1 year after the burning of Moria, there is hardly anymore attention for the people there. Asylum procedures have been accelerated – many refugees received a rejected asylum decision and are now on the Greek mainland or have disappeared. Due to the strict border controls of the coast guards and “illegal pushbacks” hardly any people arrive on Lesbos any longer. However, about 4000 people are still living in the new camp “Kara Tepe”, receiving general medical care from Medical Volunteers International. Amar Mardini, 31 years old, doctor, since the beginning of May with MVI on Lesvos reports about the current situation.

Please introduce yourself briefly. 

My name is Amar Mardini, I am 31 years old and a doctor by profession. I completed my medical studies in Marburg and have since worked at the University Hospital there in the Department of Cardiology, Angiology and Internal Intensive Care Medicine.

How long have you been on Lesvos?

I have been here on Lesvos since May this year.

What is your job on the ground?

I am a doctor responsible for primary health care of the refugees in the camp, Kara Tepe, and I have also recently become the second medical coordinator of the Medical Volunteers international (MVI) on site.

You have probably prepared yourself for your assignment and also read up on it.
What surprised you when you arrived?

Since this is my first mission as a medical volunteer, I made a conscious decision to go to a place in Europe. During my training, I was primarily instructed in emergency and intensive care medicine at a German hospital. I was aware that this “high-end medicine” probably differs significantly from what is available locally. MVI sends an information guideline to each new volunteer before arrival, which gives you a rough idea of what to expect on the island. Once on the ground, however, you quickly discover that the challenges can be very demanding. The simplest diagnostic examinations and therapies are difficult here. So, to my astonishment, I had to realize at the beginning that the guidelines of “Doctors without Borders”, which were designed for crisis areas in developing countries, are being used in a European country.  

What was your motivation to plan such a mission?

The issue of refugees, reasons for fleeing and migration has preoccupied me for several years. Then last year I read the book “The Shame of Europe: Of Refugees and Human Rights” by Jean Ziegler, Vice President of the Advisory Committee of the UN Human Rights Council. I was horrified by the circumstances described there on the Aegean island. People who fled hardship and misery and endured inhumane hardships during their journey found themselves, long before the fire in Moria, in an inhumane situation in the European Union. 

The increasing acceptance of this situation in Europe stunned me. It contradicted my image of the European Union as a humanitarian community committed to universal and inalienable human rights and admired by so many people around the world. I wanted to help change something so that this narrative of Europe would not be found in later history books only as a hypocritical narrative. But there were also personal reasons. My father is originally from Syria. He emigrated to Germany decades before the civil war broke out. Although I myself, having been born and raised in Germany, have little connection with my father’s country of origin except for some wonderful childhood and youth memories during school vacations, I have probably experienced through my father a deeper and more personal insight into the suffering that this despicable civil war has been inflicting on my father’s relatives and acquaintances and the people on the ground and on the run for a decade now. 

What does your “everyday life” look like here and how does it essentially differ from your work in Germany?

Whereas in my training at a German hospital all diagnostic and therapeutic options as well as interdisciplinary expertise were available at all times, here you have to go back to the basics of a medical examination and treatment. Anamnesis, physical examination and the simplest diagnostic tools are all that are available here.  It is quite a challenge at first to get back to these basic examination and treatment methods. Despite the younger patient population compared to Germany, we see many patients every day due to the adverse conditions in which people live here. Abdominal pain, back pain, headaches, and communicable diseases such as scabies are common. The camp makes people sick, and not just physically. Many of the refugees need psychological support due to their experiences in their home countries, their journey or in the camp. Stories of torture, violence or sexual abuse are not uncommon. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks and even psychogenic seizures are commonplace.

Despite this, as a volunteer it is also great to experience the international and interdisciplinary cooperation here. The stressful everyday life in a German emergency room is partly characterized by a dispute between the different departments. The tone between surgeons and internists can get very rough on some days. As MVI, we are responsible on site for primary health care and sometimes psychological care of the patients in the camp. We therefore have to work closely with all the medical players. Doctors and nurses from various countries of Europe, such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal and Greece, bring their diverse expertise to the international team. They work together hand in hand and always with an open ear for advice. It is enriching to see and discuss the partly different approaches of treatment. For me, it is a hopeful sign that the European community works and that we will find a solution together.   

