People to people: from Ireland to Leros, Greece
Posted On: May 27, 2016
In September 2015, several thousand people, mostly Syrian, were trapped outside Budapest station in Hungary prevented from taking trains to continue their journeys onwards to places of real safety. Irish people wanted to respond to the growing humanitarian crisis and so the Irish Refugee Council set up a ‘Budapest fund’, with a guarantee that all money collected would go to those in need.
Initially the plan was that one or more of us would go (at IRC expense) to see the situation on the ground and best assess how to use it. But as funds came in, people were already on the move as men, women and children started to quite literally walk towards the border with Austria. There wasn’t time to go and see for ourselves as the need was too great. So we found other ways of getting the money where it could make a real difference immediately to people.
~ Sue Conlan
September 2015: from Ireland to Leros, Greece
Pat wrote to us via email after returning from a voluntary trip to Leros. He spoke very compassionately and urgently about the situation in Leros, a small Greek island that does not receive the same attention as other places such as Lesbos or Kos. Pat wanted to raise awareness about the situation and continue to support the response efforts through fundraising and organising here in Ireland. We linked Pat in with a local Dublin newspaper called the Dublin Inquirer so that he could share his experiences and generate some awareness about Leros. €500 of the IRC Hungary Fund was donated to the Leros Solidarity Network. At the time the sanitation facilities were the most urgent concern and the money was donated with the intention that it would be spent on the most pressing needs. Read a message from Pat upon his return from Leros in November and some images of the work being carried out by the Leros Solidarity Network here.
Read about how other donations were used to assist people at the Austrian/Slovenian border.
From Pat, October 2016:
Just a quick message to the people who didn’t follow my daily reports on Facebook of my recent visit to Leros. I’ve just returned on Sunday after spending a week in Leros. The situation has greatly changed since I was last there in August. On arrival I notice a big increase in the number of refugees living and sleeping in and around the port area. I arrived and met Anne Tee, I had 6000 euros of your donations five of which I handed over to Anne of Leros Solidarity Network and 1000 I held onto for spending as I needed
6000 refugees were stranded on Leros due to the fact that there was a ferry strike so no one could leave for a period of three days. I was really impressed by the the amount of new volunteers from all over Europe and US, all full of enthusiasm to help, and it was wonderful to see so many Greek and local people all helping also.
The UNCHCR and Medicine San Frontiers and Practice had arrived and set up clinics in the new large camp housing the majority of the refugees. The weather was really nice but extremely cold at night. I spent the first day helping the refugees at the Port Police yard, handing out clothes and sleeping blankets and making babies bottles. I took a suitcase full of shoes which I purchased in Penny’s and poncho rain gear. The Second day I helped give water and biscuits to the newly arriving refugees as they were taken off the coast guards boats, very upsetting to see, and deal with the opposition of the port restaurant to us giving biscuits and water as he claimed it was bad for his business. I spent all day also chasing down a wheel chair for a handicapped young man from Syria which seven hours later I delivered to him.
The rest of the week I distributed clothes from the large warehouse now full of plastic bags waiting to be sorted. There is still a huge shortage of shoes and in the last few days I brought families to the Chinese shop and spent the 1000 euros on shoes.
Leros is now a very welcoming place for all refugees, the government is supplying a hot meal to every refugee arriving and the UN delivered a container of blankets and every refugees receives a blanket. The UN also MSF have constructed a rows of IKEA style houses. The camp now has toilets and showers to cater for everyone. It’s not perfect and it was chaotic while I was there because of the huge numbers arriving and stranded because of the strike.
Shoes are still needed in all common sizes for men women and children, and foil heat blankets with warm coats and jackets to help the refugees in walk to the Baltic countries. I have kept in touch with many of the people and get emails and text from them as they travel across europe.
While I was there we had a volunteers meeting and a request came from a small Island called Agathonisi which is occupied by about two to four hundred inhabitants who are unable to cope with the amount of refugees arriving and pleaded for body bags and volunteers to come to their aid. The island is quite remote and at the moment three boats go there three times a week. I’m hoping to make contact with someone there and will try and raise some funds and aid and visit on my next trip to see how we can help into the future.
Thanks again for all your help and donations and please keep stay connected to this issue,
We are active citizens, not passive subjects: from Ireland to Greece
The need has not gone away. Hundreds of people contacted the IRC and similar organisations after the ‘refugee crisis’ hit the headlines last summer. Many offered to provide direct support to refugees whom they thought would be coming to Ireland. But there haven’t been anything like the 4000 the government spoke about and the few hundred who come are kept isolated by the Department of Justice with access to them closely controlled. But we do not need to wait for people to come to us; we can provide direct support through the people of Greece.
The Irish Refugee Council has had talks with people working on the ground in Greece on a daily basis, responding to the situation of refugees trapped in Greece. We have seen and heard about the goodwill of the Greek people themselves stepping up when they have often been the hardest hit in recession. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Much like the many Irish people who continue to devote time, energy and money going to places like Calais and Idomeni. This is in contrast to the actions and decisions of our governments who sign up for deals that return people to harm or keeps them in detention.
We need to step up our support for the people of Greece and the refugees who, through no fault of their own, are unable to cross borders to be reunited with family or community. We need to demonstrate to our government that we are citizens not subjects; we are not passive in the face of a need to demonstrate our common humanity, both with the people of Greece and those who are passing through or who will be there for some time to come.
As you see over the coming days and weeks the way in which even small amounts of money has made a difference in different European countries, please give what you can to enable us to support the vital work of activists and grass roots organisations in Greece. We will report back to you about how that money is spent and you will see the difference it makes. Our next post will be about donations sent to the Greek Island Leros.
To donate to this call for humanitarian support for Greece via iDonate click here and select the People to People, Ireland to Greece fund.