HAII in Lesbos

by Mary Ryan

Lesbos is one of several Greek islands struggling with the arrival of thousands of refugees seeking refuge in Europe by departing from nearby Turkey.  Among the 600,000 who have made the crossing to Greece since the beginning of the year was the three-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, who captured headlines across the globe when his body was discovered face-down on a beach.  Instantly this harrowing photograph became the symbol of the indignation at the plight of Syrian refugees, it was realised more had to be done to ease the suffering of those fleeing war and persecution in their home countries.

The Human Appeal Ireland team travelled to Lesbos for 9 days in order to help those who managed to arrive safely to the island.  With the unprecedented numbers of incoming refugees, Greek authorities were strained and under-resourced, often relying on local volunteers and NGO’s to assist in the distribution of supplies.  During the 9 days, up to 70 boats could arrive daily, each transporting between 40-60 people, setting a chaotic scene on the small island whose native population has been surpassed by the amount of refugees.

Mary, who was part of the Human Appeal support Ireland, described an average day as approximately 16 hrs of hectic relief work. Carrying out needs assessments, the tasks for each day would change according to the priorities of the refugees.

“We would plan for the day the night before, regroup in the morning to confirm as the situation was constantly in flux and we were responding to each day as it came,” Mary recounted.  An important part of making this a successful trip was the co-ordination with other groups such as the UNHCR, which was necessary to ensure effective and beneficial distribution of multilateral aid.  The team often split into two / three in order to achieve a spread of capacity and abilities as Human Appeal strives to provide the most advantageous course of action.

“A coastal drive in the morning, mid afternoon and evening in order to touch base with fellow NGO’s and volunteers on the coast awaiting the boats and estimate the influx of refugees,” would determine the procurements from the local warehouse, Mary explains.  Human Appeal dispensed food, water and sanitary goods to those in need, and fortunately were also in the position to provide medical aid to the hundreds at risk of hypothermia and pneumonia from the sea-crossing.

Once the most imperative items had been identified for the day, this was followed by packing of goods and the issuing of packages to camps, the bus stops and port where the majority of refugees were located. With the incoming winter weather, the team also received multiple requests for blankets.

 “With the weather changing the need for insulation and warm nutritious food will increase” advises Mary.

Lesbos is just one of many areas grappling with an unceasing flow of refugees, and one of several different regions in which Human Appeal works.  As one of the few Irish charities operating within Syria, we send many containers stacked with winter supplies and Winter kits directly to the heart of the need, but also help those arriving on shores looking for a safer, more stable life.  Working in over 20 different countries, Lesbos served as a testament to Human Appeal’s goal of eradicating social injustice by reaching those who have had their homes and livelihoods taken from them.