Are there any situations in dealing with patients that you especially remember?

Yes, it´s been a situation quite at the beginning of the mission. A young man from Sierra Leone came to see a doctor with a headache. A typical case in the camp, it is hot, water is rationed and people are under permanent stress. Medically not a challenging case and therefore actually quite quick to treat. However, since we were well staffed at the time, I was able to take my time with the patient. I asked him how old he was and when he arrived on Lesvos. He was 19 years old, all by himself and had only been on the island for a few days. There were very few people from Sierra Leone in the camp. He spoke English, which made me happy because we therefore did not need a translator to communicate with each other. However, in the camp, he found it difficult to connect in some cases due to the poor or lack of English skills of the refugees from other countries. At that moment, I thought about how it must be for a man who had just grown up to have to live in a camp with almost 8,000 unknown people. I started my medical studies in Marburg at the age of 19, and at that time of day I was probably sitting in a lecture at university, hungover, or still in bed after a long night with fellow students and new friends. When I asked him if he was already in contact with an NGO for legal aid, he answered “no”. I then showed him a paper with contact details of the various legal aid organizations and advised him to seek legal help as soon as possible, preferably on the same day. The young man, who at first listened very quietly and skeptically to my questions, gradually began to become more talkative. The headache seemed to have disappeared almost without a tablet by the end of our conversation. He thanked me at the end of our conversation. Since the beginning of him fleeing from his home country, he had received little help from strangers, he told me as he left the room. He followed my advice and even before his first interview with the authorities, he found an organization that advises him on legal assistance. He continues to drop by the clinic from time to time to tell me the latest about his case. The chances for a positive decision are not bad. He has only needed painkillers for headaches once. 

How would you describe the current situation of refugees on the island? 

As a doctor, I cannot give a complete overview of the current situation of the refugees.  From a medical point of view, it is still a very precarious situation. Although they have arrived in Europe, it is not possible to treat them according to medical guidelines. They are second-class patients. In particular, due to the Covid 19 pandemic, we have few diagnostic tools at our disposal. The local hospital only allows emergency cases, patients wait several months for appointments with specialists. In some cases, even though the treating physician suspects a preventable cause of the disease and fears that by the time the specialists have clarified the situation, it will have deteriorated further or even become irreversible. However, to blame solely the Greek authorities is wrong. The health care system in Greece was already significantly strained before 2015 in the wake of the financial crisis. Caring for the thousands of refugees is not possible for a health system like this. International help is needed quickly on the ground with experts and specialists from the European community to change the situation of the refugees. 

How has this changed since you arrived?

When I started my mission on Lesvos, there were just under 8,000 people in the camp. In the meantime, there are significantly fewer. For the remaining refugees, the situation has become more and more hopeless. Most of them have already received one or two rejections of their asylum applications, some even four. People’s desperation has increased. After a large wave of rejections and threats of deportation from official government authorities, we saw a significant increase in suicide attempts, some cases of extended suicide by desperate parents with children. Only a few refugees still manage to cross the dangerous waterway from Turkey to Greece. Due to the illegal and inhumane push-back methods, which can be easily tracked on social media like Facebook thanks to organizations like “Aegean Boat Report”, even arriving on the island is no longer a guarantee for a fair asylum procedure. Men, women and children, although they arrived in the European Union, are put back on rubber boats off the Turkish coast.

What can people in Germany do to support?

After the fire in the old camp “Moria” on Lesvos, there was a great willingness to donate. The situation on the Aegean island may have changed somewhat since the fire, but people have not simply disappeared. Tens of thousands of people remain stranded in Greece, without legal means for food or medical care. For many, NGOs working in Greece are the only way to get the basic necessities of life. It shouldn’t take another major tragedy to remind people back home of the dramatic situation on the ground. 

What would you wish for? What should change here in Greece or in Europe?

First of all, the illegal and human rights violating push-back methods must end immediately. The problem of refugees and migration cannot be solved on a national level. The European Union must finally face up to its responsibilities. Throwing human rights, literally, overboard must not be the answer. The necessity to have so many non-governmental organizations within the European Union to maintain a minimum of human dignity is a disgrace for an international community like the European Union. Due to political pressure, it was possible to create a new border control organization in a very short time. It must therefore also be possible to create a European organization to maintain medical care at the borders of the Union. Financial support alone will not help countries like Spain, Italy or Greece to cope with the increasing human dramas taking place at our borders. It needs people with expertise on the ground. I am sure that numerous nurses and doctors would be willing to do this. They are already doing it voluntarily on their well-deserved vacations and with their saved money. 

