New Year Greetings – Reflections on 2019

Another year has passed, and A Drop in the Ocean is currently in its 5th winter of doing aid work in Greece and on the Aegean islands. I am constantly getting questions about the situation “down there”. I wish my response could be; “the situation for displaced people in Greece is much better. The processing of asylum applications is running much more smoothly, and at a more rapid pace, and no children are living in tents. I wish I could tell them that all unaccompanied minors have received help from European states, that welcomed them with open arms. I wish I could tell them that Mohammed, the 4-year old I met in Moria earlier this month, is now living safe and sound in a foster home”. But this is not the reality.

Flyktningleiren Nea Kavala i Nord-Hellas. Foto: Kathrin Helen Siurk
Flyktningleiren Nea Kavala i Nord-Hellas. Foto: Kathrin Helen Siurk

In 2019, there was a drastic increase in arrivals of refugees to the Aegean islands, especially this autumn after Turkey’s so-called safe zone was implemented in Syria. There is no doubt that this zone was considered unsafe by those who fled the country. However, the largest group that flees to Europe for safety are Afghans, many of whom have been displaced their entire life. We are constantly meeting children and young afghans who speak Norwegian, who have lived in Norway for several years, before they are thrown out. The country they are returned to is unknown for many of them, and they do not feel safe at all. They have to flee again, as to seek protection elsewhere becomes their only solution to survive.

More than 70.000 people arrived in Greece in 2019. The camps on the islands are filled to the brim, and are extending far beyond their initial borders. In 2019 we commenced our work inside the biggest of these camps, Moria, which has the capacity to house 2800 people. Currently, more than 18.000 people live there. When Greek authorities asked us to contribute to the work in the camp, our mandate was to mobilise unaccompanied minors who live in secluded sections of the camp. They wanted activities to make sure the children stayed clear of drugs, criminal activities, self-harm, and fights. It is a tough task, but we recently learned that reports state that negative incidents have decreased by 80% since we started in April, which suggests to me that our talented field workers and coordinators are doing good and making good decisions.

Uanccompanied Minors in Moria Refugee Camp. Photo: A Drop in the Ocean

This is a focal point we must adhere to, because everything we are witnessing in the Greek refugee camps are far from good. Combined with the lacking will of Europe to contribute, it is easy to lose hope. What we do is a drop in the ocean, but to those who we help, and for those we enrich their daily life with activities, it means everything.

A Drop in the Ocean is constantly being asked to contribute to other locations in Greece, both inside the refugee camps, but also to develop programs outside of the camps. This says a lot about the never-ending need for help. We wish other big Norwegian actors were present in Greece, so we would be able to help even more people. A Drop in the Ocean is still a tiny organisation, and obviously we want to accept any good ideas and implement suggestions, but with a small administration and no governmental funding, we have our limitations. However, we were able to establish our presence on Samos this year, and have a little centre there, the Stagona Center, where we focus on activities for children and adults. In addition to the islands of Samos and Lesvos, which are the islands that receive the most refugees, we have throughout 2019 continued our work in Skaramagas outside of Athens, and in Nea Kavala in Northern Greece. These are two of the biggest refugee camps on mainland Greece. During 2019, our voluntary field workers have contributed with more than 16.000 working days in the Greek refugee camps!

Photo: Kathrin Helen Siurk/A Drop in the Ocean. Nea Kavala Refugee Camp, November 2019.

Our goal is to be a professional but unbureaucratic NGO. We want to do what is right for all parties, but also be close enough to those who use our services, to be able to meet and assess what they need. Our most important resources are all the amazing colleagues, both volunteers and employees, who contribute to make the wheels keep turning, both in the field and here at home. Many of our field workers are displaced people, who live inside the refugee camps. Their knowledge of the situation is essential for the work we do. Everyone who gets to experience what it is like to work in the field are the time witnesses of our time. They have first-hand knowledge of the situation, and will contribute when history books will write about the treatment of people in need of protection in Europe in 2019.

A field worker and one of the children in a refugee camp in Greece where A Drop in the Ocean works. Photo: A Drop in the Ocean

As 2019 is nearing its end, I would like to express my gratitude towards all of our field workers, as well as everyone who financially supports us. You make what we do possible. Many people signed up to become monthly donors during this past year, making it possible to have some predictability in our work. We have room for many more, so if you are not already a monthly donor for A Drop in the Ocean, maybe that could be your most important New Year’s resolution?

We are going to everything in our power to ensure that everyone we reach in 2020 have the best everyday life we can give them, and we hope you continue to follow our journey.

Happy New Year!