Some more info on our recent trip to Samos:
The town of Samos has around 5,000 people who live there, before we arrived there was perhaps a few 100 refugees and migrants there. They get processed perhaps 100 per day and are able to get ferries to their next destination. More arriving every day and as the ferries were now cancelled due to strikes, (the staff haven’t been paid in six months), numbers were increasing to thousands rapidly. The local islanders have been rallying round doing their best but it was turning into chaos fast as supplies and manpower were low and time to put procedures and order was not abundant. There is a doctor there, with a base, giving medical attention to those that needed it and distributing donations. He had a small team but was coping so well. Also a team of Samaritans, helping all the time. From the minute Louise and I arrived it was a case of trying to prioritise needs and act on them.
Louise Hare and I arrived in Samos island on Tuesday [3rd of November] morning at 7am after travelling from the day before. We went straight to the Mayor’s office as arranged to get instruction on how best we could help. We were told to go straight to rest for a couple of hours as hadn’t slept and were needed at 2pm at the port. We slept a bit, hired a car and headed to the port. From that point we didn’t stop till we got on the plane home again. There were so few volunteers and so many people. We helped organise the food distribution, using a megaphone (with me dictating instructions to a Syrian man who had agreed to help me translate), Louise was helping move everyone into line and pulling children out of the of the way stopping them being crushed. We got the men in one line and woman and children in another. Portions of pasta served, then more food turning up in cars from locals, the pasta soon ran out, then bread and a boiled egg, then biscuits then nothing. This is the point I realised that we could not fix the situation I suppose I always knew we couldn’t but it hit hard turning away hundreds of people that had listened to me pleading to not push, to be patient, to stand in line then to look on their faces as they left hungry with their children. At that point I learnt also never to promise anything, instead saying I will try.
Clare from Calais Action was there to fully inform of us of what the routine of the volunteers was and what was still needed. My priority was now food. We bought some treats for kids, fruit, some shoes and some other small supplies so at least on our return we could help a few.
We joined other volunteers at 11pm to go to the port for blanket distribution. We perhaps only had 40. We all walked round the camp to see how many were needed. At least 60/70 were, Then the awful job of choosing who needed it more, the mother with 2 kids and only one between them or the man still damp from the night before in the sea and a broken leg… We stayed till the wee hours, putting blankets around people again, helping mothers with more than one child crying, doing anything you can to help.
The next day and every day breakfast was served at 8.30am for all the children, this again was provided difficult but at least more nourishing than dinner later. A sandwich, half a piece of fruit and a small cup of milk. Still not enough for them all. This is all organised by local people with local donations and now your donations help this continue.
The days now merge for us into one, the next night we went at 12pm to distribute blankets assessed the situation went to the car and 2 coaches turned up more people with nothing but damp clothes and many requests, we couldn’t help. Only 4 or 5 of us and a handful of blankets. We had to make the decision to leave before the desperation turned into anger.
Claire left, she had told me she had been donating cash to Elena to buy supplies for the local ladies to cook, 9 of them, all with other jobs and kids up at 5am cooking, then distributing it then washing all the pots and pans in the evenings and had been for months. They all look totally exhausted, but do nothing but thank us for help. We looked into many other options, hiring a restaurant, setting up a kitchen but this was by far the cheapest option and so far had been working, we agreed thanks to your kind donations to continue this and donated £2000 to help buy food for them to cook for the next few days . But didn’t solve the problem of that day, so we bought wraps from a local restaurant at one euro each so bought 300 at least it would feed some more. I cant stress enough how many people were in such a small space, all hungry wanting to leave and if they did have money, using what little they had to buy food for them and others.
Two more volunteers arrived. They had cash raised, full of excellent ideas and hired a van, now enabling us as a team to do more. Also frustrating they arrived that day to meet their van which had driven over from the UK full of essential supplies but stuck in Athens due to the ferry strike. They bought wheelchairs for people that desparately needed them and so much more. We along with them paid for a hotel for a family who had lost their 4yr old daughter, moving them from a portacabin. This not only gave them a better environment but for us a cabin so we could now organise that for distribution of aid. It was now a base for all the volunteers.
Friday night the first Ferry arrives it had been a long day and there was a feeling of apprehension in the air and so many more mixed emotions. A thousand people left on that first ferry. We work with Edinburgh Cares taking donations to Macedonia and Croatia so at least again we know we are doing our best for them on their journey forward. Money donated by you helps at these borders giving out food, hats, gloves, shoes and more.
We worked with the port police and army and all other volunteers to manage the 2 ferries coming that night and people going on them. Families who we know lost children at sea, people with no shoes, its between 12am and 4am so may babies crying. All going into the unknown. Once the first ferry left we got sweeping brushes, dust pans and bags out to sweep the port it was a mess as not many bins around to dispose of rubbish. The mayor had organised big bins which were emptied every day. A gynaecologist Syrian friend helped and took all the brushes and swept the entire place asking for more bin bags every half hour, with help from his friends. His shoes didn’t fit, he had no coat and was another person who we met that we will never forget. Your donations bought the brushes and with it dignity and again hope. Also we support the island and help them keep the island clean.
One of the port police asked me to help his colleague at another area. The other volunteers were waiting to drive the van onto the ferry to collect boxes of donations. I went to be surrounded by concerned Syrian men, and the police officer, as a young boy maybe 5yrs old was sleeping on a chair with no one around him. Everyone in the area was asleep. They told me he had arrived the day before and they couldn’t see his parents. I picked him up, he was soaking and cold, wearing clothes and shoes that didn’t fit. I went to get Louise, she ran over and we took him to our portacabin with a Syrian man whom we’d met and spoke English. He took the boy who was now scared and tried to talk to him while we changed him into dry clothes and gave him some biscuits and water. With the other Syrians and police after 2hrs we were able to locate his parents and reunite them.
There are so many more things I could tell you all, some you will find from my updates when I was there, but to summarise. The people arriving there have no idea what to expect when they arrive they presume they will arrive into a humane environment being in the EU, some have money, some have very little. Some were scared to leave the port thinking they could not. Some of them booked hotels and stayed in them to await the end of the ferry strike. Using money they had saved to resettle. I would say almost all of them want to return to Syria one day when there is peace. They have heard they are welcome in some countries in Europe, then they ask why is it so hard, why cant they have safe passage? We all know how desparate the situation is.
After my trip and the work we have all done together I will say this we can give: HOPE.
And at least try our best to make that sustainable with your help. Please stay involved, generate more support. Re-Act started with one person and now there are many of us, all with no experience on how to help, but we are learning, growing all the time and we are making a difference and giving HOPE.