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Dear Friends and Family,lesvos.jpg

It has been just over a week since my return from Lesvos and I am still trying to process all that I learned and witnessed during my short stay helping out as a volunteer nurse.  The situation has not changed with the changing temperatures and political climate.  Refugees in the thousands are still making that perilous trip across choppy waters from Turkey to Greece in the hope of making a new life in Europe.  The political situation has changed somewhat. The EU is no long registering N. Africans, Iranians and Asians as they once were, creating a backlog of innocent and frustrated migrants on the island and elsewhere in Greece.  Today, only Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans are allowed to pass through Greece and on towards other European countries.  Whereas these are bona fide refugees, many have come without documents to prove their countries of origin, and although they may be Hazara from Afghanistan their language is Farsi, so they can easily be labeled as Iranians and not allowed to continue their voyage.  There are very few translators in the camps who can help the local police with the registration process, so people are mislabeled, told they must be held until they can be deported and given only the necessities that volunteers can provide while they wait.

I had the privilege of working with the ragtag group of volunteers who came to help out on “Afghan hill” or Moria camp, where everyone but Syrians were directed to wait, sometimes for as much as 5 days, until they could be properly processed.  The clinic where we were working was well-run and professional. We saw hundreds of refugees a day, some still soaked through from their trips on the rubber boats, many with severe anxiety reactions, sore throats, viruses or just in need of a little bit of concerned care.  We had some translators, but they were few and often we relied on hand gestures to ascertain what the medical problem was. Often we could find a refugee who spoke that language as well as English. The refugees were all very happy to help us out.  I saw too many grown men weep when they tried to explain their trip while pulling out photos of loved ones lost.  I have no idea if those loved ones died during the trip or in their place of origin, but the memories of the sad parents or spouses of all those happy faces in the photos will haunt me forever.  There were children too traumatized to speak or to take a piece of candy that was offered. There were elderly people as well.  Many had come with their families, some alone as couples.  Once they were changed into dry clothing and given food, we were left trying to find a shelter for them and other vulnerable groups for the night.  The shelters (small camping tents)were few, so many were left to wait out the night next to a burning pile of plastic or the few branches that they could find.  Whereas the official “Syrian camp” was adjacent to ours (a walled compound manned by police), we did not mix.  If there was a more critical medical case, we brought those patients in wheelchairs (not an easy feat up the rutted grassless terrain) to be seen by Medecins san Frontiers or Medecins du Monde, which provided care in that gated and barb wired camp.  UNHCR was a presence there in the Syrian camp as well. I can’t say more than that.  There were two representatives in their tent and they were not seen at the shorelines where people were disembarking or swimming to the shore.  They did provide the many buses, which brought the newcomers to the camps each day.

I want to thank you all for your donations, kind thoughts and prayers, but most of all, I want to thank you for not forgetting about this tragedy that is unfolding.  These people need our help, not our derision. They are mostly innocent victims of bad political decisions. They represent all of us in some way or another.

I hope that this holiday season brings joy and peace to all of you and that the New Year can be one of hope for a better future for everyone.  Thank you again for your support.

Love and Peace, Anne

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