Since 2015 Greece has held the spotlight for migration and refugee routes across Europe. For many, it is their first point of entry and supposedly the start of a safer, better life. So, four years on, what does the situation look like for refugees now?
Although many feel the absence of news means the situation is stable, or some even to believe it to be over, this is far from the truth. The number of refugees arriving to the borders of Greece on boat or foot, through Turkey, is as constant as ever. The Greek government is struggling to place refugees and for those who are waiting for asylum status now have an expected approval date of 2024.
Admittedly numbers are nothing like as high as their peak in 2015 when a record 1 million refugees made their way to Greece but already this year, an estimated 34 196 have risked their lives travelling to Europe by sea. 669 feared drowned.
It was 2nd September 2015 when the world was shown the distressing photo of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. A photo of Alan, washed up on a beach, catapulted to the front pages of our newspapers and with it, the inability to deny the refugee crisis any longer.
Sadly, since then Alan has not been the only child to have suffered such a fate, with ever increasing fatalities for those trying to reach the safety of Europe. According to UNHCR, 1.6% of refugees and migrants this year have been declared dead or missing, by land or sea, up from 0.37% in 2015. Within the last few weeks we have seen more news of a major shipwreck. On 25th July 2019 a total of 135 people were rescued by fishermen after their boat capsized off the coast of Libya. Over 100 are missing, presumed dead.
The rise of these shipwrecks and resultant deaths could be linked to the EU-Turkey deal and an increasing policy for EU countries to return the migrant vessels to Turkey. High fees are charged to any NGO rescue ships that attempt to save and bring migrants and refugees to European shores. The recent arrest and subsequent release of Carola Rakete, Captain of Sea-Watch 3, only highlights the extreme ‘closed ports’ policy that Italy and many other rising right-wing governments are supporting.
Indigo first got involved in Greece when at the end of 2016, Holly, Founder and CEO went out as a volunteer coordinator, initially working alone, then with a small team. Since then the Indigo projects have multiplied and now cover a wide variety of skill sets and cities. Their current Greek projects cover Athens, Chios, Northern Greece, including Thessaloniki and the islands of Lesvos and Samos.
With the ever-desperate situation in Greece, the island of Samos has now become as infamous as Lesvos for its cramped and unacceptable conditions. Camps built for 650 people are currently sheltering 4 000, with more people arriving every day. Conditions from the camp are reported as terrible with no running water and limited washing facilities.
It is because of this that the Indigo team took the decision to relocate. Wanting to be at the heart of the crisis and to have a greater knowledge and appreciation of the ever-changing situation, the main team at Indigo relocated from London to Samos in early 2019.
With the EU at breaking point, people are still coming. Seeking refuge and risking their lives in order to live freely, what should be a basic human right. Conditions in Greece are only worsening and volunteers provide a lot of the care that the Greek government and the EU are unable to.
Grass roots organisations are essential to ensuring people are looked after when arriving in Europe. From the very beginning, landing in Lesvos and volunteering with organisations like ‘Lighthouse Relief’, to teaching refugees across Greece with ‘Action for Education’.
No matter your experience, there are roles within Greece that need volunteers. For however long or short a time period, Indigo will help you find a project that will suit your skills. Many of these smaller projects within Greece need volunteers in order to operate, whether it is helping with food distribution, for the one meal they receive a day or providing a blanket to a mother, so her baby can survive when the temperature drops over winter.
“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land” – Warsan Shire.