What do you think requires more attention?

It´s the individual stories of people who had to leave their countries. Through framing words like refugee crisis, the fate of the individual often disappears in a threatening-looking force of nature. Through the work in the clinic in the camp, especially through the numerous conversations with the translators with whom we spend several hours in a room every day, the differences of the supposedly foreign quickly disappear and the many similarities become apparent. Young men and women who studied before they had to leave their homes or earned their living as nurses or craftsmen and were in the process of building a life for themselves have now not only been deprived of their homeland. They have become prisoners within Europe, often without hope. In front of their eyes, the Europe they long for is so close, but it remains out of reach for most of the refugees. And looking back, the image of the burning homeland unfolds, which, due to current events, has not escaped even the international press.  

Thanks very much, Amar, for the interview.

quaranteam

Corona has turned many things upside down, including the start of our volunteers on site. Until recently, volunteers had to quarantine in one of our accommodations before they could start working with the team. In our MVI – QUARANTEAM Edition, we introduce you to new arrivals who are or have been in quarantine due to Corona measures and want to know what and how they are keeping themselves busy. This will give you a personal impression of the great people we can count among our team.

In this interview you will learn more about Fabienne, who supports our team as a medical coordinator in Athens.

What gives you hope at the moment?  

Since I´ve been with the project in Athens as a volunteer a short time ago, I am very much looking forward to seeing the team again.

During my time as a volunteer, I had a good insight into the work of MVI. Even though I am aware that the general situation for people fleeing Europe is not going to improve anytime soon, I have seen how we as individuals help. Even if we are only doing a small service, it is important that someone is there for those people and that they have a place to go.

I am now very excited about what I will see and learn as a coordinator.

What has been your best experience with the MVI team so far? 

I have had at least one good experience with the MVI team every day. How should I pick out one experience? 😉

Who are your most important contacts on site?

Definitely Paula, the project coordinator here in Athens. She always has an open ear when you need it. But I have also grown very fond of our interpreters Saeed, Fereshteh and Abdulkader.

How has COVID-19 changed your view of our work?

COVID-19 has made the situation much more difficult for people on the move. This makes our work even more important. It is wonderful to see that despite the travel difficulties there are still so many motivated people who are willing to support this project.

What surprising thing did you/do you stock up on in quarantine (no toilet paper)?

My yoga mat. Since I’m not allowed to leave the flat, it’s important for me to be able to do at least some strength exercises or yoga.

What hobbies or passions are you/can you pursue at the moment?

I’m very busy with triage, but it’s also nice when I can really take time to read again.

What item accompanies you through quarantine?

My laptop.

What song are you currently listening to?

Behet Ghol Midam from Mohsen Yeganeh

What are you most looking forward to after this time?

Getting to know the team and seeing Paula again.

Corona has turned many things upside down, including the start of our volunteers on site. Currently, you (still) have to go into quarantine in one of our accommodations before things can really get started. In our MVI – QUARANTEAM Edition, we introduce you to new arrivals who are or have been in quarantine due to Corona measures and want to know what and how they are keeping themselves busy. This will give you a personal impression of the great people we can count among our team.

In this interview you will learn more about the psychologist Brigitte, who will support our Children Support Project on Lesbos – or is already doing so from her “home office” during the quarantine period. 

What gives you hope at the moment?

The experience that there are so many people here who are so committed and happy to help and give back their confidence and dignity to the people who have to live here under such terrible conditions. And that I am so lovingly accompanied and encouraged by so many great people. In one word: to encourage.

What has been your best experience with the MVI team so far?

I have not been with the team for long, but I have already had an amazing number of wonderful experiences. Among other things, the sympathetic help from Verena in Hamburg and from Carlotta, my psychologist colleague, who has been accompanying and instructing me so warmly for 3 weeks now via Zoom, Whats-App and now in person. The helpful preliminary consultations with Carlotta and another colleague via Zoom, as well as the support of colleagues who are also in quarantine.

