Our tiny volunteer team is beginning to wear down ever so slightly during this hectic week, but we’re powering through! Three new volunteers will arrive tomorrow morning on the flight from Athens and we’ll be reinvigorated by our first set of newbies since the new year has begun.
With the Hotspot beyond capacity at the moment, a few changes have begun to occur on the island. With the onslaught of new arrivals in the recent days, the numbers are starting to shake out and we, as an NGO, have been given more information. The vast majority of the people who have arrived on Leros are single men from Palestine. The numbers are so skewed, in fact, that the tone of the Hotspot, the Hub, and even the island seems to be shifting. With the tiny “people containers” packed full with sometimes twice as many people as capacity, a giant tent has been set up for the people who cannot fit into containers to sleep in within the Hotspot. As it stands now, there are no beds in this tent, so the refugees are simply sleeping on the concrete.
Another bit of information that passed our way was that “99% of the refugees are refusing clothing donations.” So, we’ve been instructed to hold off on giving out new clothing until further notice. Most of the Palestinian men have more money than the average refugee and they are not interested in second-hand clothes, or so I’ve heard. Refugees who are arriving on the island wet are still being given clothes, this won’t change since it’s essential to keeping people alive.
Just north of us, on the island of Lesvos where the crossing between Turkey and Greece is small, the overcrowding in the camp has led to deplorable conditions. A man froze to death yesterday. Reports are showing the high amounts of people making the crossings in these winter months are emphasizing just how dire the situations are in the countries these people are fleeing. Usually the number of new arrivals are very low during the colder months. The people who end up getting wet while crossing the waters need to be rescued quickly to avoid hypothermia.
On the volunteer side of things, we’ve been overwhelmed at work but also struggling with our living conditions at home. The Aegean Sea may be beautiful and especially welcoming to look at from our terraces in the morning, but the salt water in the air keeps everything just a little bit damp, so mold has been growing in our bedrooms. This was troubling, but returning home from work yesterday evening to discover all of our heating units were not working was especially worrisome. Although we are not sleeping in a giant tent like the refugees, it was still a chilly evening huddled under multiple blankets last night.
While the mold situation is being dealt with, our organization has put us up in a hotel in town. I’ve already decided that this will be the only night I spend here. I can handle living in a cold room with blankets while the refugees are out in the cool night air. I don’t need a hotel to rescue me every time I get a little uncomfortable. That being said, I’m writing this post from the comfort of my heated hotel room, in a clean bed, just having showered with fresh (non-salt!) water for the first time in weeks. I’m grateful, but I’m also wondering how many other people I could fit into this room with my roommate and I…
The tone of Leros has certainly shifted now with the arrival of so many new men. I find myself walking around town and getting called after a bit more now than before. All of these new people do not know how things work around here just yet, so it’s taking some getting used to. They see me, I’m sure, as just another confusing white guy, but hopefully one of these days they’ll realize I’m just here to help them and love them the best I can. We’ll see what time has in store for us.