Welcoming a new year and reflections of the time we leave behind

Another year has passed, and it’s time for reflections of the years we are leaving behind.
It is strange to think back to how we thought the flow of refugees fleeing to Europe through the Greek islands back in 2015, would last for a short period, until European politicians would find safe passage for survivors of war and torture. The overwhelming solidarity and desire to help was a source of optimism and faith in a warmer and more inclusive Europe.

Kvinne som bærer en matkasse fra en bil inn i et telt

But what happened next? Suddenly, countries that had been portrayed as humanitarian super powers, including Norway, also began to choose the same direction as the few, very restrictive countries. And now we almost see it as a normality to shift responsibility of displaced people to countries with a geographical location that makes them a natural first country for arrivals. 

Unfortunately, the recent weeks we have experienced several shipwrecks and a dramatic increase in the number of people who have drowned in the Aegean Sea as well as other parts of the Mediterranean. We have not come any closer to safe passage and good solutions for people seeking protection in Europe.

A Drop in the Ocean is now in its seventh winter of humanitarian work in Greece. We have been present every single day since we sent the first team of 16 voluntary aid workers, just days after we realized that there were no aid organizations present where most of the war refugees actually arrived.

In 2021, more than 8,700 displaced persons have arrived to Greece. This is far less than what we have seen in recent years, and reflects in no way the number of persons who have actually tried to reach safety on European soil through this route. A numerous of people have been stopped in their attempts. More than 4,500 of those registered arrived in Greece, came through the land border at Evros.

More than 15,000 have been registered as new arrivals to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2021. Many of them have previously lived in refugee camps in Greece, but consider Bosnia and Herzegovina a step closer to central parts of the EU, to many people this is the destination they hope to reach. But reaching these countries remains for most people an impossible dream.

For A Drop in the Ocean, the past year has been full of challenges and development, especially for our Greek sub-office, Stagona. We have recruited so many talented people who work with us on Lesvos, Samos, Athens and Nea Kavala. In addition, we have speeded up with activities also in Bosnia Herzegovina, where we started slowly our work at the end of 2020. The pandemic has of course complicated many things also on this past year. We have been lucky and continuously had good access to field workers who could stay with us for a long time. Some have even worked with us throughout the whole pandemic. The biggest change, however, is that local residents and people who themselves have the status of refugees or asylum seekers, now count for a large part of our teams in all the places we work. Several key roles and tasks have also been moved from the head office in Oslo to the locations we work at. These changes have been important steps forward.

Skaramagas camp outside Athens closed down at the end of the summer, and we established a collaboration with Caritas to be able to continue some of our programs in the center of Athens. The new camp on Samos opened this autumn, and the old camp was closed down. Here, too, we quickly turned around in order to map out how we could meet the needs of distribution for the people in the new camp. On Lesvos, we have been a reliable actor and provided laundry services for the people living in Kara Tepe camp throughout the year. Since the summer, all the residents in the camp have been included in this service, and our team facilitate for up to 5,000 kg of laundry every single week.

A new camp in Nea Kavala was set up this autumn, and there was at first uncertainty regarding access and activities. Thanks to hard and good work from our team on site, and good cooperation with camp management and other actors, many different activities have been established in the new camp.

In Usivak outside Sarajevo, our people work well with computer lessons. New activities, especially aimed at men, are in the planning and hopefully starting up very soon. In addition, we are in good dialogue with the authorities to be able to contribute in other camps as well shortly.

It has without doubt been a year with many challenges, but I am incredibly impressed with the effort and hard work our teams in Greece and Bosnia Herzegovina, as well as the staff at the head office, have made to take us where we are today. And when we talk about challenges, our challenges are always trivial compared to the challenges displaced people face every single day. Uncertainty, unbearable waiting, miserable living conditions, lack of almost everything are challenges that are difficult to really understand if you do not experience them yourself.

This spring it will be 2 years since the new requirements for organizations working in Greece were announced, and this has been a time consuming and at times frustrating process. Many hours of work from our dedicated staff have been provided to ensure that we meet all requirements. For a small organization like A Drop in the Ocean, which does not want to spend too much time on administrative and bureaucratic processes, it has been a challenge. Unfortunately, we have seen many organizations of the same size and structure as us, give up along the way. On the other side, we fully understand and support the need to put in place a system providing a good overview of the various services many different organizations offer, as well as to make sure actors don`t do any harm to the groups of people they are serving. To us, it has never been an option not to go through the procedures of getting the necessary approvals, to be able to assist legally in the countries we work in.

A Drop in the Ocean is still a politically independent organization that works without state funding. We are completely dependent on private supporters and volunteers to do what we do. Our regular donors are very important as they give us the opportunity to plan activities for the time to come. We are very grateful to all of you who continue to support our work with a small monthly contribution.

During the past year, we have also had companies supporting us by providing important services within IT, web hosting and web development, inventory, consulting and marketing. These services are often worth almost as much as pure financial support, and give companies a proximity to the projects they support. A win-win cooperation for both parties, and we would love to welcome more business partners in the coming year.

It has been demanding to conduct fundraising work in 2021. Fortunately, we had funds with us from the previous financial year, but the fact that we have all lived with a pandemic for two years is for real bringing uncertainty to many people. Several planned events with the aim of spreading awareness and information about the ongoing situation in which we work, have been cancelled.

We still believe that the year we are now entering will be a good year where we will achieve a lot. Achieving the goals is ultimately only about the people we have on the team, our employees, our volunteers and our supporters. With a great team in place and with a common understanding and focus on what is our most important goal; To provide support to displaced persons, we look forward to continuing the targeted and persistent efforts, in all parts of the organization, also in 2022.

Our greatest wish for the year to come is that no people will need to risk their life to reach safe ground, that no people will have to live in camps, that human rights will be protected, and that new chances of starting a life will be given to those who had to leave everything behind. 

To all of you who have supported us in various ways in 2021. Thank you! Your support means everything.

A special thanks this year to all our board members who have spent a lot of time supporting the administration in strategic discussions, giving directions and finding solutions. 

To all of you who follow our work; We wish you all a safe, peaceful and happy new year!