How has COVID-19 changed your view of our work?  

The work here on the ground has probably gotten much more difficult by the pandemic. Especially for the people in the camp, the situation has definitely worsened due to the restrictions on leaving the camp and the difficult conditions. I find it all the more gratifying and hopeful that MVI and other NGOs are not letting themselves be defeated despite COVID-19 and are still trying with all their effort to help here on the ground; with all necessary caution. 

And personally, I realize that this week of “Easter retreat, as I call it (instead of quarantine or compulsory break ?), also helps me to arrive here, getting well connected with myself in order to prepare for the new challenges in a peaceful way.

In relation to our work here on site, we can even “be grateful” for the quarantine regulations: If we manage to “slow down our speed” a bit during the quarantine and we come to rest, recharge our batteries during this time, then it can only be helpful for our subsequent work here: Helpers with calmed nervous systems can presumably approach people who are under high stress and high tension at a more thoughtful pace and in a more healing or empathetic way. And we ourselves have more strength to cope with the situations we will encounter here.

Together, make three true “we” statements each. For example, “We are both in this room feeling…” or “We both feel that…”: 

So WE, my lemon tree and myself talk to each other a lot; (German, Upper Austrian, English, Greek I learn from him/her). We make the experience that he/she teaches me many things: he/she “nudges” me when I am not mindful enough and he/she teaches me deep gratitude. “We both agree that the Greek sun is good for us”. And to be honest, I think Lemon Tree is a SHE ?.

What surprising thing did you/do you stock up on in quarantine (no toilet paper)?  

With lemons. And that Austrian good fairies put something restorative in addition in front of my garden fence was a special surprise. And that the Easter bunny also stopped by and hid an Easter nest for me – filled with chocolate and Easter cookies from Austria and lots of little surprises. The Austrian Easter bunny seems to have an agreement with the Greek Easter bunny ?.

What hobbies or passions are you/can you pursue right now?

Dancing, singing, reading, meditating, knitting, sleeping, yoga, writing, learning English, being in touch with my family and friends, listening to music. And to prepare myself intensively with psychological topics (traumatized people, children, resilience).

What similarities or hobbies have you discovered?

My lemon tree and I are great fans of the sun. 

What problem would you like to solve next?

Turning my prepared Powerpoint presentations (for parent groups) into useful English work material. 

What item accompanies you through quarantine?

My notebook and a snare drum, a good luck charm on my keychain.

What song are you or are you currently listening to up and down?

“Absolute beginners” by David Bowie; we’re allowed to start over anytime, anywhere. “Gabriela’s Song,” which is about how everyone is strong and free. I want all the people who are being held here to get their dignity and your freedom back and there’s a hopeful future, in freedom. 

Or “Morning has broken” by good old Cat Stevens.

What are you most looking forward to after this time?

Getting to know all the colleagues in person and start working together.

Quaranteam Medical Volunteers

Corona has turned many things upside down, including the start of our volunteers on site. Currently, you (still) have to go into quarantine in one of our accommodations before things can really get started. In our MVI – QUARANTEAM Edition, we introduce you to new arrivals who are or have been in quarantine due to Corona measures and want to know what and how they are keeping themselves busy. This will give you a personal impression of the great people we can count among our team.

In this interview you will learn more about Carl, Paul and Thomas who will be supporting our team in Athens. Carl is on a special mission as a filmmaker  and will document the work of our team. Paul will support the medical team as a doctor and Thomas as a nurse.

What gives you hope at the moment?  

Carl The balcony in the flat is my window to the world. I know that in four days I’ll be allowed to go out and finally drink the orange juice in the kiosk across the street, I’ve been looking at it for three days now.

Paul Today’s court decision in Münster. This gave two asylum seekers the right to reapply for asylum status in Germany, even though it had already been approved in Greece. Like us, the court found the situation of the refugees in Greece to be inhumane. 

Thomas Knowing that people from different countries still come here to help other people for free because they believe it is important.

What has been your best experience with the MVI team so far? 

Carl It’s my first time with MVI, but just the fact that they allowed me to come along as a filmmaker shows their big heart. 

Paul Witnessing that MVI can solve many concerns of different patients despite all limitations and difficult conditions. 

Thomas Accompanying patients to the hospitals and helping them. I have forced myself to do something I never thought I was capable of. I step out of my comfort zone.

