As we enter a new year, we want to take a minute looking back at the year that past. A year full of challenges where the Covid-19 pandemic has had a major impact on how we socialise and live our lives. It has been a difficult year; many have lost their jobs and are facing uncertain times. And for the many thousands displaced persons in Greece, the situation became, if possible, even worse.
At the beginning of 2020, A Drop in the Ocean had optimistic plans on how to further expand our support to displaced persons on the islands of Samos and Lesvos and in the camps on the Greek mainland. The year turned out by no means as planned. It has been challenging to work under such unpredictable conditions as the corona pandemic, but we are proud of what we have achieved under the difficult circumstances.
To avoid spreading the virus, and following the Greek national guidelines, at times we stopped all our regular activities, stayed away from the refugee camps, and put the recruitment of new volunteer field workers on hold. At the same time, it was now – more than ever before – that people forced to flee needed our support. We had a small team in place in Greece, during the whole period, and contributed whenever and wherever we could with various activities and distributions at all our locations.
But it was not just Covid-19 that made 2020 a difficult and challenging year. On Lesvos, and in Moria camp, conditions were extremely harsh. In January over 22,000 people lived in a camp built for 2,800. The living-conditions in the camp were shocking, unworthy and inhuman. And in February the situation became even worse. There were demonstrations both from those living in the camp, who were met with tear gas by the Greek police, and from a small group of local right-wing extremists (eventually right-wing extremists from other European countries also came to the island) who accused international aid-organisations of being part of the problem. This affected our employees and volunteers on the island, who were directly affected by the violent attacks on a couple of occasions. We had to close both of our Drop Centres in Moria village and, for safety reasons, made the decision to evacuate the majority of the staff/volunteers and rethink how we could further organise our work.
The corona crisis followed just after the crisis with the right-wing extremist attacks. With it, the camp management tightened access control in and out of the Moria camp, the volunteers were no longer allowed to enter the camp, and the refugees living in the camp were not allowed to leave the camp. A curfew was introduced throughout Greece.
In June, we were able to resume our work with unaccompanied minors inside Moria camp, and contributed where we could with infection control equipment and other necessities. During the summer, the number of Covid-19 cases increased on the island and at the end of August the first case inside the camp was discovered. Access restrictions were again introduced, and we were no longer able to work inside the camp, but we still contributed in different ways, including preparing and delivering activity packages for the unaccompanied minors.
The fires in Moria
Then something happened that was perhaps inevitable due to the incredibly difficult living conditions in the camp. On the night of September 9, the Moria refugee camp burned to the ground. Fortunately, Greek authorities were quickly able to confirm that no one died in the fire, but 12,000 displaced persons were left without a roof over their heads and had lost what little they had.
In the days after the fire, there was great uncertainty about what would happen next. Several were relocated to other camps on the mainland, while around 8,000 people were moved to the temporary camp Kara Tepe, set up in record time. It quickly turned out that this camp was by no means a suitable place, with the rain and autumn storms coming more and more frequently, poor sanitary conditions, few offers of activities for children and adults and no opportunity for social meeting places among other things. Four months later, the situation in the camp is still extremely difficult.
We have contributed where we can, among other things, a laundry service as one of several important measures against diseases such as scabies, mother-baby activities and organised activities for older children. We were also asked to resume our work with a small group of unaccompanied minors who are still on the island, but living outside the camp of Kara Tepe in a safe place.
A couple of weeks after Moria burned down, there were fires inside Vathy camp on Samos. Here, more than 300 families were affected. We contributed with an immediate distribution of clothes and necessary hygienic items to those affected by the fire. In addition, we had a larger distribution of winter clothes etc. to the camp’s around 3,000 residents. This was done in collaboration with several other organisations.
A Drop in the Ocean’s 5-year anniversary
2020 was also the year we marked our 5 years anniversary. Not as large-scale as we had intended, we will come back to that, but with a short summary of the years that have passed. We conducted our first Monitoring and Evaluation report and we initiated a collaboration with the Greek Council for Refugees. In addition, we have taken a first small step to look at the possibility of contributing also in Bosnian refugee camps where the needs are great. This is something we will look further into in the coming year.
Solidarity and a great commitment
We are proud of all our fantastic contributors and supporters, who despite an uncertain situation here at home in Norway have shown enormous solidarity and contributed to the most vulnerable having a slightly better everyday life. During the difficult time when the fear of COVID-19 spreading inside the refugee camps was great, we experienced an enormous willingness to donate and a great commitment both in Norway and the rest of the world.
Several donations and fundraising were made from various concerts and events. It has been particularly touching with all the different artists who have performed at various events, at a time when many of them have had to cancel assignments and concerts. It was also both touching and impressive to see the creativity among people, with examples such as the design of t-shirts, drive-in services, art auctions, yoga classes and much more to raise money for our cause.
Without this great support, we would not have been able to contribute in the same way or been able to be present in the situations where we have had to turn around, be creative and find long-term and sustainable solutions that benefit people forced to flee.
Unfortunately, we do not think it will stop here. At the beginning of the new year there are many indications that we must be patient for a while longer. In the meantime, we will continue to contribute where we can and at the same time work to improve the situation of displaced persons in Greece. Which requires that Europe takes greater responsibility and that more countries, including Norway, receive an increased number of asylum seekers to safeguard their basic human rights with the opportunity to start a new life.
We wish you all A Happy New Year!