January 22nd, 2016


Refugees Entering Europe by Boat. My Week with Refugees & Volunteers

The worst humanitarian crisis of our time

First, a little bit about me. I'm a volunteer documenting my experience on Lesbos, Greece. Most of my video is raw footage. You might hear my voice in the background asking questions. Dr. Alison Thompson as well as others agreed to explain what is going on when they are in action. Everything is unscripted and some of the footage might be hard to hear or out of focus or even not perfectly shot when trying to document and not be in the way.

I arrive to the Island of Lesbos (Lesvos - no one knows the correct way to say it) Greece. It is late and you get the feel of arriving into a small airport, even more so when you exit the plane via stairs outside.

Dr. Alison Thompson was waiting for me along with the Third Wave Volunteer group (Maeve from Ireland, Julie from Costa Rica, and driver, Max.

We caravanned an hour through the hills to a small fishing village on the other side of the island called Skala Sikawnias. Thousands of Olive Trees and home to its own ouzo liquor brand. This Island is normally closed during this time of year but since the refugees and volunteers are in the area every shop is open. I was told being open in Winter was needed due to the poor summer tourist season. Most people (as I did) think the entire island is run with sick refugees who are freezing and starving. I found it to be very different. On the ride to Skala I rarely found any refugees on the streets. After arriving to the fishing village Skala I checked into my 'Kimpton boutique like' hotel with every accommodation you could imagine (Wi-Fi, hot water, comfy bed, TV, heater, fresh fluffy towels, and an orange tree outside my window). In this video Dr. Alison Thompson and a local fisherman are talking about the beauty of Greece and that it isn't all about Refugees. [https://youtu.be/YRzi_hrORQw ]

I woke to birds singing at my window, put on some warm clothes and ventured down to one of the three cafe's. Ordered fresh squeezed orange juice, omelet, and Latte. As I waited for the food I hear volunteers screaming 'A boat is here' and we all drop what we are doing and run at least 400 yards to where a boat of refugees arrive. I found that the Refugees getting off the boats from Turkey are people just like me who have fled their homes with modern clothing and cell phones and families with small children. I rushed into tears seeing the volunteers getting their feet wet and helping the refugees to shore. In this video you will see and hear the refugees landing in a 'good area' of Skala where there are many volunteers. Dr. Alison Thompson talks at the end of the video about what you are seeing. [https://youtu.be/sVSbjbHf7-M ]

After the boat comes in you see a few vans (1 or 2) able to drive Mothers, children, old people, and handicapped to the Stage 2 of their journey. Stage 2 take you to a smaller camp a few miles up the road. In this video I speak with a volunteer from Jerusalem who is driving one of the vans to stage 2. He also helped me translate asking one of the refugees how much he paid for each of his family to take the boat ride from Turkey. The Syrian Refugee said 1200 euro per person. [https://youtu.be/1tTMMkFzhZ0 ]

From the same boat I meet Baby Jude. A Syrian baby with pneumonia. Maeve the Third Wave volunteer nurse from Ireland has the dilemma where she has to abide to her countries rules and regulations and needs to wait for a doctor to arrive and examine the baby and prescribe. Luckily Dr. from Norway was close by. Also in this video volunteer Abraham talks to me about why he is here and shows the Light House camp that helps the refugees as they get off the boats. This is the only facility steps from the boats where they feed cloth and can also accommodate 300 people who come off the boats late at night. [https://youtu.be/FPbDBULhRzU ]

Another boat arrives and this one is different. It is full of mostly men (some children) and I felt it to be sketchy when a man got off the boat with a scarf covering his face. Maybe it was because the recent Paris attacks to add to my suspicion. Maeve felt the same way. In this video you will see a man covering his face and Maeve talks about her concerns. [https://youtu.be/wWK2I7rhcqs ]

After Maeve had been in Skala for a few days she changed her thoughts on the man and thinks he might have been cold. In this video I spoke with a Local and Dr. Alison Thompson about the man in a mask. [https://youtu.be/81FSBrYUTZQ ].

