12295432_10153127109931035_2083930406583333085_nHere is a little piece about the refugee experience: 

In Turkey people smugglers will promise you a safe journey to Greece. When you get to the rendezvous point, there will be up to 80 people for a boat designed for 30. Take it or leave it, they have your money already. 12239870_10153124453896035_1739053068913923662_n
The smugglers will teach one of the passengers how to use the engine, give them a knife to cut the engine out before they reach the island of Lesbos and then they leave you to your own devices. People smuggling – do it yourself style. None of the smugglers will come along on the boat and help you navigate the Mediterranean and find the island.
The lack of ferries is attributed to the financial interest and mafia style organisation of the people smuggling.

The Greek coast guard give heads up if a boat capsizes but do not interfere. That is done by volunteer coast guards from Spain.  There was a famous clip where Greek coastguards pushed a dinghy full of desperate people away and almost sunk it themselves.

12107860_10153940631363273_7550067170709335869_nThe boats that make it through the Mediterranean Sea to Lesbos arrive usually along a 10 mile stretch of coast.

Here is Stage One of their journey: The official landing points or arrival camps.

There are two camps run by an anarchist group from Athens called ‘Platano’.
Many informal groups and volunteers help, giving the refugees dry shoes and clothes, especially for kids. There’s no running water and no electricity and no presence of any NGO’s. Food comes also only from charities and volunteers, donated sandwiches, energy bars and water etc. There is never enough for everyone, though.
I saw a gofundme campaign by a cook from the Far East (Philippines or Malaysia) who is one of many trying to help through his own initiative.
Volunteers also make sure that families can be kept together, trying to direct the 12278972_10153127109481035_7285676143325365805_nrefugees to split the load between the two camps sensibly.

Medical assistance is provided by Adventist and ISRAID, as well as independent doctors. Unbelievable how this is basic human aid is left to charities.

12219530_10153109230241035_7190704404822544470_nAfter a steep ascend of 2 km along a small and bendy road the refugees arrive at


There is a UN style large tent with portaloos, but no running water either. This is the first time for the refugees to sit down for a few moments and rest. There is a facility to make tea or hot chocolate although there is never both available. This camp is run by Samaritans and a number of small Christian charities, all happy to accept help from volunteers.

5,000 people arrive in Greece every day. The majority of them are landing in Lesbos. One 12191810_10153087038186035_5704083551552053307_nsource named this years figure 720,000 refugees in Greece. Lesbos took in 406,206, which is almost five time times the island’s population of 85,000. The authorities can’t register people fast enough, which means they can’t leave the island.

EU funded buses then take the refugees to either one of two camps:

A:  The Moria Camp : This is run by the Greek government, 20years old and used for all non-12274455_10153124267991035_5876244158925385486_nSyrians. Moria camp is constantly full and many have to resort to sleeping around the edges of the camp. Iraqis, Afghans, single Syrian men, and the handful of other nationalities—Pakistanis, Eritreans, Somalians, fleeing the Taliban, forced conscription, and other assorted horrors—wait in Moria, a walled prison camp that makes Kara Tepe look like a bed and breakfast. These people have walked a lot longer than most of the people in Kara Tepe.

B: Kara Tepe camp is run by the UN and the Red Cross and used for Syrians. It is modern with more facilities and regarded as much better run.

There are areas for unaccompanied minors and vulnerable people, but up to this stage, about 12 hours plus since leaving turkey, still no officials have met and dealt with the refugees!

Save The Children set up child-friendly spaces in Kara Tepe. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees set up a massive tent to protect people from the island’s sun and rain. The International Rescue Committee installed lamps, toilets, and portable latrines.

Greek authorities sent extra personnel from Athens to speed up the registration process but a four-day strike by ferry workers and EU fingerprinting have dramatically slowed down the registration process. Frontex, the EU’s border agency, is using screening experts, leading to refugees  standing in line waiting to be registered, for days.
Source for the last paragraph: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/11/greeks-bearing-gifts-213404#ixzz3t8lTR96b

Before the EU buses started in September
everyone had to walk the 56km from the landing point to here.

That is a 70min drive and must have been hell to walk during the Greek summer. 12283222_10153130402471035_216308526_nDepending on how old and exhausted you are that can take people up to 2 days. Having been charged a fortune for the dinghies most walk, few can afford to take taxis. The goal is to get to the port and take a ferry to either Athens or Kavala.

At the camps the guys register to prove they are Syrians, which means they get the admission papers and guaranteed asylum.

Quite a large number are 12249640_10153127705966035_4241752934147665280_nworried or have heard stories about the conditions in the camps or fear being sent away and they insist on going straight to the port, at this stage without rest or shower etc in at least 24 hours.

The Ferries, usually empty during the winter season, charge them full summer prices. For Syrians at least it is now organised and from Athens there are buses and trains that take them further through Macedonia and Serbia to Croatia and Slovenia. 12295432_10153127110816035_3051056364587341277_n

If you want to do anything in the meantime, try to help those on the road. https://www.gofundme.com/humansasone

My friend Rando Wagner’s hands-on humanitarian work for the refugees in Europe goes on. To catch up, read my article about his gofundme page

12271205_10153124241826035_1547184021_oHe keeps collecting clothes and anything that the refugees can use, from toothbrushes to socks and other supplies and then sends them over to Germany in the “Berlin Air Bridge 2015” side of his activities. He also keeps flying to Lesbos at other times to help more hands on. Supporting his campaign is money well spent. No overhead costs, everything is transparent and your money goes directly to the refugees.