First phase of the project: September 2015 – March 2016
The refugee aid and solidarity project Volunteers for Lesvos, was created shortly after local refugee organizations were calling for more support on the island of Lesvos in September 2015. The initiative: Respect for Greece was able to use the expertise of individuals who have previously worked for the initiative and volunteered on Lesvos in the summer of 2015. The project, which supports 4-6 qualified volunteers to deliver refugee relief on the island, is led by Anja Schneider, who conducts most of her work for the project remotely, in Berlin, Germany. The coordination on ground in Lesvos is in the hands of a member of the team who is committed to stay for a longer period of time and who has previously worked with the project.
The work of the volunteers is determined by every new team and heavily depends on the current situation, which constantly changes, due to the unpredictable nature of the situation of the refugee crisis and its affect on Lesvos. Every team will analyze the situation and identify the immediate needs, also by consulting with other NGOs that are on ground.
The main principle of the work of our volunteers on Lesvos is that they treat the refugees, the locals and all other volunteers as well as members of their team, with the utmost respect at all times.
During November 2015 and March 2016, our participants provided initial aid assistance to the refugees who reached the shores of Lesvos. Most of the refugees suffered from hypothermia and were completely shaken due to their journey across the sea. Our team of volunteers ensured that the refugees received the most basic needs, such as food and clothing on a daily basis. It is important to note that 85.000 refugees arrived on Lesvos between January 2016 and until March 20, 2016.
The decision to stay on Lesvos
Our team remained on Lesvos – despite the new EU-Turkey deal that was reached on March 20, 2016, which decreased the arrival of boats – even though many aid organizations terminated their work on the island.
Our experience has shown that despite the new deal, Lesvos remains a critical hotspot, with thousands of refugees. Between two thousand and three thousand of those are detained in the often-criticized hotspot of Moria. Moria has become an overcrowded refugee camp that is highly understaffed. In addition, the food distribution system and the quality of the food served in the camp are questionable. The camp is short of translators and lawyers who are able to provide asylum counseling, and those professionals that are present are extremely overburdened. The refugees detained in Moria live in fear of deportation back to Turkey and due to increased desperation and hopelessness it often comes to violent disputes and conformations within the Moria refugee camp.
Aside from Moria, there are around one thousand refugees living in other camps. A large number of “vulnerable cases” have been moved into camps that provide better living conditions and are not as crowded as Moria. The most vulnerable are mostly those that are chronically ill, disabled, pregnant, or single mothers/fathers traveling with their children. In addition, there are also various separate accommodation spaces for unaccompanied minors on Lesvos.
Since independent volunteers are unable to enter the refugee camps on Lesvos, our team members are working in cooperation with NGOs who have access to the camps. This allows our volunteers to work inside the camps, where they are able to deliver aid to those most in need and make a difference where it is of utmost importance.
Looking back, it was the right decision for our initiative to stay on Lesvos, despite the new situation caused by the EU-Turkey deal in March 2016. We realized that our project is able to adapt quickly to new situations and meet rising demands in a flexible and reliable manner.
Since our initiative receives applications from many qualified volunteers that often bring different qualities to the team, our head of project constantly aims to create a team that is capable to adapt to new situations quickly and can respond to the needs of the island in in a comprehensive, but still flexible manner.
Second phase of the project: Current work
The work of our volunteers’ spans from daily aid assistance to professional support, which means the following:
- Shiftwork in the refugee camps, including evening and night shifts
- Arranging and distributing clothing for the refugees
- Distributing food for the refugees
- Teaching (English and German)
- Assisting with child activities and others
- A lot of our work also involves listening to refugees, giving them space to communicate.
- Translation (both in speaking and writing) for example at the doctors or at a lawyer’s office. Our team members that speak Arabic or Farsi mostly do this.
- Providing medial and psychological support to those sick or most in need. Our team members with a medical or psychological background can engage in this kind of work.
- Supporting lawyers working on asylum applications (any lawyers on our team will be able to do this). Our team is also looking for Greek lawyers, since a Greek lawyer must be involved in every legal step taken by the refugees.
- Working at the shores and looking for new boats. If boats arrive at the shores (this is rare at this time, as most boats are picked up by the coast guard/Frontex etc. before they reach the shore) there will be a need to provide basic assistance and first aid at the beach.
- Engaging in research and attending weekly meetings of the UNHCR as well as other NGOs. This includes documenting the meetings in written form, reporting back to the team on ground as well as our head of project Anja Schneider.
Conditions of Participation
Minimum stay: Staying for one to two weeks has not proven to be efficient, as everyone will need a couple of days to adjust and settle in both at the apartment and at work. Therefore, we are looking for volunteers that are able to stay for a minimum of four week or longer. There are exceptions for applicants who speak Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, or Greek and those who have our prioritized qualifications (Medics, (Greek) lawyers).
Housing: Our base is a simple apartment in Mytilini, the capital of Lesvos. The apartment consists of a large kitchen, one bathroom and 4-6 places to sleep. Depending on the size of the team the rooms will be shared between two people. The apartment is conveniently located, close to downtown Mytilini and walking distance to grocery stores and restaurants.
Financial assistance for flight and living expenses: The work of our volunteers is unpaid. However, if there is a need, the Project is able to assist with travel expenses (up to 300 Euro/round trip) as well as the living costs, which means that every volunteer receives 12 Euros per day. If a volunteer is able to fully support himself or herself financially, it is often the case that the project is therefore able to support someone else that is struggling financially.
Status of Planning
The situation on Lesvos is unpredictable and therefore we cannot foresee what will happen: Thus, there is a slight chance that the island prepares to host the refugees and integrates them, but it could also become the case that the refugees will be deported to the mainland of Greece, or that, if the Turkey deal fails, more boats will reach the shores of Lesvos once again.
The Initiative: Respect for Greece will be able to adapt quickly to any new situation and if necessary, the team is able to relocate, should the need of assistance on Lesvos diminish. At the same time, our team is ready to adapt to any changes on the island at any time. It is in our interest to continue our work in Greece for as long as there is a need of assistance. However, the prerequisite for all of what we do is the securing of donations that are essential for us to conduct our work and support our volunteers.
- Fluency in English
- Committed to working in a team and living among people from various backgrounds
- Preferred: knowledge of Farsi, Arabic, Urdu or Greek
If you are interested in working with Volunteers for Lesvos, send us an email with the following information:
- Tell us who you are and why you are interested in working with us
- Tell us about your background and qualifications that fit our project and work in Greece (medical, cultural, legal, pedagogical, journalistic)
- Let us know for how long you would be available to work with us (minimum time of stay is three weeks, exceptions apply)
- Please let us know your age, place of residence, education/occupation, phone number, and if you have a drivers license
- If you have a drivers license, make sure to bring it to Greece, you might need it for your registration as a volunteer
Persons to Contact: Anja Schneider, Herbert Nebel, Hilde Schramm