Musab Bora, working with Islamic Relief on the Greek island of Lesvos, charts the efforts of NGOs and local people to ease the hardship of refugees trying to reach safety in Europe.
We headed out today to Kara Tepe camp, which was opened by local authorities as a place for refugees to register and wait until ferries take them to mainland Greece. The local authority and minimal NGO presence here are overwhelmed by the scale of what is needed. The camp was designed for a few hundred people but now contains ten times that number.
Security is an issue for everyone. Local volunteers and activists have been amazing in their determination to help, but tensions between local people and camp residents are starting to build as the situation worsens. International NGOs regularly have to pull out of the camp due to security issues. Over the next few days, Islamic Relief plans to help improve conditions here.
A three day walk along steep mountain roads
We drove up from the camp to the north of the island, helping those we met along the way. We had basic food parcels and a few tents for the most vulnerable. There are sick, injured, older people and children walking to the camp because doing nothing is not an option. It takes an hour to make the trip in a car, along winding roads up steep mountains. On foot, it takes exhausted refugees three days.
There are more people walking along the road than there were yesterday. The number of new arrivals is severely straining local capacity, but people are still patient. Roadside restaurants had tables full of food for refugees. Volunteers told us they are picking people up and dropping them off at the registration camp.
Refugees need help to access services
In the north of the island we met with some other NGOs who are planning work there. An Islamic Relief aid worker was working to help ensure medical aid was reaching the most vulnerable. He arranged help for a small girl whose foot had become infected, explaining local services to her parents. It is an example which underlines the importance of cultural mediation work – including supporting with translation services – on Lesvos. Mis-information and rumour is rife here, as refugees struggle to find the information they need to find temporary respite before they continue their journey to the mainland. Islamic Relief is helping to fill the gap by advising refugees and supporting them to access the services they need.
Some of the scenes and emotions I have experienced on Lesvos are especially haunting. The smell of sewage at the refugee camp, the sound of people running at the chance to get onto a ferry off the island; the sight of little girls resting by the roadside, exhausted and unaware they had a gruelling walk ahead if transport cannot be found.
We have been reading reports of refugees across Europe experiencing both hardship and generosity. It is heartening to see the compassion to which people have responded to the crisis, as it reaches the doorsteps of Europe on a staggering scale. Behind the massive numbers, every person here has a story to tell. Every life has value. And everyone must be part of the solution.
Islamic Relief is working in numerous European and Middle Eastern countries – including Greece, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Syria – to help, and with your support we can do even more.
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