A Rainy Sunday in Panagiouda

Gulls swoop and dive, riding the currents of the stormy air, oblivious to the tumultuous conditions south down the shore line. Weather conditions have been dire overnight and the ferry to Athens never left. For a change of circumstance I am feeling cosy and well rested, having to put myself first after picking up a nasty cold. But there is no respite from the situation here, and within moments of awakening I was already reading and catching up on the events that took place overnight. I wonder, as I sit here and watch the rainfall over the eucalyptus trees, what will today bring for me?

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The ferry to Athens never left last night, leaving many displaced refugees around the port area and an urgent call for volunteer help to distribute food, water and blankets. I’m yet to understand the real impact of this, or know anything other than second hand information. But It sounds like for many, it has been an exceptionally long and hard night on the island. The Ferry finally leaves, departing with around 2600 damp, cold and sick refugees who have spent over 24 hours seeking shelter on the boats as well as around the dock, many refusing to return to the camps out of fear they will miss the boat and be required to pay for a new ticket. This is just one of many road-blocks that affects the island on a day to day basis.

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In part, a day of respite catching up on work and drinking coffee whilst my cold recovers and my voice returns feels luxurious. But really it is a necessary preparation for receiving the large numbers of boats that will arrive once the weather clears. At the Turkish end of the ocean, the boats hold off departing during such dire conditions, leading to a congestion and backlog of boats ready to cross once conditions become safer. Unfortunately even under the best weather conditions, it is a dangerous trip and the nights are expected to plunge well below zero, with snow expected tomorrow. Hardly ideal conditions for anybody packed into a dangerous and overcrowded vessel in the middle of the night.

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According to todays UNCHR daily report, we have received 18,106 arrivals this year already. That’s a daily average of 1,132 people, so it’s easy to imagine how quickly a few days of holding off sending boats can pile up and accumulate, leaving the volunteers at this end with some very busy (and exceptionally cold) nights ahead of us.

As of last night, I am now based in Panagiouda (Παναγιούδα). A small fishing village 6km north of Mytilene where I was before. I expect this will become home for a while. Although it is further away from Pikpa, where I have begun to place my roots and find my niche, I am now on the doorstep of Moria – the large, main refugee camp on the island. This is where most refugees go to get processed, and end up staying for periods of time. Although I will not be allowed inside Moria itself, only certain NGO’s and authorised personelle are permitted in, there is a massive overflow of refugees creating a secondary camp on the outskirts of the premises.

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I plan to spread my time over the coming month between Pikpa, Moria and the night shift/boat arrivals. It’s a continual process of finding where you can be most useful and provide the best use of my skills. Pikpa is beginning to feel familiar and I very much enjoy the team based there. It also has room for me to get involved with the night shift, and I feel passionately about getting involved with various changes that can be made to streamline and improve the entire process. However, I am also acutely aware that meeting refugees on the beach is only a tiny part of the process. It is at the Moria camp where I will get an understanding of the true scope of this enormous crisis.

Onto my second thick and strong Greek coffee and the rain pelts down onto the cobblestoned esplanade outside, I now contemplate the week ahead. Each day brings new challenges and adventures and there’s no way of knowing what is right around the corner.

 

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