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The Refugee Crisis in the Aegean in the Heart of Winter

The situation of thousands of refugees who keep traveling across the Aegean during harsh winter months becomes increasingly tough. The humanitarian infrastructure of the islands has improved tremendously and nothing reminds of the chaos during summer months, when only few volunteers and members of the local communities used their own resources to help thousands of people arriving every day. Many organizations and volunteers from Greece and abroad, as well as official aid agencies that arrived on the islands too late are now in the eastern Aegean region and, as they have the necessary resources, they help creating humanitarian infrastructure and providing basic necessities.

The needs have changed and while in summer we had to deal with dehydration and sunstroke, now the greatest difficulty for the refugees is to travel across the Aegean, facing the rough sea and intense winter currents. If they arrive on the coast alive, they still have to deal with the cold and rain. The islands now receive fewer refugees than in the summer and autumn, but for those who arrive the winter is going to be really hard.

Despite the extremely difficult work the volunteers and Coast Guard staff are doing in the islands of the Aegean, the refugees keep drowning. Just a few days ago, the bodies of children and adults have been found on the shores of Ikaria, Fourni and Agathonisi, as well as on the Turkish coast. We will never know how many others remained in the depths forever… What is even more worrying is the fact that we often forget that our fellow human beings are dying, because their cases are no longer mentioned in the latest news.

The Efforts of Archipelagos

What must certainly be recognized is the enormous effort of the local organizations and ordinary people, who could not stay idly against this humanitarian crisis, and despite all the adversity and personal problems they offer a truly invaluable assistance.

After all, like all the people in the islands, we believe that to tackle this huge problem we have to apply the few means available, like expressing our solidarity with fellow human beings in need, both on the islands and in the disadvantaged areas of Athens.
We thought it was obvious that we had to help our fellow human beings in need and from the very beginning of this humanitarian drama we have been closely cooperating with civil initiatives, local authorities and international aid organizations when they have finally arrived to the eastern Aegean. We provide both our human resources and our infrastructure (vessels, cars, research bases) to tackle this incredible humanitarian crisis.

Here we must emphasize that this whole effort of Archipelagos is absolutely selfless and based on our own resources. Priceless and heartwarming is the response of our friends, who for many months have been sending relief goods, such as clothing, food and baby products. These items are stored in our research bases on Samos. In order ensure the proper distribution of donations in places where they are actually need, since the beginning of the crisis we have been cooperating with both the Hellenic Center for Disease Control & Prevention and the international organization called Samaritan’s Purse. They distribute goods to the refugees who arrive during the night. We also share a common warehouse with Médecins Sans Frontières, who give away the relief goods on Samos, shipping them also to Agathonisi in the summer.

What is more, we launched a crowdfunding campaign and gathered 1750 Euros in order to partially cover the expense of medicines and relief items, as well as to buy ferry tickets for families of refugees stranded in the islands, as they have no such opportunity.

The Positive Impact of the Refugee Crisis on the Economy

We have to mention another aspect of this humanitarian crisis, which is often overlooked. While in recent months much has been said about the assistance given to the refugees, it is important to mention the substantial financial support for the economy of the islands and beyond, which has been caused by over 800,000 refugees, relief agency workers and volunteers. Even the hotels which remain empty during summer are fully booked in winter. Restaurants offer menus in Arabic, while ferry companies, transport enterprises, car rentals, travel agencies, individuals who rent buildings, craftsmen and many others prosper directly or indirectly due to the refugee crisis. We cannot forget about this aspect of the situation: the drama of our fellow human beings supports the economy of the islands.

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