A fire has destroyed Europe’s largest refugee camp on the island of Lesvos, leaving 13,000 people without shelter, including around 4000 children. The maximum capacity of the camp is 2,500 and as a result the conditions had become intolerable for some.
This in addition to the impact of COVID-19 quarantine led to a protest from which the fire initiated. Our thoughts are with the community - who are having to endure further trauma - and our inspirational partners at Dirty Girls of Lesvos.
For those of you who have asked how to help - here are three organisations on the ground on Lesvos. Their work is vital.
Burnt out camp. Photo Courtesy of 'Because We Carry'
The news is shocking, but also not entirely surprising - unrest has been growing across refugee camps as already difficult conditions are heightened by ‘blanket’ refugee camp responses - such as lockdown and closed schools - to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Love Welcomes workshop is in a refugee camp on the mainland of Greece. The camp is a temporary home to 2,880 people, including 1298 children, fleeing war and persecution. Mothers, fathers, children, and youth seeking survival and a safe, secure home.
In the refugee camp where we work, COVID-19 presented immediate challenges to the refugee population, fearing an outbreak as well as the impact of lockdown and further restrictions.
As a response, Love Welcomes launched a campaign in March to provide food and other vital provisions including essential mother and baby supplies through partners like Cafe Rits. Through your support we continued to fund the women we work with and bought vital supplies for the community which have been distributed.
Love Welcomes and partners distribute supplies during lockdown
During the lockdown - which is still in place today - the refugee community has been unable to access fresh food, their finances, health services, and legal services. This is proving a great risk to people physically, financially, and mentally.
According to one of our team members:
“In the camp the situation is very bad, we don't go out, the children don't go to school, the camp has been shut down since March - they don't allow us to go out to get food, we can't go to the hospital unless it's an 'emergency'. So the situation in the camp is really bad, we feel bad and we feel insecure.”
This view is largely shared across the Love Welcomes team. An allocated COVID quarantine space within the camp has been vandalized and people are locked in their homes.
On Tuesday 1 September, the camp was again placed on full lockdown. No one has been allowed in or out of the camp for 15 days. Police patrol outside and the gates are padlocked only adding to the sense of insecurity, especially following the news from Lesvos.
For children, the situation is particularly pressing, 800 children aged 5-12 are not attending school and we are being told that this will continue until there are zero positive COVID cases. Not only is this in violation of the UN Convention on the rights of the child, this places additional stress and challenges on the children and the parents in the community.
As a response to the lockdown, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has distributed dried and canned foods. This does not include fresh food and does not take cultural requirements into consideration. The community are also reporting a lack of nappies, sanitary towels, hand sanitizers and other essential basics. This is why Love Welcomes is continuing to work with Cafe Rits and other partners to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to the community.
Our team wants to continue working - the work contributes to their financial independence but also to their social and mental wellness. With this in mind, Love Welcomes has created social distancing work opportunities in 3 isobox containers which has been welcomed by the team. All workers have been tested for COVID with zero positive results.
The health risks and the secondary impact of COVID remain hugely stressful for the community and we are committed alongside our partners to support our team and the wider refugee community as they overcome yet more challenges in their lives.
Your support is so important to this process - our work would not be possible without you. Thank you.
LESVOS PHOTO COURTESY OF BECAUSE WE CARRY