Our Representative Martina on her visit in Athens

Last week, Martina transited via Athens on her return to Italy for a two week break from her work on Kastellorizo. Below a touching letter she wrote to the Team about her stay in Athens where she saw again many of the families and people whom had arrived on Kastelorizo weeks earlier and whom she had assisted with first aid and firs welcome into Europe. A picture which remains very complex and heartbreaking, as as much as we can do on the small island of Kastelorizo, the bigger picture remains very confusing and blurry, with many people remaining stuck at various points of their journey through Europe: 

Hello everybody,
As I already mentioned to Madhuri, during my time transiting in Athens, I visited the refugee camp of Eleonas and I went for a walk to the harbor.
I had remained in touch with several families who had come by Kastellorizo and one of these families is still in Athens, at the Eleonas camp. When I told them that I was in Athens, they immediately invited me to go see them for a tea. We spent several hours together chatting in a small room with two bunk beds for 4 adults, 2 children and a newborn baby.
Ameer is a pharmacist and his wife a physiotherapist and they both speak excellent English and are absolutely wonderful people. During our chat, I discovered that unfortunately, the wife suffers from a serious illness. They are very worried about the fact that she cannot be treated and they do not know whether her condition is stable or if it has worsened. The other woman living with them is pregnant and their six year-old-child has stopped speaking.
Together with a boy from Iraq whom I also know from Kastellorizo, I decided to go for a walk and explore the situation at Piraeus harbor. I was expecting to see a few familiar faces but I was certainly not expecting what I in fact experienced. As soon as I got off the bus, which took us to camp number 4, I heard various children’s voices shouting my name and immediately others started getting out of their tents. I met more or less 100 people who had been with me in Kastellorizo a month ago. They left the island when the borders were already closed, I saw them boarding on the big ferry leaving from Kastellorizo, not knowing what would happen to them, and thinking I would never see them again. They are still there, waiting. I have to say that for me personally, it was hugely emotional, and they were all very surprised and very happy. They all asked me to join them in their tents for tea.  Languages are not at all a barrier in these cases, smiles are much more important. It was a beautiful moment that I will never forget and I cannot stop thinking how thankful I am that our paths crossed.

02/03/2016 - Miracle birth of baby Thomas-Angelos

On March 2nd in the early hours of the morning, a 38-year old Syrian woman landed on the island of Kastellorizo on a boat with 83 people. Later that night she gave birth to her baby Thomas-Angelos while transferring to Rhodes from Kastellorizo. Below a Greek newspaper and the English translation reporting the news:

"A healthy boy was born yesterday morning in the air, in a Greek Air Force helicopter, to a 37-year old woman from Syria, during an emergency airlift from Kastelorizo o Rhodes.

The signal was sent about the imminent birth, by the Health Center of Kastelorizo to the General Hospitcal of Rhodes, which instructed an ambulance for immediate transfer which resulted in an emergency request to the Greek Air Force.

Immediately, a Super Puma took off from the island to rescue the preganant mother and her companion on Kastellorizo. Also aboard the helicopter was the doctor Polymnia Galanos, who assisted the mother with the delivery of her baby during the flight.

After landing in Rhodes the mother, her companion and their baby boy were taken to hospital where it was confirmed that both mother and child were in perfect health."

However, Shanti has the untold story:

During the morning of that day our representatives were distributing aid outside the police station to a big group of new arrivals, they noticed this 9 months pregnant woman and Martina brought her immediately to the hospital in order to check everything was fine. Later in the afternoon when she was bk at the police station waiting for registration. The pregnant woman’s water broke inside the Shanti gazebo placed outside the Police station by our Reps and bought with our donors’ funds. Following this, our Reps drove her immediately to the Medical Center and stayed with the woman for more than 6 hours at the Medical Center while she waited to transfer to better-equipped hospital facilities in Rhodes. They held her hand and stayed with her to comfort and encourage her and her husband. Moreover, the Super Puma helicopter mentioned in the article above, was called by Giannis the doctor with the support of other people who rushed to help in such delicate situation.  The already mother of three, gave birth in the air, in the helicopter that was called to rescue with the help of our Shanti Representatives on the ground.