Who is your most important reference person on site?

Carl Paula via WhatsApp. But non-virtually: Paul and Thomas. Otherwise I would go crazy, I think. 

Paul Same answer as Carl.

Thomas Same answer as Paul and Carl.

How has COVID-19 changed your willingness to help?

Carl Didn’t change, probably increased. Now more than ever, the story needs to be told.  

Paul My desire to provide medical help was also great before the pandemic, but I still lacked the expertise.

Thomas It didn’t. And it’s probably more important now than ever.

What hobby or passion do you share?

Carl Drinking beer and talking about everything

Paul Workout in the small space between the bed and the wall. 

Thomas Cooking.

Make three true “we” statements together. For example, “We are both in this room and we feel…” or “We both feel that…”

Carl We want to help everyone who needs it. In whatever way we can. 

Paul We prefer to work with people rather than computers.

Thomas We all enjoy a nice glass of wine on the balcony.

What surprising thing did you/do you stock up on in quarantine (no toilet paper!)?

Carl Greek olives.

Paul Haribo.

Thomas Greek yoghurt.

What similarities or hobbies have you discovered?

Carl Everybody loves my camera.

Paul Cooking.

Thomas Love of teletriage.

What problem – either yours or a global one – would you like to solve?

Carl The annoying dog in the hallway that barks all night.

Paul Wait… is there a problem?

Thomas The heating problem in our flat.

What item accompanies you through quarantine?

Carl My camera.

Paul My music box.

Thomas My mobile phone.

What song are you or are you currently listening to up and down?

Carl Sirtaki / Zorba’s dance (Official Video) – Ansamblul Dionisos

Paul Udo Juergens – Greek wine

Thomas 1,2, Police

What are you most looking forward to after this time?

Carl Finally filming something other than the four walls of the flat.

Paul Going to Aryos Park

Thomas Walking through the city

Nasir

Please introduce yourself…

I’m Nasir Mahmoodzada, 26 years old and I am an interpreter for MVI in the mental health clinic. 

Where do you come from?

I come from Afghanistan. 

When did you come to Lesvos?

I arrived on 18th of August 2016. 

Are you here all by yourself?

Yes, I’m here by myself.

How did you experience your journey?

It was a terrible journey. A long journey with many difficulties and accidents along the way. I saw dead bodies on the way and I witnessed the Turkish police killing someone in front of my eyes.

What did you first think when you saw the situation here?

When I was sitting on the boat and we crossed the border, I imagined that life would be different from now on and that the situation would finally get better. Then I set foot in the camp and was completely surprised.  During the first week I spent my time looking for a place to sleep, as nothing was prepared or available for us. At night I had to find a place on the street and put my bag under my head to sleep. At that time, in 2016, you got an official paper from the police and then you were on your own in the camp, for example to find a place to sleep. Eurorelief was there at that time and their staff gave the people sleeping bags and tents, but as the demand was very high (as many people arrived every day) they were very busy and there was not enough space or equipment for everyone. After sleeping on the street for a week, I went to Eurorelief to complain and yelled to them to give me something to sleep in. Finally I got a tent. When it started to snow in winter, it got so freezing cold that at night we kept warm with vodka. After six months I finally got my identity card and could go to Mytilini. 

What was the first thing you did on Lesvos?

When I left the Moria camp after 6 months, I started working for “No Border Kitchen”.  I translated with them for the Afghans and Pakistanis. 

How has the situation here changed since you have been here?

When I arrived in 2016, the situation was different.

The local population and the people who worked in the refugee camps were friendly with refugees – not overly friendly, but still kind. Compared to the current situation in 2020, this has changed completely. I can assess this very well because I have spoken to the locals: They are exhausted by the situation and they even tend to hate refugees. So it is now a completely different situation. 

The situation in the camp itself has also changed a lot. In 2016, while I was living there, there were a maximum of 2,500 people in the Moria camp. In 2020 it was no longer a camp, but reached the size of a city, with about 20,000 people. But it was a terrible city. There was a lot of violence, fights and robberies. And it is the same in the new camp. I know people who have to sleep in their underwear with their mobile phones and wallets because of the nightly robberies. Even though there are more police now, the new camp is not safe enough.

And since the big fire on September 9th?

