On one Sunday evening in Lesvos, dancing in a bar on a day off from volunteering in the Kitrinos Clinic, it was strange to think that in another bar just around the corner, a group of German neo-Nazis sat drinking, having just set fire to the wonderful refugee centre ‘One Happy Family’.
To burn this place, built and run by refugees, was an act of senseless, wicked cruelty. One Happy Family ran group sewing, yoga, computer skills, school and language skills. Women were safe, people could sit in a comfortable chair with something to eat – they served 900 lunches a day - and everyone there could feel like a person, not just a refugee.
The attacks on volunteers both last week and more recently have meant that safe working is difficult.
All the volunteer medical staff in Lesvos are now working the Kitrinos clinic shift. The night shift, run by Boat Refugee Foundation, has been cancelled, since travelling to the camp after dark is unsafe. In 10 days I only managed 4 days’ work due to clinic closure - frustrating for both myself and my wife Liz (who is also volunteering for Kitrinos), especially when there is such a need.
The lack of doctors on the ground is dangerous for the sick. We have seen cases of meningitis and on Friday, I saw a 4 month old baby looking like a prune who had suffered from bad diarrhea for 3 days. After the camp reopened, the clinic was inundated with an overwhelming number of cases, and the parents had to queue to see a doctor for 2 whole days. Our partners at MSF set up an IV for the baby.
We have not been able to work all weekend because of the neo-Nazis and their local helpers. Even if we do work, there are not enough facilities - it takes 6 weeks to get treatment for scabies as there are not sufficient showers and nowhere to wash clothes. Refugees get one bottle of good drinking water a day and have to queue to refill them at the small number of taps. There are now 120 people to each latrine. If Coronavirus reaches the camp, there is no way that it could be controlled.
Despite the terrible conditions, the refugees smile at us - they are gentle people. When the doctors were attacked last week, due to the fascist roadblocks they had to go back and sleep in Moria, and the camp residents looked after them and fetched food.
Over dinner, our Lesvos neighbour Katarina tells us that the islanders will help rebuild the burned out refugee centre and the school. Yesterday there was a ‘solidarity with refugees’ gathering of local people in the main square, and a bigger gathering is planned next week.
It is our last day volunteering with Kitrinos, and we have been back to Moria to say goodbye - which is always very hard - but we will return. Liz and I are now looking at our travel plans; we can go anywhere we want, but meanwhile, we know that the refugees we leave behind are trapped here in conditions that seem to grow worse by the day.