hundred a month and things are getting back to normal, the island is still recovering from the loss of about 75% of its tourism revenues during 2016 because people did not want to come when refugees were arriving in boats on the beach and living in the streets. In 2017, they are hoping to recover to 50% of pre-refugee crisis tourism levels.
Another reason to come to Lesbos is that it is beautiful and the food is great. The picture is of the old Ottoman town of Molyvos, with its castle on the hill. For lunch, I had ouzo (Greek licorice liquor) diluted with water, anchovies, spaghetti, Greek salad, and bread with a dip of olive oil, lemon and raw sea urchin.
One of the volunteer tasks here on the island of Lesbos is to go to the beach overlooking the few miles of water separating Greece and Turkey and watch for refugee boats during the night. The idea is to watch for any lights or movement on the water and then radio in to get landing assistance.
In order to spot a boat, one first has to orient oneself to the lights that are already there. The Turkish coast is fairly lit up -- blinking red lights of an oil refinery; orange-ish, yellow glow of lights lining a coastal road; and various other white/yellow lights emanating from villages, houses, etc.
To help discern between these lights and a possible boat, the other volunteer and myself are given binoculars and a night vision periscope. We have the assistance of a radio which scans all the stations and picks up static-y Greek conversations, but occasionally Greek-accented English comes through warning some boat they are on a collision course if they don't slow down or some sort of other fairly alarmist message. We also have a smart phone with What's App messaging shared between the various professional and volunteer organizations similarly monitoring the Greek coastline.
Around 1:45 am we see a What's App message saying there is a yacht off the south of the island. The other volunteer (a British university student) and I discuss and initially think it must be wealthy vacationers having engine trouble as opposed to a refugee boat since they had referenced a "yacht".
When a second message come through saying a call had emanated from the boat from a phone with an Iraqi number, we realized we had erred in our initial assessment and it is indeed some sort of refugee boat.
Soon after a voice recording from that call comes through in What's App. We play it in the dark sitting in our jeep on the beach and it is the voice of a very distressed man from the boat yelling in Arabic. In the background, one can hear women and men sounding similarly distressed in the background.
A British naval ship, the Valiant, moves out of port and we see its lights gliding south towards the distressed boat. Then we get another message that the Turkish coast guard has intercepted the boat still in Turkish waters, and the British boat glides back to port.
After around 4 am, we get no messages via various channels and around 5:30 am the rose blush of the rising sun starts appearing over Turkish coast. On this night, there are no boats landing on our part of the island. Our job is done for the night and we go get some sleep.
Healthcare for refugees in camps.
Pictured below are some of the doctors and translators who have volunteered their time here in Greece.
The doctors come from Spain, America, Egypt ... translators hail from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan (many Afghanis speak Farsi and this is the hardest language for which to recruit translators).
Refugee camps tend to have clinics which are available 24/7 staffed by volunteers. The clinics are the same metal trailers with windows that camp residents live in. Organizations providing staffing include ERCI - the Greek organization for which I'm volunteering- IsraAid, Doctors Without Borders, and others. Doctor to camp resident ratios can be 1:2,000. There are lines starting early in the morning in larger camps to get an appointment.
There basic medicines available in the clinic through donations and various programs. (One of our Dutch volunteers fundraised in Holland so she could bring 9 suitcases of medicine with her to the camp.) With so many people living in close proximity, illnesses like chicken pox can break out and spread. Fortunately, no major outbreaks of serious disease yet.
If someone contracts cancer or needed specialized, expensive medicine, that would be more of a challenge. Local hospitals provide some emergency services.
Mental health care is also a challenge. There are professionals consulting with the various non-profits operating in the camps to provide advice and best practices, but I have not witnessed psychiatrists on site in my experience here.
The Volunteers helping in Refugee Camps in Greece
Below is an assortment of the type people volunteering here.
"Arun" is an Indian student from India studying at the University of Michigan. He volunteered to translate at refugee camps in Greece because he loves Greek history and thought his language skills in Greek and Urdu would be helpful.
"Fritz" is a Dutch man who writes and produces theater productions. He has been to Greece four times. He said "it sounds trite, but when one looks back at the huge migration and human suffering and says 'what did I do?', he didn't want to be the one who says 'nothing'. After his first volunteer experience, he said he fell in love with the kids here and this has come back multiple times.
"Chantal" is an English college student who is in Greece volunteering along with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend and his family have lived in Greece, love the country and his father thought volunteering would help his son figure out what he wants to do when he graduates university. Chantal will start studying medicine in the fall.
"Naev" is a Kurdish Syrian who is now a Dutch citizen, having migrated some years ago. He speaks Kurdish, Arabic, English and Dutch. He translates for medical teams. He hopes to follow a career in human rights.
"Rania" is an Egyptian who lives in the U.S. And is a medical doctor. She has volunteered for 4 weeks in the camps.
"Kim" is a South Korean studying at university in the UK. She is interested generally in international politics and refugees. Her grandfather was a refugee from North Korea.
Principle of Protection: I am not posting any pictures of children or individuals from the refugee camp to honor their security and privacy. I posted pictures earlier this year from Jordan of children with permission using falsified names and no location. (Jordan has ~1 million refugees vs. the island of Lesbos thousands.) That said, I am sharing a sweet picture from one child that shows him floating with balloons into a sunny sky. The kids are all learning multiple languages. They now know basic English, some Greek, as well as their native languages of Kurdish, Arabic, Farsi and French. They go to school at the camp and want to be doctors, lawyers, etc. They are resilient and resourceful.