I ran into a former US Assemblywoman Sally Lieber and asked her who the refugees are and she talks about the surge of young men arriving on the boats. Sally said most of the young men are placed on the boats from family members to get them away from assimilating into ISIS. This is that video [https://youtu.be/Jz-zh4fCVGM ]

[photo http://1drv.ms/1KuFSv0 ] In this video volunteer Julie Santos from United States/Costa Rica describes the process of getting on a boat from Turkey and then she gives her reasons for being a volunteer when she is 5 months pregnant. [https://youtu.be/fLzrPGl3uUw ]

And then we go back to the cafe and have our lattes, fresh squeezed orange juice and delicious food. It was a weird feeling living in luxury as though we were on vacation then jumping up the help the refugees. I felt like I was a fireman on call waiting for the next fire while watching the beautiful waves. In this video you will find my view [https://youtu.be/TIBGk8YoScQ ]

As the days turned into nights and everything started to merge together as a really long day I kept documenting and volunteering non-stop. Sometimes the boats would stop for a 1/2 day and sometimes the boats would come in 10 at a time.

This video demonstrates a good day for the refugee boat arriving Skala. The Greek lifeguard tows the boat in, waves are low, volunteers are abundant, and no major health issues. Dr. from Norway recaps the status of the boat arriving. [https://youtu.be/vWlasPNO1EI ]

This video shows the view the refugees have when they land in the right place that is full of volunteers from Adventis Help, Light House, and Third Wave. Dr. Alison Thompson describes the scene. [https://youtu.be/zjjdCDaaWXs ]

You might be curious as to the quality of the boat. In this video Maeve looks at one the boats that has just arrived. [https://youtu.be/6rpaADHZUCY ]

In this video a local talks about how he is recycling the boats for livestock covers. [https://youtu.be/xjohCdHbhKE ]

So that is 1200 to 2000 euro to take the 1 1/2 hour voyage from Turkey. There are 60 to 80 people in each boat and 40-75 boats a day on average. You pay the money and funnel into the boat in Turkey. The lucky person in the back is named captain and gets to steer the motor. If you leave in the morning you have a great chance of arriving in the day light and can steer straight. If you leave or get lost and arrive at night you might not reach the correct area which is trouble. Might I add, Syrians are not water people. Most do not know how to swim and babies are not wearing life jackets.

In this video it is starting to get dark. Abraham the volunteer from Light House are waving an orange vest to get the attention of the refugee boat. It is another good voyage from Turkey, the boat got towed by Greek lifeguards, and many volunteers to help. [https://youtu.be/BBAiPPGa2Xo ]

Meet the silent heroes of Lesbos, Greece. The local Fishermen don't want to take any credit for saving refugees from the sea. The fishermen take time out of their livelihood of catching fish and spend it towing in refugee boats and guiding the way for many at night. In this video local Alison talks about the silent volunteer, the fishermen. [https://youtu.be/hL7jyZO6n_w ]

This is the scene local Alison was talking about. The boat was at sea lost in the dark for 10 hours. Fisherman directed the raft to the closest area away from the treacherous lighthouse beakon. The boat full of refugees landed on the tip of the outside of the marina wall in Skala. [photo http://1drv.ms/1ZRVsgp ] Fishermen whistle and again, the volunteers leave the dinner table and rush to help. This video is a little difficult to watch. lots of screaming, chaos, and a woman faints several times. My main job was to try and keep the rocky pitch black area lighted. Dr. Alison Thompson describes the scene and a woman is treated for exhaustion close to the end of the video. [https://youtu.be/-u30tLlmn-8 ]

The Lighthouse should be a beaken of light but it is a treacherous hike riddled with pirates. In this video Dr. Alison Thompson talks about the dangers of the Lighthouse for the Refugees on boats. [https://youtu.be/Be03PN8KTSY ]

In this video Dr. Alison Thompson is closer to the Lighthouse and explains more. [https://youtu.be/LgC2PpvzDpw ]

I began to realizing the refugees aren't all Syrian. You have Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and the list goes of countries on and on. I even came across a guy from the Dominican Republic.

