Mytilene - 23rd and 24th of December, 2015

Chris Gioran bio photo By Chris Gioran

The camp at Molivos - known as OXY, from the name of a nearby nightclub - is the stage 2 area where refugees can take a rest before continuing to the camp at Moria to be officially registered. Here, people that land at Skala Sykamias and Mandamado can get a decent meal, use bathroom facilities, seek medical attention and perhaps even spend the night if they arrived too late and the last buses to the registration sites have already left.

On the 23rd and the 24th, i was there as a volunteer with METAdrasi, a Greek NGO that offers official interpreter services primarily to UNHCR but also to everyone that needs them. I also had the chance to talk with the people that work there, including Starfish which manages the camp operations and International Rescue Committee which takes care of unescorted underage refugees. There is also presence from WAHA which offers medical services, the Red Cross and UNHCR.

An interpreter from METAdrasi, supporting a refugee with an injured leg at Molivos stage 2 camp.

During these two days, no more than 50 people, most of them unpaid volunteers, helped about a thousand refugees that reached the island of Mytilene, offering them a resting point before transporting them to Moria to be registered by the authorities. It is hard to describe the operation of the camp without mentioning the efficiency with which it accomplishes its task. Fifty people, belonging to about six different organizations, without a central coordination body or any presence of the Greek state or other authority, manage to forward all the new arrivals to their next stop usually within the time it takes for the buses to roundtrip to Moria. There is no hierarchy to speak of, with the domain of responsiblity being well defined for each volunteer so that toe-stepping is kept to a minimum. At the same time, everyone is willing to step in and do small tasks such as making sure queues are properly maintained, providing some basic orientation and directions around the camp, making sure that supplies have been provided to people being loaded into buses etc.

An improvised table for arm wrestling, with pieces of lifejackets repurposed as supports. Molivos camp, Mytilene.

When it comes to communication, with volunteers coming from Greece, US, Australia, Netherlands, Sweden, Somalia, Syria and other countries, naturally English tends to dominate. However, that is not true for the migrants, few of who understand even the most basic of English words. That’s what makes speakers of Farsi and Arabic quite sought after, especially the people from METAdrasi. While hand gestures and tone of voice can be enough for handing out clothes or meals, visits to the doctor or asylum information need official translation services, which ensures that medical and legal terminology is properly interpreted. Unsurprisingly, speaking the refugee’s language also creates a bond with them, making them appear as the interface between the refugee and the camp as a whole. That puts the interpreters in a sensitive position, as they have to be understanding of the needs of the beneficiaries and the psychological stress they are under, making them occasionally not only translators of words but also translators of cultures.

When the people working at the camp are asked how they feel about their work, they always respond with a serene face. It is not hard to see that they are proud of what they are doing while also hoping that they didn’t have to. One of the most interesting descriptions i heard was that when the flow of arrivals is reduced, they are happy because they get to rest, but also they are worried that there are refugees that are stuck behind the Turkish border and cannot continue their journey.

The press permit supplied by Starfish, that allowed me to take pictures on the 24th of December.