Responding to the Refugee Crisis in Europe

by International Medical Corps
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Responding to the Refugee Crisis in Europe
Responding to the Refugee Crisis in Europe
Responding to the Refugee Crisis in Europe
Children learning to wash their hands
Children learning to wash their hands

International Medical Corps’ emergency response to the refugee crisis in Europe has now concluded. We partnered with international agencies and local organizations to bring urgent humanitarian relief to refugees and migrants in Greece, Serbia and Croatia. Along with our partners, our teams provided emergency care to 30,171 refugees and migrants as they disembarked on the shores of Lesvos. Some 6,600 patients received health care through our mobile medical units, and 622 people received reproductive health consultations, including antenatal, postnatal and gynecological care, as well as family planning services.

To continue supporting International Medical Corps’ humanitarian response to the Syrian refugee crisis, please visit our “Support Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan” project at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/support-azraq-refugee-camp/.

 

Finding Hope: Teaching Refugee Children about Good Hygiene

Dayaa left his home in Homs, Syria to escape the horrors of civil war and find a better life in Turkey. When he was unable to find a job, he made the journey across the Mediterranean Sea before settling at the informal camp at Piraeus Port, near Athens. Dayaa noticed that there were dozens of children living in the camp without any access to education or recreational activities. Working with a team of friends, Dayaa gathered 50 children together for English classes. Only a month and half later, the Piraeus Port camp closed, and all the refugees were transferred to other camps, including the Skaramagas Camp, the largest refugee camp on Greece’s mainland.  

Once in Skaramagas Camp, Dayaa and his team founded the Hope School, where refugees volunteer to teach young children, dividing classes by the children’s native tongue—primarily Arabic, Kurdish and Farsi. In the summer of 2016, International Medical Corps began working with Hope School to provide hygiene promotion and training. “We became friends,” Dayaa said. “International Medical Corps is committed to this work.”

International medical Corps has been on the frontlines of the crisis in Syria since it began, working with refugees in neighboring countries and internally displaced men, women and children. Since 2011, more than 4.9 million Syrians have fled their homes to seek refuge in neighboring countries, and more than 1.3 million refugees from Syria—as well as other conflict-ridden places such as Iraq and Afghanistan—traversed the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. Today, some 62,000 persons of concern remain in Greece.

When the desperate refugees began making the perilous journey across the sea, our teams followed. Since the fall of 2015, we have provided primary and reproductive care, mental health and psychosocial support, gender-based violence prevention and response, and urgently needed relief materials. Our teams also delivered some 67,000 hygiene items, including feminine pads, toothpaste, toothbrushes, diapers, soap, wet wipes and toilet paper, and we educated thousands of men, women, and children on the importance of proper sanitation, such as washing one’s hands with soap. Dimitris, one of our Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Officers, explained, “We took into consideration the real needs of the refugees, addressing gaps and conducting activities that met those needs.”

Today, almost 700 children between the ages of five and 13 attend Hope School in Skaramagas Camp. What started as informal English lessons held in a tent now has two classrooms and an office. International Medical Corps educated some 200 children and distributed more than 100 hygiene kits to students. Dimitri said, “My favorite part of my job was when children would tell me they applied what they learned in the hygiene promotion lessons, explaining to their parents when they should wash their hands.”

We would like to thank the GlobalGiving community for your support of International Medical Corps’ work with the refugees and migrants in Greece.

A hand-washing demonstration at Hope School
A hand-washing demonstration at Hope School
Child-friendly latrines at Hope School
Child-friendly latrines at Hope School
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Roumatsh receives prenatal care
Roumatsh receives prenatal care

Roumatsh was already pregnant with her fourth child when she and her husband boarded a small dinghy bound for Greece. Several months earlier, they had made the difficult decision to leave their home in war-torn home Syria for the chance to give their children a “normal life” in Europe. They knew that crossing the Mediterranean Sea would be dangerous, especially for an expectant mother. Roumatsh said, “I was afraid something would happen to my pregnancy.” By the time they arrived in Greece, most European countries had closed their borders, leaving the family stranded in limbo in Skaramagas Camp.

Roumatsh’s story is heartbreaking, but not unique. Since civil war erupted in Syria in 2011, more than 4.8 million Syrians have fled their homes to seek refuge in neighboring countries. In 2016 alone, some 349,000 refugees and migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other nations have reached Europe by sea, more than 171,000 of whom landed in Greece. The capacity to accommodate refugees arriving on the Greek islands was quickly exceeded, and many refugees are now housed in informal camps and settlements on the mainland, or moving outside of camps into urban spaces. “I thought it would be better when we arrived in Europe,” Roumatsh said, “Now we are stuck.” There is often limited access to primary health care, and many pregnant women, like Roumatsh, find it difficult to access prenatal or obstetric care to ensure safe and healthy pregnancy and delivery.

Since fall 2015, our teams have operated in Greece, first on the islands, then the mainland, remaining flexible to meet the growing needs of refugees desperately travelling to Europe. With the support of GlobalGiving and other donors, International Medical Corps has provided emergency services, like health care and water, sanitation and hygiene support, to meet the growing needs of men, women, and children seeking care.

