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