By Caroline Haga, IFRC
Over 26,000 vulnerable people have braved the freezing weather and rough seas to reach Lesvos in the first few weeks of 2016. Once they have been helped ashore by the Hellenic Red Cross rescue team and other lifeguards, many of them make their way to a new transit centre by the shoreline.
It is bitterly cold with winds rushing between the tents at the transit centre Apanemo high up in the hills. But inside a large tent it is warm and noisy with families sipping tea and children playing. They are waiting to board the minibuses taking them to the registration centres.
More soaking wet people are brought to the centre: an elderly woman in a wheelchair, children of all ages. Two drenched teenagers insist that they are OK, thanking us profusely for even asking. At Apanemo – which is managed by the International Rescue Committee with support from the Hellenic Red Cross and other aid organizations – people are handed water, food and dry clothes, and coloured bracelets for the buses.
Speaking their language
Once they reach the large tent that acts as a waiting area, people are given a warm drink, clearly relieved to be safe. A one-year-old child’s contagious laugh soon has everyone in the tent laughing. Other children are absorbed in drawing beautiful pictures, and hopefully not reliving their dangerous journey.
A man in a Red Cross vest walks around chatting and smiling with the families. His name is Amar Wakim, a volunteer specializing in restoring family links. Amar, a Syrian, made the long journey from northern Greece because wanted to help his fellow countrymen.
“I think that people feel more comfortable with someone who speaks their language and understands where they come from,” he says. He has lived in Greece for 26 years. “It’s great to be able to help. I’ve managed to reassure people and provide many with the opportunity to call their families.”
Amar’s language skills mean that he is in great demand all around the camp by the different organizations. He also helps other enthusiastic Red Cross volunteers with many other activities, which include a patrolling first aid team and a nurse, providing psychosocial support for children, ensuring that those most vulnerable are taken care of, providing mobile charging stations and– perhaps most importantly of all – answering people’s questions and providing information about the next steps. All the Hellenic Red Cross activities at Apanemo are supported by the Danish Red Cross.
“If I didn’t have to work to survive myself, I would stay here for a long time,” Amar says. “I really hope to come back.”