When Volunteers & Government Collide

Over the past week there have been reports of volunteers being arrested on Lesvos. Yesterday Ekathimerini.com rather dramatically reported that seven foreign nationals working for NGOs were arrested on Monday for “stealing” life jackets from the local dump. The report went on to suggest that local authorities didn’t believe the volunteers requirements for the life jackets – which was to use them as ground insulation in tents – was the actual intended use. The entire incident is a bit bizarre and smacks of a slow news day.

However volunteers caught up in the incident, all of whom were released without charge were most frustrated by the fact that an entire day was wasted as they were subjected to 11 hours of form filling in the local police station. The volunteers involved have been quick to point out that they were unaware of the fact that the dump was in fact government property and there was no signage to alert them of the fact.

Today,  No Borders reported that a boat which was reported to be sinking was responded to by a volunteer vessel. Upon arrival the boat was found to be filling with water. Due to the panic in the boat the volunteers decided to move the children to the rescue vessel, followed by the adults as opposed to waiting for the arrival of the coastguard. The crew of the volunteer rescue vessel were subsequently detained by the authorities.

In Chios, it is also reported by No Borders that volunteer cooks have been arrested following a house raid close to Camp Souda. It is unclear at this time what the basis for the charges are.

The increased presence of the police and Frontex over the past week comes following a tip off that large numbers of armed Turkish police were to be deployed to Camp Moria, Lesvos last Friday in a coordinated Greek / Turkish response to the refugee crisis, coordinated at an EU level.  Reports of aggressive and violent police behaviour have been reported by volunteers.

These incidents open up the debate about the rights of volunteers, particularly when acting in an emergency response situation. When a life is at stake laws tend to be disregarded – this is natural world order. The subsequent consequences for the volunteers and the disruption that ensues is a pointless waste of time and resource.

The rights of the local community, who will undoubtedly value law and order also have to be acknowledged. Trespassing, use of municipal property and volunteer disruption go hand in hand with disaster response.

In this refugee crisis – given the threat to life, both on sea and land – common sense should prevail and it seems this week, in Lesvos and Chios it hasn’t.

Photograph: Brian Rutter | Kincaid Photography.




  1. I cannot believe the report of armed Turkish police being allowed on Greek soil – the Greeks are always alert to the possibility of problems with Turkey ever since Cyprus, and the Greek armed forces are always monitoring Turkish movements in Greek airspace etc…


  2. Thank you for this report. I know some of the folks who were arrested, people who have donated huge amounts of their time and limited resources to saving lives. It is shocking that they would be arrested for using what island officials consider garbage. What are the priorities of government and what are Turkish police doing on Lesvos? Sounds like they are spending that $3 billion they were given to support the refugees.


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