Adventist Help volunteer, Dr. Michael-John Von Horsten is from South Africa is volunteering on the shore indefinitely. He runs the medical bus and is one of the most important places when helping refugees. In this video Dr. Michael-John Von Horsten talks about what he is doing and what he is seeing in Lesbos Greece. [https://youtu.be/yVqqarxmr44 ]

One of the constants for the refugees is they all arrive cold, wet, and broken in some way. Here is a video showing cold and wet [https://youtu.be/36w17B4qNIY ] Another video of refugees helped into the Adventis mini hospital with asthma. Dr. Alison Thompson is talking. [https://youtu.be/UyOQaWEABww ]

Mother consoling daughter as they landed in Lesbos Greece [https://youtu.be/-FeiRcei94w ]

Dr. Michael-John Von Horsten (Dr. Mike) from South Africa talks about women fainting and then a pregnant women is helped into the Adventis bus after being crushed on the boat. [https://youtu.be/y4aZzCBY0YE ]

Then Dr. Mike Helps a 14 year old boy with a gunshot wound in his face [https://youtu.be/x_Hpuq_3pkk ]

then a man came off the boat who was shot in the hand [https://youtu.be/SQQIohJYtC8 ]

another major injury and this man was stabbed in the arms [https://youtu.be/8F4ydYn31C0 ]

In this video Dr. Alison Thompson talks about the 4 young girls she treated who were raped in Turkey before they got on the boat and then showing another boat arrive with a woman passed out. [https://youtu.be/VtwkwwZyhfM ]

This video is showing volunteers swimming to bring the boat in and then organizing to bring the babies ashore. [https://youtu.be/f5EfDfb365Q ]

No matter which volunteer group you are from they all work together when it really counts. In this video Dr. Alison and Dr. Mike work together to make this child healthy and Happy [https://youtu.be/kvNeMvKPNkQ ]

You get the idea.. as a volunteer you don't know what you will see from boat to boat, day after day.

The island is perfect for star gazing but not for crossing the road from beach to refugee aid stations at night. Dr. Alison Thompson brought solar lights (she raised money for them, $15 each) to light the streets and to give to the refugees. [https://youtu.be/2KW2ZJRP9es ]

After lighting up the road I went back to one of the Skala cafes for dinner and notice a man sleeping in a chair. He was there every night sleeping in a chair as soon as the cafe closed (3am). His name is Aslam and his a Syrian Refugee and a volunteer. This is his video talking about his experience. [https://youtu.be/pJu0qbOP0cI ]

Then the G20 summit was happening in Turkey and there were no boats all night. The next morning a few more boats. In this video you will see Dr. Alison Thompson and a refugee from Syria talking about going to Germany for school. [https://youtu.be/0qsqgvHW6aM ]

This video is with a Syrian Refugee (He declined to show his face) talks about his journey and how his family is looking for a 'safe' country. [https://youtu.be/dh0l2YmoPXg ]

I headed to the treacherous lighthouse with Dr. Alison Thompson & the Third Wave volunteers and a local fisherman on his boat. Third Wave is dropping off supplies to help with any refugee stranded at night. In this video Dr. Alison Thompson shows the scene and then has a conversation with the local fisherman. The local fisherman said they try to steer the refugee boats where to go and he said the refugees just don't listen. He said the refugees just want to get on land. [https://youtu.be/b3A2ERKsA4c ]

More of their conversation talking about the life jackets [https://youtu.be/pHbENNd2k7I ]

Former Assemblywoman Sally Leiber also talks about the life jackets [https://youtu.be/kIWYnPEwl-s ]

This really is one of the questions, what to do with 1/2 million and growing live jackets on Lesbos Greece.

