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26th December 2015 – 6th January 2016
Two weeks after my first deployment, Stefan and I, Sarah, departed for our next assignment. Together with a car full of clothes, we made our way to Athens, we took the ferry to the island of Chios. The situation was similar to that on Lesbos, but there were fewer refugees overall and consequently less volunteers.
As we arrived in the early morning, we checked into a hotel before investigating the refugee camp. Refugees coming to Chios were first registered by local police at a camp called Tabakika. People were not allowed spend the night inside the camp. It was near the end of December, and the temperatures were low. Clothing was only distributed to people who were most in need, first and foremost to people who were missing clothing items or whose clothes were wet. Members of the Red Cross, one doctor and 3 nurses, were also assisting voluntarily.
Thanks to his medical training, Stefan immediately joined the Red Cross team and was able to help daily with medical care. His range of activities was very broad, ranging from cleaning medical equipment, admission interviews to administering care. For the admission interviews, he learned the most common and important phrases in Arabic and Farsi. He recounted of pregnant women and babies with chafed loins due to the lack of diapers. Many people were suffering colds because their clothing got wet during transit. Some of them didn’t even have shoes. A young man told him that he had to swim with his mom for four hours to survive. The aid station was only provisionally equipped and therefore not always up to hygienic standards, but the medical team was nevertheless able to do great work.
While Stefan was working with the medical team, I took to sorting and distributing clothes with other volunteers. I also took time and investigated the other camps in the area. There was the Soda camp, in which people who completed the registration where staying. Most of them stayed only few days and headed to Athens. The camp consisted of two large white tens, one for families and one for individuals. There also were two emergency camps, but they were only used when space in the other camps ran out. On the first evening, we attended a meeting of independent volunteers, in order to coordinate our efforts.
On Chios, new refugees were arriving almost daily, most of them during nighttime and in poorly maintained rubber boats. We therefore patrolled the coast day and night using a car filled with supplies, such as clothes, water and food. When a new boat arrived, we had to assess the situation quickly and act accordingly. Children were generally prioritized. Their wet clothes were replaced first, due to the risks of hypothermia. Adults received new socks and were given plastic bags to cover their feet. People whose legs were wet above the knee were also given new pants. After everybody was taken care of, a bus was called to bring the people to the registration camp. Together with a colleague, I was mostly responible for the night shifts.
The days on Chios demanded a high amount of flexibility. On some days, there were no new arrivals, on other days, over 2000 people arrived over the course of one night. While Stefan was working at the medical station, I was working in many different areas. Together with German volunteers, I bought a huge amount of food and we were preparing and distributing about 1000 sandwiches daily. In addition I was also working at our clothing distribution center. Unfortunately, we soon ran out of shoes for males, so some of them remained barefoot. I also ferried supplies from our storages to the beaches. I also spent a few days working at the emergency camp, which was located at the harbor. There, we supplied about 200 people with sleeping bags, ponchos, food and clothing. The camp was made up of one big white tent. On one day, the tent was so full of people that it was difficult to step over them. In general I spent most of my time there bringing fresh clothing to children, while also sorting through our storage.
While working on the coast, the cold turned out to be our biggest enemy. I often let women change their clothes in our car, or I turned up the A/C so women with babies could wait for the bus in the car. A local resident let children seek shelter in his hallway, but I was quickly filled up and cries of children could be heard through the whole building. One day, we received the message that a boat arrived but that there was nobody there to receive them. Stefan and I reacted immediately and started searching for the boat. Fortunately, they were able to get on land by themselves. But now, we had to take care of 60 wet people. Thankfully, there we always people there to translate, so were able to get the refugees on the buses very quickly. What stood out to me was that all people remained incredibly calm in such an extreme situation.
Also, a new team was formed on Chios, whose mission it was to cook and distribute soup. We assisted the team by towing their field kitchen with our car. In addition to food, our fundraising money was spent on medicine (600€), 300 pairs of socks, 200 blankets and two full tanks of fuel for our patrols.
We left Chios on January 6th and came home with a satisfying feeling. We were able to achieve much good in very little time. This assignment could not have gone better. After a long drive home, we arrived in Austria with plenty of new experiences and the urge to share them.