We are exploring options for future CTF teams so our first stop was at CESRT (Chios Eastern Shore Response Team) to meet with the founder Toula about possible collaborations. In addition to having a warehouse this NGO is in charge of meeting the boats that come over almost daily from Turkey. CTF had sent them baby Moses baskets a couple of months ago and we wanted to check in as well about the beds. Toula was not in as she was at the beach meeting a boat with her team, so we made arrangements to return in the afternoon.
When this crisis started it literally was all hands on deck for the first 6 months- anyone with a pulse was needed to collect, sort and distribute aid as over 1 million refugees landed in Greece and in most cases walked to Germany. Now fast forward 3 years and all NGO’s have minimum time commitments for their volunteers, require a signed Code of Conduct and rarely are any of the NGO’s allowed into the camps anymore. Instead they distribute aid, have classes and support the refugees from buildings within walking distance of the camps that have been rented and outfitted as necessary to fit the needs of the NGO. Today all volunteers working the beach need to be registered with the police.
Just before noon we met the manager of the Center and 3 of her interpreters at Vial Camp entrance to see the registration process for the newly arrived.
We saw some faces of people that were making appointments to return to the Iris Center for showers and more clothing (many people arrive with just the clothing on their backs-they can come to Iris Center every 2 weeks). Many more had just arrived to Chios and were scheduling visits for the first time. The scene looked hectic with Courtney bent over her computer inputting the information the translators were giving to her. Children ran around, siblings squabbled, babies were passed around. These are people on the cusp of a new beginning with ample time on their hands.
Currently when a boat is crossing from Turkey the Greek Coast Guard will let CERST know that they are coming which gives CERST the time to get their volunteers on the beach to meet the refugees. It is usually at night, and the vast majority of the refugees are not able to swim and know that most of the life jackets they purchased in Turkey are defective and most likely will expedite their drowning if they end up in the water. They are given warm clothes, blankets and a helping hand to a new life in the EU (hopefully!).
CERST is exclusively meeting the boats and currently have a team of 25 volunteers working between the beach landings and sorting aid in the warehouse. Toula said she could easily have double the volunteers.
We met an Afghan family yesterday. Mom, Dad and 3 sisters (15,12,5). They had 2 failed crossings (most people pay the smugglers $1000USD per person for a seat on a boat, boats are overloaded, crossings happen in the dark of the night. They only pay once and can have multiple tries crossing before they have to pay again. On their first attempt the boat did not sink buy broke down and they were able to make their way back to Turkey. On the 2nd attempt the boat capsized, the girls said they were so thankful that the Greek Coast Guard was there and able to see and collect them before they drowned.
This afternoon we were in the downtown area of Chios and ran into the volunteers from the Iris Center heading back to their respective apartments.
The kitties were in their carriers, the volunteer team works 6 days a week and were looking forward to having tomorrow (Sunday) off to rest and run errands.
We visited the Women’s Center run by Action from Switzerland. English classes, legal advice, art classes and even yoga are offered 6 days a week. A bus at the camp entrence picks up people who want to go to this Center by a big bus. There are also buses leaving 6 days a week to the school the older kids can attend. If they don’t take a bus the walk is 90 minutes to the city center.
Chios is a really not that small but we ran into a couple of people we’d met at the Iris Center this week. It really is a small world.