The pilot proposed to baptize the baby Angelos, as he was born in the helicopter while in flight to Rhode, and both parents agreed.  He was born of 2,460 kg, beautiful and healthy also in part thanks to Martina and Magda, our representatives, who took such good care of his mother upon her arrival on Kastellorizo. 

Kathemirini Newspaper Article featuring Kastellorizo

On February 21st, following the increase in refugee arrivals on the island, Kathimerini, one of the most important newspapers in Greece, published an article telling the story and mentioning Shanti refugees and talking about our work as the organization helping out the locals on the island. You may find a link to the original article below, as well as an English translation: 

http://www.kathimerini.gr/850146/gallery/epikairothta/ellada/metatopizoyn-tis-prosfygikes-roes-pros-to-kastellorizo

“I fear that I might go out into the night and there won’t be a moon for shining light. I fear I might hit someone with the boat’s engine.”. He had already gone 24 hours without sleep rescuing tens of people when we spoke last Wednesday night. The 30 year old port authority was getting ready to patrol the narrow passageway between Kastellorizo and the Turkish coast, as he said, from the still air the sea looked like a mirror for yet another night. However, he wasn’t expecting that by daybreak he would have rescued more than 300 people from the water and the rocks- a greater number than any other previous time. From this unseen side, the Turkish coast is so close - there are just 2.2 kilometers to the bordering island - that some refugees attempt to swim across. Over the past five months more than 6000 refugees reached the island which has just 250 permanent residents. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, most arrivals were recorded for the month of November when 1662 people arrived at the island while in January of 2015 there were no more than 15. From the February data it seems that a new record of arrivals will be reported, causing port authorities to worry that the traffickers are discovering new routes and departure points. Moreover, as has been known, NATO patrols will not arrive at the bordering island. Under normal circumstances, the doctor Ioannis Rantos wouldn't be in Kastellorizo today. The length of his rural placement was completed last November but he asked for an extension. His placement for a specialization in general surgery opened up three times at the Attica Hospital, now he doesn't know where he will be placed. “I felt as though I couldn't leave from Kastellorizo when the refugee crisis was growing. I couldn't create a vacancy”, he told me in our phone conversation. In Kastellorizo, another doctor is also doing his placement, the Syrian native Basar Mousa, who often takes on the role of interpreter. Mister Rantos sleeps in the building which houses the island’s medical centre. Since last October the port authorities have been knocking on his first aid door asking for help. Often enough, refugee families sleep at the medical centre. He recalls that during one of the more difficult periods, 27 people had spent the night at the centre. The next morning they helped him clean the area so he could welcome patients. “Refugees arrive, you bond with them, they leave and then you have to start again from zero to build a human relationship with the new arrivals,” says the 26 year old doctor. “You can’t remove the war from your mind. Every moment the image of the people arriving here reminds you of it”.

GREAT PRESSURE

The staffing of the island makes it difficult to manage the flows of refugees. The port authority station has no more than ten employees, whereas at least double the manpower is required. There is not even a cell available in case a trafficker is arrested. In one week, two port authorities in one inflatable boat rescued over 100 refugees. The often also seek the help of fishermen. Their breaks are few and the fatigue accumulates. Problems also arise with the police on the island. Usually, every week two members of the UN High Commission for Refugees comes to Kastellorizo from Rhodes to assist in the management and updating of newcomers. After daybreak on, Thursday more than 600 refugees and immigrants remained on the island until they could be recorded. Amongst them were women and children. Twice a week there is a coastal transit with Rhodes and from there the refugees go to Piraeus. Some sleep in rented rooms until their planned departure. However, there often aren't enough houses available for everyone. Recently, the municipality granted the cultural association  hall of the to accommodate refugees. Since October, under the guidance of the UN High Commission, the volunteer group “Shanti Refugees” helps local authorities in the management of refugees. That same month they provided 3000 rations. So far they have collected about 90,000 euros in donations from England, the USA, France and other countries. Currently they have two volunteers on the island, a Greek and an Italian. Through their donations they have strengthened the coast with life jackets and flashlights for night rescues. They offer clothes, shoes and mattresses for the refugees. Moreover, at the expense of this volunteer organization, the island is expecting in the coming days, a special fridge is designed to refrigerate corpses that are retrieved from the sea.