With women and children under four years making up some 56% of refugee and arrivals in Greece, International Medical Corps began scaling reproductive health, including obstetric/gynecological services. Over a span of three months, we have provided 246 women with 460 prenatal, postnatal and gynecological consultations in camps across Greece.

Roumatsh received prenatal care services from our clinic in Skaramagas Camp the first day it opened. When asked what she wished the world would understand about her situation, she replied: ‘I want people to know we are tired. Please be kind to us.”

We would like to thank the GlobalGiving community for your support of our work in Greece, helping mothers like Roumatsh have safe and healthy pregnancies.

A health worker checks Roumatsh's blood pressure
A health worker checks Roumatsh's blood pressure
Skaramagas Camp with pre-fab housing containers
Skaramagas Camp with pre-fab housing containers
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A woman stands outside her shelter in a camp
A woman stands outside her shelter in a camp

The children panic every time they hear an airplane or thunderclap. “They think they are going to be bombed,” their mother, Hana, explained. “Two bombs fell over our house. My small daughter was hurt by shrapnel.” Like nearly five million others, Hana and her family lost everything when they fled Syria’s brutal civil war. They crossed the Aegean Sea in a dinghy in the middle of the night, hoping to be reunited with Hana’s husband, who is receiving medical treatment in Germany. When the borders closed in March, Hana and her young children were stuck in Greece, without options and with little information or hope. Today, they live in an abandoned tobacco factory along with some 160 other people, mostly Syrian, their shelters divided by grey wool blankets strung up by a rope.

In some of the camps, families are allotted small tents, in others, row after row of ventilated container units line a barren gravel lot. While the structures vary from camp to camp, the people stranded in these camps have a few things in common, including a shared history of trauma. According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are some 59,000 refugees and migrants currently living in Greece, mostly in camps like Hana’s. Women and children make up around 59% of those living in limbo.

Dina Prior, International Medical Corps’ Country Director in Greece notes, “It’s critical that we care for their emotional and psychological needs, in addition to basic services, like clean water.” Psychosocial support is one of the key components of our response. Our teams are working to build the capacity of local psychosocial support staff, providing psychological first aid training. This training equips first responders to interact with the men, women, and children who have experienced stressful events. To support children’s mental health and well-being, we host programs that teach children valuable skills, including coping mechanisms and safe hygiene practices that empower children to play influential roles in their communities.

We are just getting started, and stories like Hana’s remind us how critical the need for psychological support is. Hasan, a refugee from Aleppo, Syria, described what he and so many refugees are experiencing: “I just want to sleep, but my mind won’t let me.” He added, “I am tired psychologically now. Every day there is a problem here. And then I remember Syria—and I am haunted by the ghosts.”

We want to thank the GlobalGiving community and other donors for supporting our work and helping refugees and migrants in Greece rebuild their lives.

Children wear shirts that teach them hygiene tips
Children wear shirts that teach them hygiene tips
Teaching life-skills to boys and girls in the camp
Teaching life-skills to boys and girls in the camp
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Distribution of hygiene kits in Thessaloniki
Distribution of hygiene kits in Thessaloniki

“As crisis has evolved, refugees and migrants arriving in Greece have become more stationary, residing in government-established settlements. With individuals and families residing in Greece for the foreseeable future, the government and the humanitarian community are working to expand the services provided – for example: moving from providing emergency first aid to supporting comprehensive health services, including primary and reproductive care and increased psychosocial support,” notes our Emergency Program Coordinator, Sambhavi.

Just over two months after the European Union and Turkey launched a plan to limit the flow of refugees and migrants to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea, approximately 54,000 refugees and migrants are now in Greece. But most of them are in a state of limbo. As Greek authorities work to accommodate and process refugees and migrants stranded in the country, approximately 46,000 people on the mainland reside in displacement sites, some ill-equipped to host refugees and lacking access to basic services such as latrines, shelter and more.

As the situation in Greece continues to evolve, International Medical Corps and our local partner, Programs of Development, Social Support, and Medical Cooperation (PRAKSIS), remain flexible in our response to meet the most urgent needs of families we serve. We recently relocated our mobile medical units from the islands of Samos, Leros and Kos, to Attica and Piraeus Port, where more than 5,000 refugees and migrants have established themselves. Since September 2015 our mobile medical teams have seen 5,272 patients, providing basic primary health care services, referrals when needed, linkages to other existing assistance, and basic psychosocial support.

Many refugees and migrants arriving or stranded in Greece have fled conflict in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and some have experienced trauma during their journey. Moreover, many refugees crossing into Greece suffer from stress resulting from basic needs not being met, such as for information, food or weather-appropriate clothing. Uncertainty about the future also causes high levels of anxiety, as can the trauma experienced by losing a home or family members, surviving violence and torture, and travel-related challenges. Sambhavi noted that, “As the crisis continues, the humanitarian community is seeing increased use of negative coping strategies like overuse of alcohol and use of drugs as well as increased inter-camp conflicts. Scaling up support for mental health is critical.”

