Day 3. When I woke up this morning, I found this beautiful flower on my doorstep. Actually, I opened the door and the hotel dog was standing on my doorstep. As the door swung open, she stepped back and I saw this flower. For a moment, I thought the dog had delivered it.
With all the confusion surrounding the EU-Turkey agreement and with the halt in arrivals, I am focusing on trying to gather as much information as I can about what is happening on the island and sharing it with other volunteers - past, present and future. There is a real lack of information and a great deal of uncertainty, but everyone is carrying on and doing their best to make sure that they are ready for whatever situation arises. The consenus is that the boats will keep coming. Right now, there are no boats arriving, but it is hard to say whether it is because of the new agreement or the very bad weather. Many volunteers are moving to the mainland where there is a very immediate need for assistance, but others are staying back to ensure that there are systems in place.
This morning, Julia and Isabella attending the Starfish Foundation orientation session, as they will be doing some shifts with Starfish over the next week. Starfish is still working at the IRC Camp with six people a day shifted in case any boats arrive. They are continuing their work in the warehouses - sorting donations and distributing clothing and other supplies to Moria and elsewhere. They are also working at the ferry port. Starfish volunteers are handing out food packages and clothing to refugees who are departing for the mainland.
After the orientation, we made our way down the coast road along Eftalou, past the empty IRC camp and through Skala. Things have certainly changed since I was here in November. The beaches are beautifully clean! No lifejackets. No boat debris. The volunteers have done an an amazing job. It is also somewhat eery. There are no tents or signs of life at Eftalou and Skala seemed deserted, although I was told there is a small team at Lighthouse. On the road, we met a lovely mom and daughter from the UK travelling in the other direction. I'm sorry I don't remember the mom's name but her daughter was Camilla.
We dropped by the Skala transit camp. This is where some refugees are taken before being transported to Moria. They are given food, dry clothing and medical care, if they need it. Again, the camp has really been developed since my last visit in November. Elton, the camp manager, gave us great tour of the camp. There is a kitchen hut, changing rooms, clothing huts, a children's area. Of course, it is all very clean and organized right now as they haven't had any people through for a while. At the Skala transit camp, we met another mother-daughter team from Switzerland. What a great thing for these moms and daughters to do!
After Skala, we headed over the mountains (driving on fumes!) in a desperate search for a gas station. Luckily we found one and made our way to Mytilini where we met a very dynamic dual-nation team who are making plans to assist with search and rescue efforts off the south coast. The Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI) is a Greek NGO which was founded by Panos Moraitis. Some of the funding for the project is coming from Frank Giustra of Vancouver, Canada and the group is teaming up with members of Vancouver Search and Rescue. Here we are with Frank Giustra and Scott Haig from Vancouver Search and Rescue.
From that meeting, we ran through the pouring rain to attend a presenation by three top asylum lawyers from the Netherlands and Germany about the implications of the EU-Turkey agreement. I will do a more detailed summary of the meeting but I can say that it was very heartening to know that such able lawyers are working very, very hard to make sure that the refugees receive the legal representation to which they are entitled.
The audience broke into applause when a Greek lawyer, Emmanuel Chatzichalkias, from Mytilini spoke up to express his support for the work the lawyers are doing and he even offered them space in his office as a headquarters. (Here he is with Julia.)
n brief, it sounds like the best bet for refugees who arrived after the March 19th deadline is for them to request asylum. They can withdraw their request, if they change their mind, but if they request asylum, it buys them time and they may have some options to try to join family members in countries other than Greece. At this point, nothing is certain, so the lawyers warned against too much optimism, but they are working on a plan to ensure that all refugees have access to a lawyer. They will start by challenging deportation through the Greek legal system and look for an appropriate case to take to the European Union court.
After another long winding drive from Mytilini, we had a great dinner (as usual) at the Captain's Table in Molyvos and I was able to present Melinda McRostie with a necklace made by my very creative friend Erian Baxter from North Vancouver. Erian's "Safe Passage" necklaces include a piece of material from an actual lifejacket from Lesvos. Erian is hoping to make and sell the necklaces to raise awareness and funds. Melinda was very touched by the gift.