On the other side

09. February 2018

A report on the situation of refugees on Chios.

At home in Flensburg, people like to laugh at Donald Trump and his plans to build a wall on the Mexican border and condemn this idea of foreclosure policy. But for the people here, that is easy to say as well, because after all, there ist the Mediterranean Sea, patrolling patrols on the Turkish and North African coast and borders, fences and now border guards, which prevent people from coming to us, apply for asylum and live a life of peace and security.

So we do not have a physical wall of concrete, but somehow we are in no way inferior to the whole. Despite all the obstacles, people are still regularly making their way to Europe, fleeing civil war, persecution and terror.

My time on Chios

During my vacation in Izmir (Turkey) on the Aegean coast this summer I visited the Greek island of Chios to get an overview of the situation of the local people and the work of the volunteer helpers there.

Already in the summer I was in Izmir for the first time. At this time alone over 100,000 Syrians have lived in the city. Just as Flensburg forms the gateway to Scandinavia, Izmir is for many people a bridge city to Europe, more precisely to the Greek islands. Chios is just off the Turkish coast and has about 60,000 inhabitants. There are currently 1,500 people living on the island with an escape background.

On Chios I met with Ismail. Ismail is 28 years old and comes from Spain. He quit his job a few months ago for his volunteer work there. He is one of currently 25 volunteers of the Chios Eastern Shore Response Team (CESRT) organization. The organization was launched in 2015 by the Greek Pothiti Kitromilidi, a single mother, when up to 50 dinghies with people arrived daily on the island. In August 2017 alone, over 600 people arrived on the island.

One of CESRT's main tasks is to assist people in the so-called landing. It supports people with clothing, blankets and food as well as psychosocial care. During the day Ismail showed me the other projects of the organization. In addition to a language center, a children's and family house as well as a creative house in which various activities and projects are offered, the volunteers also operate a clothing store.

Comparisons to our work

While Ismail told me about the situation on Chios and his work, I had to think again and again about the refugee aid here in Flensburg and draw comparisons. Except for the landing, our work is very similar, but the conditions under which it takes place are quite different.

To be honest, I was shocked by the circumstances and what has been reported to me, and I have once again recognized the value of an open and helpful society such as we have in Flensburg. While we feel we can call on the support of an entire region, the volunteers are largely on their own and the refugees are often confronted with hostility from the right. The volunteers on the island are not locals, but all of them who use their vacations or how Ismail quit their jobs to help out locally.

According to Ismail, this applies not only to CESRT but also to all other NGOs on the island. Alone during my short stay I met volunteers from Spain, Morocco, Australia, UK and USA. The helpers have to carry their own food and lodging during their stay and even cars are rented out of private money to provide the necessary mobility. The helpers on site are on their own and depend on donations, especially from abroad. Symbolic of this great initiative is the homemade kicker, which stands in the creative house.

Incredible helpfulness

The people living on the island accuse the lack of helpfulness, you can hardly, because each person only does as much as he can and wants. It is hardly surprising that many people on the island are having enough problems themselves due to the "Greek crisis" and the resulting consequences.

Help from the EU? False readings! In the Relocation Program adopted in 2015, which was to distribute 160,000 people from Greece and Italy to the remaining European countries by September 2017, the lack of solidarity between the other member states fails miserably.

Conflicts on the island

Especially in the last year there were protests from both sides on the island. Refugees protested against the conditions in the camps and against deportations. Locals protested in front of the camps against taking in refugees and for bringing people to the mainland.

Sad climax of the clashes were arson attacks on the refugee camp Souda in November 2016. I looked at the 'tent camp' 'during my stay, the living conditions of the people I found to be shocking – every third refugee on the island has now witnessed a suicide attempt.

Working with refugees is still enormously important

My visit to the island of Chios was emotional to me and above all revealing in terms of the work and situation of refugees. The commitment and work of volunteers from all over the world are impressive and absolutely exemplary in terms of humanity and charity.

It was important for me to record my experiences in a report and to inform about it, because even if the topic of flight or its presence in the media has steadily decreased in the last 2 years, the work on the topic is still incredibly great No matter if in Flensburg, Chios or any other place where people need help.

More information

If you would like to know more about the organization "Eastern Shore Response Team" or would like to support the team, you will find further information and contact information here. Especially in winter, volunteers are sought, because you expect more off-season with arriving boats.

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