The first thing I noticed when I talked to the Greeks was that after the fire, the locals made it very clear that refugees brought the war to their country. The locals here have never seen this kind of violence in their country before, and the fire was shocking for them. Secondly, the living conditions for refugees have changed completely. We thought before that Moria was already bad, but the new camp is in a much worse condition.  It is right on the sea, and when it rains, the place is completely flooded. I spoke to a family in the camp after a heavy rain. The father told me that he had to get up during the rain and hold his two children in his arms until the rain stopped. He was afraid of flooding and that his children would drown if they were sitting on the ground. This is just one example amongst many. Some people also complain about the cold, as there is no heating or electricity.

What should change here?

The improvement of living conditions in the camp is the most important thing at the moment. If the Greek government does not provide us with enough food, NGOs help us to do so. The living conditions are still very difficult: it is cold, there is no electricity and other facilities. This must change.

Do you get to know how people outside Lesvos feel about this situation?

All the people I know, such as volunteers or people who are sensitive to the situation, have sympathy. But I cannot speak for others, because I only know certain people and I have not been to other places.

What should the attention of the people, the media, be focused on now?

The situation inside the camp. If you fly a drone over the camp, the view will seem ok. You need to film inside to see how bad the conditions are.

What is the most beautiful thing that happened to you here?

Friendship and the people I have met since I have been here.

How did you come into contact with Medical Volunteers International?

In Moria I asked to work as a translator for medical NGOs. Someone put me in touch with Micol, one of the coordinators of MVI, who interviewed me and then welcomed me into the team.

What do you think about their work?

The MVI are meeting a need in the community by supporting medical health. MVI offers people a level of attention that is truly appreciated by them.

What would you like to share with our readers?

If the readers are doctors and healthcare professionals, I would say that we still need specialists and good equipment. Most of the time we check patients and send them to specialists to do tests or other things that are easy to do. But people from the community cannot afford to go to a specialist. They cannot even leave the camp easily. So I would say tools that allow some diagnoses to be checked without a second hand in Mytilini.

Thanks for the interview!

MVI provides humanitarian aid. The NGO works at three locations in Greece with volunteers, doctors, nurses and translators to provide medical care for refugees. In particular, refugees who are staying there illegally and therefore have no access to health care are being supported by MVI. But how does the work actually unfold? What are the difficulties the volunteers face? And where exactly does the medical treatment take place? Kai Wittstock, team coordinator and founding member of “Medical Volunteers International” (MVI) has responded to these questions.:

Kai Wittstock (Founder and Volunteer Coordinator of Medical Volunteers

What help does MVI offer?

We provide medical care to refugees in Greece who have no access to the health system there. We are currently working in three exact locations: In Athens, Thessaloniki and Lesbos.

 

What exactly does “Medical Volunteers International” do at the different locations?

In Thessaloniki we have a so-called Car Park Clinic, where we drive with our ambulance and treat about 100-200 people a day. These are people who do not want to register in Greece. That means they are not able to go and visit a Greek doctor.

So a lot of people are there illegally?

Yes, and yet they still need medical attention. We simply provide humanitarian aid. But we also look after the Diavata Camp with the approval of the Greek Ministry of Health. It is a camp with about 2000 people. There we offer our medical treatment together with a Greek doctor in a container.

Recently we also opened our own clinic with two treatment rooms. An NGO from Switzerland provides the food. That’s how the cooperation works and our volunteers are excited about the process.

So what are these rooms you can use and who do you get them from?

In Athens, for example, we currently have 12 “clinics”, in squatted houses and squatted schools. We also provide doctors and nursing staff for other NGOs that have their own treatment facilities. Furthermore, we drive 2 times a week in camps in the surrounding area. For example, there is a camp in which about 2000 people have to live at the moment, mainly women and children. There we treat the refugees in a community center of an American lady, because we do not have direct access to the camp there. In addition, we drive to the south of Athens, which has 3 camps where there is no medical care from the Greek side.

 

Treatment rooms in occupied, empty houses?

Anyone who’s been to Greece knows that every tenth building is empty. Many people come via the Greek islands and also via Turkey, who then live in the city parks. And then activists take care of them and give them shelter in empty schools or in these empty buildings.

