2018 Femmeraid Texel and The dutch Boat Foundation report from Mrs Hetty van Dijk

Dear ladies and gentlemen, please pay attention to this short report from Mrs Hetty van Dijk a member of Femmeraid Texel and The dutch Boat Foundation the Netherlands. let me express my gratitude to Hetty van Dijk for her commitment in lesbos greece.
Nico waerts (KM) Director Femeraid Netherlands
In 2017 the Dutch Boat Refugee Foundation (BRF) gave me the opportunity to work as their medical coordinator on the Greek island of Lesbos. It was my long term wish to work abroad for a NGO, but only after my retirement I found time and courage to do this job.
BRF provided medical aid in three camps at the island, mostly at night time. As Greek authorities slowly took over these activities, BRF decided to end their medical mission by January 1st , 2018.
As a medical coordinator I was responsible for the safety and well-being of the volunteers, who came from all over the world. The doctors and nurses should be introduced to the other members of the team and to the medical team protocol. They should find their place in the volunteer house and some of them should be trained to drive at the right side of the street and be comfortable with a gear box. The medical know how and skills from all those medics differed a lot and due to the principle of equality their activities should smoothly harmonize with the average treatment of a Greek patient. A continuing challenge with every volunteer!
During my stay at Lesbos the number of new arriving refugees increased tremendously. Other NGO’s provided first aid and dry clothes at the beaches, but after that everyone had to be transported to the so called first reception, Moria camp, described by the pope as a concentration camp. The camp is originally meant to harbour 2000 people, but with around 100 or more new arrivals per day, the number rose quickly to a 6000. You can imagine that all logistic lines did not work properly or not at all, not to mention sanitation, waste collection, food distribution and indeed access to health care.
Ideally the medical team consisted of two doctors and a nurse, but we also needed one or two crowd controllers. Not only for registration but mainly to calm down and regulate the flow of impatient and not seldom unwilling patients. That was a hell of a job for the non-medic crowd controllers, especially after the disappearance of the first reception medical check. The Greek organization who was responsible, could not handle those numbers of new arrivals. So many very sick and disabled people came to our cabin and asked for help. 100 patients or more seen by my doctors at night were no exception.
There were lots of tensions in the camp. We estimated that around 80% of all refugees in the camp had severe psychological problems. There were also different tribes, who slammed regularly, as they did in their homelands. Alcohol abuse was another cause for fights and due to safety and security reasons the medical team had to evacuate regularly. We stayed outside the camp until it was safe enough to return, but sometimes it was not. On returning people came to apologize for the behaviour of their fellow citizens.
Medical care without speaking each others language is hardly possible, so we needed translators. We had no professional translators available, so we asked patients to bring their own, but we could not do our job without the help of refugees who volunteered to translate. For many of them this was also a heavy duty, as they were traumatized themselves and now had to deal with horrible stories of torture, rape and grief of other people. This was also a hard part for our medics as the stories went beyond our imagination. Most volunteers volunteered for 2-3 weeks. For all of them times were enervating and some of them called it a life changing experience. Many have a wish to return. The situation in the camp is still more than horrible, medics seldom are able to provide the necessary help. The local situation is difficult as well, the hospital is overwhelmed and understaffed. There is hardly transport to the mainland as the whole asylum procedure should be take place on the island, which can take months or years. The refugees or people of concern, which is their official title, are trapped under the most inhuman conditions.
The good things are the locals, who suffer from pain due to financial crisis and the loss of tourism on the island. Many of them open their hearts and sometimes their houses for the refugees. They create possibilities for showering or provide a hot meal. Of course local economy does take advantage of the presence of thousands of volunteers from all over the world. Volunteers rent cars, houses, buy souvenirs and eat local dishes. The common goal generates a team spirit I never met before. And we needed each other to stay afloat, with all misery and inhumanity around us. Working with refugees for so long (6 months) under such hard conditions does not leave you untouched. On coming home I longed for my friends and family, although I could hardly explain to them where I had gone through. And the silly thing is: I want to go back…….
As long as the situation is that bad and as long as it is easy to make a little difference in somebody’s life, I feel the drive to spread humanity in inhumane camps and love to Europe’s forgotten guests. Don’t expect gratefulness: most people are so traumatized and desperate (or drunk), they have no idea of volunteering and see us as part of the system. Be happy with the things YOU can DO.
Hetty van Dijk
Member Femeraid Team Texel Netherlands