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Wednesday 15 June 2016

Volunteering with SAMS in Greece: Last days

Mark Boothroyd recently spent time volunteering with the Syrian American Medical Society team in Greece. You can read the start of his diary entries here, and the second part here.

28 May: Day five with SAMS Global Response

We headed back to Hara today. There was a struggle setting up the clinic. The usual spot was ruled out because people cooked there with fires made using plastic and other rubbish and the smoke was a health hazard, as well as the risk of burning down tents. We tried to park on the edge of the gas station next to the hotel, but the owner came out and told us to get off his property.

We found a spot further up the road and managed to get our tarp up to provide some shade for the patients.

The first couple of hours were extremely busy, with a host of minor injuries. Many people have been trying to cross the border and have sustained cuts and sprains due to the terrain, or at the hands of the FYROM police.

There were a few sick kids with fevers, and adults with headaches and sore throats. Sprained ankles and sore knees from long treks, and a fair few blisters.

One young man had his wrist broken by the FYROM police when they beat him and his friends for crossing the border. Everyone had stories of police brutality as they were violently attacked for attempting to cross. I had to remove the stitches from the scalp of guy who had his head split open by the police the last time he tried to cross. The attacks were so vicious that some people were praising the Greek police for being nice in comparison.

We met some lovely people as usual; a young Iranian guy hung around all day translating for Farsi speakers, an Afghan who had spent time in Pakistan helped out Urdu speaking refugees, while an Arab Syrian from Northern Syria translated into Kurdish for Iraqi and Syrian Kurds.

The best bit of the day was when a young girl made a thank you card for our translator Leena, and gave her some flowers. That our work inspired this effort in the midst of the harsh reality of the camp showed why it was so important. Among the total lack of care and support shown for the refugees by the EU and the Greek government, we were a sign that someone out there still cared for them, and wanted to do something to help. Without that, their whole experience would be of antagonism and fear and opposition. If we can bring a little human care and kindness into that situation, and help challenge that reality, it makes it all worth it.

29 May: Day six with SAMS Global Response

Today I was made Team Leader of the Hara clinic, a somewhat rapid promotion which I wasn't expecting.

After reorganising the clinic van and a trip to pharmacy we drove out to Hara and set up where we had yesterday.

Before we had even set up a volunteer came to us saying a pregnant woman was dizzy and needed to be seen. MSF also passed on a message that there had been fighting the night before and several stabbing so we should be prepared to receive lots of wounds.

We were inundated when we set up and ended up seeing 60 patients in the first two hours. There was only one stab victim though, and his wound had been inflicted several days before. The pregnant women was just a little dehydrated and suffering from morning sickness, so was given rehydration salts and encouraged to drink.

A young guy from Damascus who had helped translate for his friend came and sat with us during a quiet period. He had been in Turkey for three years before deciding to come to Europe. He explained he had lost all his family early in the revolt, so he had absolutely no one left.

He kept asking why the EU didn't let in refugees. "Do they think we're terrorists?!" he said repeatedly in English and Arabic. His anger and frustration were palpable.

The guy had no sympathy for radical nihilistic groups, but how long would that last if he was kept in this situation for another two or three years? Another patient explained that Daesh had taken over his village in Syria, so if he went back he would either have to join them or be killed. If the EU wouldn't let him in, his only choice to have any sort of life would be to return to Syria and join Daesh in some way.

The situation of the refugees; oppressed, denied their rights and forced to live in inhumane conditions, is a fertile ground for alienation and radicalisation. A translator reported that a group of refugees were joking that they wished they were animals because maybe the Europeans would treat them better then.

Despite this depressing reality, there some who maintained their spirit. A woman who had damaged her feet walking for five days over the border, still laughed and joked at how fast her smuggler had run and the comical manner in which he was shouting at them to go faster.

A real issue for us was a lack of Farsi translators. The population of Hara is mixed with lots of Afghans, Iranians, Kurds and Arabs from Iraq and Syria, some Pakistanis and Congolese. SAMS has plenty of Arabic speakers, but few Farsi speakers. We were lucky enough to have two Urdu speakers on our team, but that was pure coincidence. We did our best with help from refugees who spoke a bit of English helping to translate, but it was a struggle in more complex cases.

If any Farsi or Urdu speakers want to come out to volunteer with SAMS, please get in touch via their website.

From SAMS Global Response in Greece to Idlib National Hospital in Syria.
#MedicsUnderFire #NotATarget