Often this happens with the tolerance of the Greek landlord or the Greek authorities. They know there’s no alternative! The problems of the Greeks should not be underestimated. An example: There is an occupied school in Athens that is inhabited by 200 people – and has been for two years.

It is hard to imagine that treatment can be carried out in apartments that have been “diverted from their intended purpose”?

We have cases where people have to have their toes removed because of frostbite. Of course, this is done in the hospital – however, there is no longer any follow-up treatment. This is where we come and take care of that. We also get apartments: Because if someone has just had hip surgery, he can’t climb to the 3rd floor in a squatted house.

These are all individual fates in which we have to decide on the spot, because of course it all costs money. It also happens that schooling is provided for refugee children, but only under the condition that all children are checked and given a health certificate after the examination. In this case, MVI took over, examined 200 children, carried out vaccinations and issued the vaccination passes.

That’s what distinguishes us: We are very flexible and extremely well connected in Greece. When help is needed, we’re there!Und das kann wahrscheinlich jeden Tag etwas anderes sein.

Sometimes trains arrive in Thessaloniki at three o’clock in the morning, in which 200 people are arriving via Turkey. They don’t have anything! Nothing. So our task is to go there and hand out clothes and food with partner organisations and supply the people with medication.

So the conditions in Greece do not allow any state supply?

Let me give you an example: In Athens itself, we stay in the centre of the city in a small house where we look after Greek homeless people. They have access to the health system, but have to pay for associations etc. themselves – and they simply cannot effort it.

Through donations, however, MVI is able to offer medicines and bandages. This applies to all our locations. To put it briefly: even with access to the healthcare system, many sick people cannot afford afford to go to the doctor!

The languages of the refugees are certainly a problem as well when it comes to medical care. Greek or English will be the least spoken languages I assume…

…sure. That’s why we have to work with translators. We currently have an Arabic, a Kurdish and a Farsi translator, because otherwise our doctors are unable to understand anything. In order to pay at least a pocket money for their work, we urgently require donations.

Why can’t the issue of illegal residence be resolved?

On the one hand, many do not want to register, as registration under the Dublin II Regulation would mean that they would no longer be able to “get ahead”. And the only hope for many of them is to get to Northern Europe.

On the other hand, there are many Afghanis, Pakistanis or North Africans who cannot be recognized by the government…

…this affects especially many fugitives in Lesbos at “Moria-Camp”…

…who have no status at all. This is indeed a particular matter on Lesbos which has to be resolved. The Greeks don’t know how to deal with it. They do not want to bring people to the mainland and expect to get solutions from the EU. There are really catastrophic conditions, as you can now also see in the German press.

What’s MVI doing there?

We provide humanitarian aid! We help those who have no access to medical support, who basically have nothing at all. No food and no clothes.

There we have 2 treatment rooms. The overload at Moria Camp is extreme! So medical helpers have about 2-3 minutes for a patient consultation or treatment. More complicated cases come to us and on those we work together with a Swiss NGO.

 

What’s the most important thing? Money donations, equipment or medication?

There are 800 patients a week, which means about 3000-3500 patients a month, so predominantly medication is very important. Moreover, we are the only ones who take care of chronical cases such as epilepsy – and that’s expensive.

We also need to keep the team on the move: We got an ambulance in Thessaloniki and a rental car on Lesbos. In Athens, we need cars to get to the camps. That means money for insurance, gas, reparation, etc. And as I mentioned before, we are also in great need for donation money in order to be able to provide the translators who accompany us several days a week.

And it would be fantastic if we could compensate our permanent coordinators on site and in Hamburg for their time-consuming work in the mid-term. Some of them work full time for the project and at the moment they have to collect money privately in order to be able to survive.

The main part of the work is done by the many volunteers. Can you briefly describe the work they do?

It’s an incredibly flexible way to work and the main concept of it is teamwork. It is not always easy, as you can imagine. But the volunteers also tell me again and again, that this experience proves to be important and enriching. Regarding the medical care and support, for many students, especially who study medicine, working alongside with doctors is an incredibly important aspect of their practical education.

 

We are completely international: A team usually consists of 8 people who come from different countries, so you also learn different treatment methods.

Perhaps the best description would be what an English doctor told me once when I asked her about her experiences: “Every day is a new challenge”.

That’s what it is.

The interview was conducted by Patrick Thielen on 20.03.2019