THE ARRIVALS

The majority of refugees and immigrants disembark on the islands of Ro and Strongilli. In some cases, from the testimonials of survivors the traffickers lead the boats for a few meters and then dive into the water to return to the Turkish coast by swimming. During the night of February 17th, the inflatable boat of the port authority was sailing with its engine and lights switched off near Ro, waiting for the traffickers to make a move. “We saw him making them disembark on the island and then try to return to Turkey. He passed ten meters in front of us and we managed to stop him”, says the “K” port authority who spoke anonymously. Mr Rantos had also asked to board the port authority’s boat when pregnant women were found on islets. Due to the morphology of Kastellorizo rescue operations are usually carried out with great difficulty. The inflatable boats of the refugees tear as soon as they touch the rocks and the port authority’s boat has to approach the shore within a few centimetres for them to board. Last December the rural doctor had brought to the island some friends of his from university to help him with demanding work. “At times you feel completely drained from fatigue,” he says, “This situation sucks all the energy out of you”.

Shanti Refugees Featured on Italian Talk Show

On March 2nd, Shanti Refugees was featured in an Italian morning talk show. Our representative, Martina, is seen working and answering questions on refugee flows and the implications of closing borders further up in Europe for Kastellorizo. Rai Tre had sent a journalist, Roberta Rei, to the island the week before, for filming and reporting material for the talk show Agorà which airs every morning for two hours on national Italian TV. The themes discussed on the show are always topics of current affairs and events. Martina, being one of the few (only?) Italian speakers on the island was interviewed directly and the name of Shanti refugees features below her name in the clip, which you can watch below using the link below.

The clip tells the story of Kastellorizo from the time it was featured in the famous Italian movie Mediterraneo (1991) which won an Oscar the same year to today, where it is once again on headline news given the current refugees crisis, and the importance of the island as a strategic point of intersection at the frontline of Europe's border.

http://www.rai.tv/dl/RaiTV/programmi/media/ContentItem-20e0767f-5373-460a-849b-c647585b9377.html#p=0

In the clip Martina says:

Migratory movements have been stopped to three Greek islands, Kos, Simos and Lesbos so we are suspecting that this will increase flows in Kastellorizo. It is absolutely true that what we see happening on this island is exactly what is then replicated at a global level. Right now, we have no physical space to host the migrants and last night the clothing donations' building was on fire. We have lost all clothing donations. 

Greek Islanders will be nominated for the Nobel peace prize

Of the 900,000 refugees who entered Europe last year, most were received by those living on the Greek islands of the Aegean Sea, including Kastellorizans and our Shanti efforts. A group of leading academics are drafting a document for submission in favor of awarding the Nobel peace prize to the people of Lesbos, Kós, Chíos, Samos, Rhodes and Leros.

Read more on The Guardian.

Christine Lagarde and the Need for EU Cooperation

At the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, the International Monetary Fund chief, Christine Lagarde introduced a report which revealed that an influx of refugees into Europe needs not to harm the economy provided there is an adequate EU agreement for the more-even distribution of migrants across the continent.

The report challenged the resistance of EU leaders to forming an agreement stating that there exists an "upside potential" from migration. Namely, if policies are designed to allow migrants to integrate into domestic labour markets rapidly, they may benefit the economy while not harming the prospects of the host nations' citizens.

Read the Financial Times article here.

David Miliband and the Need for Foreign Aid

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, spoke recently to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the Syrian crisis. His testimony offered a broad insight into this "human catastrophe of major proportions" and a range of recommendations for the international community about how it should help. It is worth reading for an overview of the crisis and what needs to happen next.

Discussing the influx of refugees into Europe, Miliband calls for the EU to do three things:

  • Establish safe and legal options for refugees to come to Europe. 
  • Improve reception conditions, particularly in Greece. 
  • Implement a robust and well-monitored relocation plan.

Shanti's work concerns the second point. Lesbos is the most popular destination for refugees, as Miliband notes, and much aid is correctly directed there. However, it is crucial for refugees to receive aid wherever they land. This is how we can help on Kastellorizo.

Read David Miliband's testimony in full here.