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Tuesday 7 June 2016

Volunteering with SAMS Global Response in Greece

Mark Boothroyd recently spent time volunteering with the Syrian American Medical Society team in Greece. This is the first in a series of diary entries.

24 May: Day one with SAMS Global Response in Greece. The Greek government has begun clearing Idomeni camp so no volunteers are allowed in, and only minimal staff from NGOs. All press are barred, and the few citizen journalists who remained inside were detained. As all volunteer agencies are barred, SAMS concentrated its work on the camps at Eko, Hotel Hara, and Sindos.

The day started with a briefing from SAMS coordinator about the situation, then we split into groups and planned the day’s work at our respective camps.

As the Greek government is now planning to clear most informal camps, we planned for a ‘mass casualty’ incident, in case they tried to violently clear a camp while we were there providing treatment. Thankfully this didn’t happen.

We then went to the ‘pharmacy’ to restock on supplies. The basement of the house in Polykastro is now an amazingly organised warehouse, with lighting, shelves and tons of materials organised and labelled for ease of access. The majority of the material has been donated from medical organisations and hospitals across Europe, a testament to people’s solidarity despite government indifference.

There are still two ‘rooms of shame’ (pictured) holding unsorted boxes and suitcases of medicine, which just shows the volume of material donated to help the clinics run.

We headed towards Hotel Hara, but an unfortunate collision between the clinic van and a local’s car delayed us for an hour as the police were called and insurance paperwork was sorted. We spent the time lounging in a ice cream parlour, gorging ourselves on cheap ice cream while the cops decided whether they were that bothered to arrest our driver. They removed the van’s license plates as a precaution to stop us driving away.

Eventually everything was sorted and we headed to Hara. Hotel Hara became an informal camp when Idomeni became intolerable for many, and it houses between 400-600 refugees. There is a mix of Syrians, Kurds, Iranians and a few Afghans and Iraqis.

We set up our clinic at the roadside and got to work. There were a mix of complaints: coughs and colds, blisters and sore feet from walking, skin rashes from lack of hygiene, urine and kidney infections, swollen joints, and old war wounds which were aggravated by poor living conditions.

One guy had broken his foot a week ago. Becoming frustrated with his cast, he had taken it off and walk around on it. He needed us to sort out his broken foot as a smuggler was going to take him across the border tonight, and he would have to walk for seven days. After explaining the limits of what we could do, I bandaged his foot tightly, gave him some spare bandages and extra painkillers and sent him on his way. We advised him to use a crutch as much as possible. Whether it would make a difference was unlikely.

Towards the end of the clinic clowns without borders turned up to entertain the kids. They got them laughing and clapping along to slap stick antics, and even persuaded some adults to join in.

While I was getting some materials from the clinic van a young boy of eight years old was playing around trying to see inside the van. A news helicopter flew low overhead and the boy immediately turned around and pointed his hands like a rifle at the helicopter and began making shooting noises.

Deyar, the young Kurdish guy who translated for us at Idomeni turned up, again, translating for another Kurdish man. We chatted and he explained he was being smuggled across the border that night as well. I wished him luck and that I was glad to see him again. He accepted the words kindly, but everything I could say sounded trite in my head.

We finished the clinic having seen 65 patients, and headed back to our hotel.