We carried on towards Skala on the northern coast. The road quickly turned to dirt as it veered upwards. We carefully skirted around volunteer cars coming from the opposite direction; clearly identifiable by the high vis jacketed drivers. We realised the line of cars were full of blanketed people. When we reached the summit we found the last few remaining refugees from the latest recovery being reclothed. They were being tended to by a volunteer from the Norwegian group Drop in the Ocean. One of the men needed medical attention for his foot which was sore. He was sopping wet, so was reclothed and taken down to the medical tent. Unusually he was Somalian and was a nomadic refugee – having been on the move for years.
The road ahead appeared to deteriorate so we went back the way we came and dropped into Camp OXY, where the UNHCR supported by other small organisations have built a small holding camp equipped with a kids tent.
Reflective of the reducing numbers of refugees landing on the island (estimated to be 1500 per day as at 10th December), there was a small group of refugees being prepared for transit down the island by bus.
We spoke to some of the onsite volunteers who confirmed they were well equipped to deal with the reducing numbers, but a mass casualty event in this part of the island is a constant concern. Our photographer – Brian Rutter (Kincaid Photography) was quickly acosted by a volunteer for taking photos. Her reaction was extreme, given Brian was taking this photo above which isn’t what you could call intrusive. However tension permeates throughout every part of the island and we subsequently learned that volunteers are now inducted to keep photographers out. Unfortunately a couple of rogue photographers who left their sensitivities at home have now made it very difficult to get direct photographic evidence of what’s happening on the island. The implication of this is that media attention will reduce, impacting volunteers ability to fundraise. So in effect this protocol on the island might have cut off its nose to spite its face.
A toddler, around 3 years old happily played with a bouncy ball while he waited to be processed. He then decided to pour a bottle of water over the ball and himself, raising a laugh from the volunteer who had recently reclothed him. He appeared to be travelling with a sister of around 7 and a baby brother of around 4 months. It is almost unbelievable to think that the night before they were crossing the sea in the bitter cold.
We headed south east and arrived at Kara Tepe, a larger camp which houses and registers Syrian families. The camp was empty, we assume on account of the reducing numbers and the fact that Syrian processing is pretty swift, with an automatic grant of 6 months rights to stay (Syrians only). Without a permit we couldn’t get into the camp fully, but tomorrow we are meeting Disaster Tech Lab to learn how they are enabling the camps with technology like solar powered wifi. I hadn’t appreciated how vital wifi connectivity is to coordinate emergency response – especially when disparate groups need to come together to achieve adequate resourcing levels.
Later in the afternoon we visited Pikpa, an informal camp which cares for the most vulnerable refugees. It is a special place and needs a blog post all of its own – so more to follow as now we are off to get ready for a night of beach patrolling. We’ve yet to see a boat land, but last night 5 boats landed near we are staying. The volunteers tell us they can’t see them coming in the inky black of night – but they tell us we will hear the screams.
Photography copyright Brian Rutter | Kincaid Photography