Our Medical work in Moria Refugee Camp

This weekend, on Sunday, a big fire started inside Moria refugee camp on Lesvos, and we have confirmed that at least two people are dead after the fire. Moria camp, which was set up to hold 3000 people, is now home to 12,000 people. That’s over 12,000 people living in dangerous, inhumane and unbearable conditions, with their lives on hold. Boats are still arriving with people everyday and now winter is approaching, making the conditions even worse.

et bord med medisinsk utstyr bak skjermvegger i et telt

From March 2019, A Drop in the Ocean have worked inside Moria Refugee camp, in Section B where we organize activities for unaccompanied male minors, and in August we started activities for unaccompanied children, girls below 18 and boys below 12, in the Safe Zone in Moria Camp. Two weeks ago we extended our work in Moria with our first medical personnel started working in the Kitrinos clinic inside Moria camp. Cecilie Holm-Johnsen and Laurie Tanner are two of our fieldworkers in our emergency team working inside Moria Refugee Camp. Below you can read more about what they do in the Kitrinos medical clinic, their patients, and their experiences from working with medical work in this overcrowed Refugee Camp.

Kitrinos Medical Clinic 

The clinic is located inside Moria camp. You have to go through the main gate and up towards section A and B. On the short walk from the main gate and up to the clinic we walk past people sleeping on the street, covered in sleeping bags, some laying directly on the ground, some on cardboard. We’ve seen mostly young men laying here, but also families with children and older people.

We start in the morning at 08:30 and already at that hour there’s a lot of people outside waiting to get in. Almost every day, there was a big black bus blocking the entrance in the morning. The bus comes with new arrivals, and it parks so close to the clinic door that there’s no way to enter or get around. We have to use another entrance and wait until it drives off. As soon as the bus leaves we start working. During the shifts we’ve had, there’s been 3-4 busses with newcomers arriving every day. One day there were at least 400 people arriving in the camp before 10 am.

Refugees as interpreters and translators

It’s sad to watch and it makes us anxious for the future, what will happen here? What will this place become? How will the people here find hope? How will this clinic survive the overcrowded camp? Our heads are full of questions. For now the clinic works, we are doing the best we can with what is there. An amazing coordinator who is fair and honest, firm and respectful leads the system. All of the volunteer interpreters are refugees themselves. They work long days listening to, and translating the patients sickness and suffering. Maybe they hear stories similar to their own, maybe they hear the other side of things. They are so important and valuable; the clinic wouldn’t function without them.

The most important peopleof the Kitrinos clinicare the translators who are refugees themselves. They live inside Moria and work very hard. Without them we would not be able to work. A Syrian coordinator named Abdul runs all the activities in the clinic. The clinic is setup to see about 100 patients a day from 9-3:30. Since I have been here we have seen about 135 a day.

Laurie Tanner

Kitrinos Medical Clinic

Throughout the day a doorman and a nurse stands in the door with interpreters to figure out if medical help is needed. We treat around 120-200 patients each day. The line is long, we can hear and see patients through the netting walls. A lot of them don’t get in, we don’t have the time or capacity for everyone, so the triage at the door is strict. During the time we’ve been here we’ve been a team of 7 doctors and 4 nurses.

We try to look all the patients in the eye, and if we can say a few words in their mother tongue we try to do that too, in order to create a connection, and more easily see who we need to flag/who will need extra attention/check-up while they wait for their turn. I’ve often thought about how I would act myself if I came to a country where nobody spoke my language and I didn’t understand much. I would probably be afraid to misunderstand or be misunderstood ,and miss important information.

The waiting rooms are very small and narrow. The patients sit and wait in a very well organized queue system; they receive a piece of paper in the door with a number on it, and must stay in their place, if not they have to start over. They sit on pallets covered with plastic, while the nurses walk around observing, logging vital signs and registering all of them.

Wound care is a different queue. If you come in with a wound and need wound care you will be pointed to a room at the back where we have set up a table and some benches. There’s an improvised curtain for some privacy made out of tarpaulin. We make it work with what we’ve got, you get really good at improvising after a while. The same principles for wound care exist here of course, and we always find a way to do it right. We don’t know how many wounds we’ve treated during our time there. We do document all the wounds we see and treat, both on paper and in an electronic system, but not with numbers.

“The work is challenging because it is like an emergency room where you never know what will come through the door. The resident volunteers keep the flow going and patients get seen in a timely fashion. It is a great team atmosphere and everyone seems to work together very well. It can be stressful knowing the situation of the refugees and that they are caught in a system they may not be able to get out of.” – Laura Tanner

Each patient has his or her own unique story

Each patient of course has their own unique story. It’s heart-breaking to hear even just small drips of what they’ve been through, and  are fleeing from. On the 4th day, during registration, while asking what language they speak, we started feeling dizzy when almost everyone answered “Farsi”. Farsi is mostly spoken in Iran and Afghanistan. It’s crazy to think about how our own country Norway, is deporting Afghans back to Afghanistan. We’ve met people here who speak fluent Norwegian, who now find themselves back in a refugee camp, where the last unofficial number of residents is over 12000. 12000 people stacked together in a place that has the capacity for 3000. It’s mind-blowing to think about.

We’ve treated a lady with a rat bite. She could only find a place to sleep outside, next to the garbage containers, and during the night a rat bit her. It was a big and infected wound. We’ve  met a young man with multiple small wounds. Infected and painful wounds that look like zits. He fell into a kind of panic attack or pain seizure when we tried to clean them. On the second day it lasted for hours. I was sitting next to him because I didn’t want him to be alone, and my eyes started filling up with tears. I had to concentrate on not crying.

He suddenly calmed down and woke up, embarrassed and scared, sad and exhausted. When my own heart is filled with sadness and an endless hope for a better future, but my head is full of anger and frustration, I can’t even imagine how he must be feeling. When he came back for the 3rd wound care of the week (we have to do it more often than we would at home, because of the bad sanitary options) we gave him painkillers and reserved an interpreter for him, and it worked. He didn’t panic and he looked me in the eyes many times and smiled when he left.

Because of the bad sanitary options and constant overcrowded living conditions, scabies and lice are quite common. We see skin infections daily, wounds that would normally heal quickly, take much longer here. People suffer from mental illness with trauma, panic attacks, PTSD as well as chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes and arthritis.

We’ve treated multiple stab wounds, mostly on minors and young adults. The rumours are there’s a lot of fights at night between different religious and cultural groups. It seems to us that there’s also drug related fights among the minors, started out of boredom, lack of freedom, frustration, anxiety and trauma. There’s been an extreme amount of newcomers in the late summer months, only making the overwhelming situation even worse.

I, Laurie, had a patient the other day who was very despondent over his situation. We had a few minutes to chat and although I can’t change his situation, just having someone listen to him seemed to make a difference. Kitrinos also has a person who does trauma-tapping technique. She is training us, and we use it on patients to help them decrease anxiety and stress in their situations. It is an honour and a blessing to be able to do this work. It is challenging and rewarding. We can’t always fix things but we can share our hearts and compassion to one person at a time.”