I started writing this post from the departure lounge of Athens airport. It was a stunningly beautiful day, 20 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, gentle breeze and I was seeing my husband in a few hours, but my heart was heavy. Heavy because I’m leaving my most excellent colleagues and will miss them dearly, heavy because I loved every minute of working here and want to keep doing it, heavy because I don’t know what will happen to the wonderful people I’ve met and heavy because saying goodbye to someone who’s future is so uncertain is a deeply unsettling thing. What do you say? All the best…good luck… I hope things work out for you…Inshallah.
There are still 24 people in Souda camp split into 4 main families and I feel over the past couple of weeks I’ve become their family doctor. Every morning we’ve been spending the first couple of hours in the day in the clinic and those who want to see us in the camp can come for consultations. We’ve been averaging around 8 consultations a day meaning we’re pretty much seeing everyone in the camp every 3 days. Although its been strange to adjust to such slow days after the manic times a few weeks ago, its been really special to get to know some of our patients properly. They’ve been in such good humour, inviting me for coffee in their Ikea houses and showing me photos from their lives back home and making judgements about how many children I should have and when. One woman Rafah, has 4 children and is pregnant with the 5th. She told me that everyone she has met in Souda has been so kind to them and she loved us all dearly, then she hugged me tightly and said that I had entered her heart and would always be there. Saying goodbye to them yesterday was really difficult and I just wanted to scream with the injustice of it all.
|Iman, Rafah and her daughter Khadija|
|Samar and her 5 beautiful children (and Hamed)|
As the new team were doing most of the clinical work this week, I spent a couple of days catching up with some of the patients we had referred to hospital. One man is very unwell following a major abdominal surgery and Hamed and I visited him in hospital. He was so happy to see us but I saw a familiar look of fear in his eyes. As a doctor its something that you see often in your patients who are vulnerable and scared but I can’t imagine how it must feel to be so sick, so far from home and have no idea what will happen to your wife and your unborn child if you don’t make it. We stayed with them for half an hour and he held my hand tightly the entire time. When we left, they prayed for both Hamed and I to have long and happy lives, thanked us so deeply for everything we’d done for them and it took all my strength not to break down in front of them.
The new team also performed some consultations in a children’s home in the north of Chios, nestled deep in the mountains where 22 unaccompanied minors have been housed by the Greek state. The Ark of the World is a state run care home where there are another 30 Greek children who live their currently. The centre is beautiful and so peaceful but unfortunately the refugees have been completely separated from the Greek children. Apparently they are waiting relocation to a permanent centre in Athens where there is a plan for them to be integrated into the social system including schooling but at the moment these kids are stuck in limbo.
Every day the Greek children attend half a day of school and then have structured homework time in the afternoon plus extra activities organised by the centre staff. The refugees there are housed, clothed, fed and seem well looked after but there are no organised activities for them. They have literally nothing to do all day except for entertain themselves. They were all desperately bored when the new team went to do medical consultations they begged them to bring books and asked for a teacher so they could occupy their minds. They are all teenagers and mostly very bright and acutely aware of their education passing them by. The next day the 2 translators prepared an afternoon of language lessons for them and they said they had never experienced more attentive class. One thing I think about often is the generation of children wrapped up in this crisis. The Syrians haven’t been to school for 5 years but for the Afghans some have never been to school. They crave stimulation, new experiences and desperately need to be in school. They need for this to be over and for them to have the chance to be children and learn and flourish.
The weather got better this week and the sea between Chios and Turkey looked like a lake most days. As predicted more people came. Only one or 2 boats a day compared to 30 or 40 a day before the deal, but around 200 people arrived in the past week. Vial was built to have a capacity of 1200. Our latest estimates suggest there are over 1500 refugees contained inside and the situation there is getting more tense. As I was leaving yesterday, I had a strong feeling that things are going to implode soon.
I didn’t have to wait long for my feeling to be justified. I had news this morning that because Vial was too overcrowded they have placed some people into the Port camp without registering them and it is chaos. The MdM team are there to provide medical care but who knows what will happen now. The majority of NGOs that were providing food distribution and clothing have all left to help in Idomeni or Athens so for any new arrivals the situation is terribly precarious. Technically all of these people should be returned to Turkey but under international law all should have their claims for asylum individually assessed. There’s no infrastructure to do it and Greece is failing to meet the demand that grows every day with new arrivals. It seems that the number of new arrivals will continue to increase as the weather continues to improve and the Turkish coastguards fail in their task to keep their borders closed.
There are reports from amnesty international that Turkish border guards have shot dead 16 refugees trying to enter Turkey at the Syrian border. There is video evidence of Turkish coastguards trying to sink refugee boats as they attempt to cross. How can we be complicit in sending refugees back to Turkey claiming it’s a safe country when we hear stories like this? Let alone how badly managed the camps are and the fact that we’re depriving thousands of people of the prospect of a real future.
Its very hard to express just how bad the situation is right now and how much worse it’s going to get. The MdM team in Chios may be moved to another part of Greece where the situation is even worse than Chios. Many of the refugees that had accumulated in Athens and in Idomeni are being relocated to makeshift camps across the country where there is currently no infrastructure and definitely no healthcare. Given we have the mobile unit at our disposal we’re really equipped to respond rapidly in this evolving context. There’s just so much need and the state is failing to meet it on every level. As I said before it’s really not that difficult of a problem if there was political will as the numbers are still under 55,000 in Greece to date, but this new deal has created a complete shit storm.
I’m back in the UK, it’s great to be back with Bob and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone and spending some time decompressing. But I’m ready to go back out before I start GP training again in August and if MdM call for me, I’ll be on the next flight. Chios already feels far away for me having spent 6 weeks there so I understand that people in the UK find it hard to empathise or understand what’s happening. But it’s not far away. This is Europe. This is our problem. This is our responsibility. We have to pressure our governments to act in a humane way and find a workable solution. We have to speak out against the xenophobes and stop them dictating the current political landscape. We have to combat the fear that’s ripping through Europe and humanise the people that have lost everything and are seeking refuge here. We have to have difficult conversations down the pub and with our colleagues and families and fight the culture of fear. I’m trying not to be dramatic but this really is a pivotal moment in our history and we have to be unified to fight for those who need us to most.
|© Guillaume Pinon|