If only the lighthouse was really a beaken of light but right now on the island of Lesbos it is the danger of the refugee arriving by boat. [https://youtu.be/LgC2PpvzDpw ]

The volunteers are crucial. Santa Ho is a volunteer for Third Wave talks about her parents being refugees and how they managed with 10 children. [https://youtu.be/N_qeTIH9P7g ]

Then you have the GoDoctors helping the refugees & volunteers cope with acupuncture. They worked on me for 5 minutes putting needles in my ears. After feeling a bit weird and wondering why I was doing this when the hospital was for refugees I started to cry. GoDoctors said it was me being able to focus on my pain and let it out. I did feel better a few hours later. Still weird. [photo http://1drv.ms/1OLsXGI ]

Traveling to the Refugee Camp called Moiria (an hour away from Skala on the same Island of Lesbos) is a nightly routine for the Third Wave and Light House volunteers. Dr. Alison Thompson is giving the refugees solar lights [https://youtu.be/Rv3yOwG1Zco ]

The night I went with them Military got involved and closed off the entrance of the camp. We snuck in through a side entrance. In this video I follow Dr. Alison Thompson and speaking with refugees in the Moiria camp. [https://youtu.be/dgOz4gNpoJM ]

Then Dr. Alison speaks with a very articulate Pakistan Refugee. [https://youtu.be/BlVglLcd65o ]

When we get back to the Skala shore where the refugees land I notice a very clear presence of special forces type military receiving the boats and wondering around the small fishing village. I'm told they were there looking for the Jihad. [https://youtu.be/BVfgCNtIuXg ]

As quick as they came in the military were gone. Then a full day of no boats from Turkey. This gave me time to look around and see what the volunteers are doing.

Franny from the Human Rights Watch seems to be helping the refugees one by one. Finding important needs and solving it for them directly. She was in the Moiria Refugee Camp and found a mother with babies who needed formula and bottles. She got her the formula and the bottles right away. The next day she went back to the camp and asked the mother is everything was ok, the mother said that she couldn't feed her babies because there was not a nipple in the bottle. It took Franny all day to track down 2 bottles with nipples. This is her video explaining. [https://youtu.be/8ID0_4_fRY0 ]

Sally is an independent volunteer and former US Assemblywoman noticed a real need. The refugees getting off the boats are wet, they discard their clothes at the shore and hopefully are able to replace them with dry shoes, pants, coats from volunteers. The clothes at the shore were thrown away. Sally thought of the simple idea of gathering the clothing and taking them to commercial laundries and local homes to wash. The clothes then are sent back to the shore of Skala where the volunteers and offer familiar clothing. This is her video [https://youtu.be/IA-GLM0yeLk ]

Every evening the volunteers gather to make 1,000 sandwiches for the refugees. Here is the video [https://youtu.be/ydHl7JOQqCQ ]

Seeing a few other journalists in Skala. Usually, I will see photographers for a few hours then nothing. Sometimes I would see a film crew working on a documentary for a few hours. J Carstensen from PRI The world has been imbedded in Skala for 6 weeks and I asked her to give her take on what she is seeing on Lesbos Island. This is her video [https://youtu.be/sp21J9tqjxE ]

The next day and my last full day I notice a United Nations presence. The first time I've come into contact with them. Other independent volunteers say they are pushy and looking for photo ops. They try to force them out. The more organized volunteers bring groups together. In this video you will see the first organized meeting with the refugees getting off the boats. I haven't seen this before. Usually, it is come off the boat, change your clothes, eat, medical help, then either get a ride or walk to the next stage of being a refugee. The 10 person United Nations staff directed the refugees off the boats to change to dry clothing a the volunteer stations & of course eat, drink, medical. Then they got a bullhorn and started to have a meeting to let the refugees know what is going on. The UN also took Q&A. They even dispel the rumor of paying $50 euro extra to go straight to Germany at [3:37 in video]. [https://youtu.be/evuyHthy6NQ ]

As I dream of returning to Greece on vacation [https://youtu.be/TIBGk8YoScQ ]

I'm reminded by the conversation with Dr. Alison and the Local fisherman that Greece isn't all about refugees [ https://youtu.be/YRzi_hrORQw ]