To help meet their psychosocial needs, International Medical Corps’ mental health and psychosocial support specialists conducted 19 psychological first aid trainings for front line workers who interact with refugees and migrants to better enable them to provide initial support. Trainees learned how best to engage the refugees—offering a sense of safety, stabilizing them, gathering information, providing help with coping mechanisms, and connecting them with practical assistance, for example, related to shelter, food, water and clothing. A total of 286 participants attended the trainings, held in Athens, Lesvos, Samos, Leros, and Kos. The participants included personnel from the Greek coast guard, law enforcement, social workers, humanitarian staff, volunteers, and others.

As refugees and migrants traveling to Greece by sea are able to carry very little with them and are in need of basic supplies such as clothing, sleeping bags, and hygiene items once they arrive, International Medical Corps also collaborated with PRAKSIS and other relief organizations to provide such supplies, ranging from mattresses to hygiene kits, which include items such as towels, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap and feminine hygiene products. “With support from gift-in-kind donors and cash contributions International Medical Corps is able to position staff and materials to reach those in need.” says Sambhavi, “On one recent afternoon, we distributed more than 500 hygiene kits in new formal camps to people who had been evacuated from the informal settlement at Idomeni just that morning.”

Today, we are working to increase our primary and reproductive health services, as well as address gaps in water, sanitation and hygiene. We thank you for your continued support as we address the most urgent needs of families arriving in Greece. 

Medical consultation in Greece
Medical consultation in Greece
Relocating refugees from informal sites
Relocating refugees from informal sites
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A woman and child landing in Lesvos
A woman and child landing in Lesvos

Today, International Medical Corps is participating in GlobalGiving’s Pro-Rated Bonus Day. Give to our project any time between 9:00 AM EST and 11:59 PM EST, and GlobalGiving will add extra funds to make your donation go even further. Your donation and the extra funds will go towards reaching refugees seeking safety and a better life, and mitigating this refugee crisis. Read our latest update below to learn more about the current situation.

 

“What is happening in Lesvos right now is the next chapter of the world’s history books,” says Vaios Polichronidis, a professional architect who joined a 24-hour paramedic team in Greece run by Programs of Development, Social Support, and Medical Cooperation (PRAKSIS), International Medical Corps’ local partner. “People trained in sea rescue, first aid, and medicine are needed here more than ever.”

More than 625,000 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea since October 2015, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. While during the summer, approximately 70% of arriving refugees and migrants were men, today nearly half are women and children, and at least 85% of individuals came from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq since October. International Medical Corps is on the ground and working with local partners to reach those seeking refuge with medical care and relief supplies.

On the island of Lesvos in Greece, refugees and migrants are residing in “hotspots,” mainly tents or semi-permanent structures with beds, showers, latrines, and limited cooking facilities. Refugees are only expected to stay 4-to-72 hours, and as these prefabricated facilities are now exceeding their intended capacity, their conditions have deteriorated. To meet the increasing number of people arriving on the coast of Lesvos, International Medical Corps and PRAKSIS have launched a paramedic team, which has been able to offer basic emergency care and stabilization to 330 men, women, and children immediately upon landing.

Usually starting his day at 5:00 AM, Vaios climbs into a nine-passenger van with his colleagues and heads towards the coast where he spends the next eight hours or more receiving rafts crammed with refugees as they land on the shores of Lesvos. Trained in search-and-rescue, Vaios said he simply could not sit by and watch as thousands of people risked their lives to flee war and chaos at home in the hope of finding refuge and a better life in Europe for them and their families.

On days when the sea is calm and the skies are clear, Vaios will drive up and down the southern coast of Lesvos to meet raft after raft, each carrying about 50 people. His first priority is to see if someone needs medical attention. If there are no emergencies, he moves quickly to assure everyone is warm and dry, distributing clean clothes and blankets in a race to ward off hypothermia. “As a father myself, I look after babies and kids first, especially those who are soaked from their sea voyage,” Vaios says. He also carries chocolate with him—a small gesture to lift the spirits of children who often arrive wet, cold, and bewildered after a three or four-hour trip.

For Vaios, this is exactly why the paramedic team is so needed on Lesvos. “On the shore, medics and ambulances are not always available, especially if the boat lands somewhere far away from organized camps, which is very often,” he explains. “Our duty is to ensure that all of them get a chance to live—or at least try our best.”

With support from you, GlobalGiving, and other donors, International Medical Corps is able to reach refugees with immediate relief. We are extremely thankful to you and GlobalGiving for your generosity at this critical time.

Vaios helping refugees climb from their raft
Vaios helping refugees climb from their raft
Refugee and migrant arrivals at Lesvos
Refugee and migrant arrivals at Lesvos
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International Medical Corps

Location: Los Angeles, CA - USA
Website:
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Development Office
Los Angeles, CA United States

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