Lesvos: Restoring family links of people on the move

Published: 15 October 2015 11:00 CET

By Charlotte Hyest, IFRC

The shores of Lesvos are scattered with intense orange dots, as life jackets are abandoned on the pebble beaches. In 2015, more than 247,900 migrants have arrived on these shores from Turkey, making this the single biggest entry point into mainland Europe. The overcrowded rubber boats are a dangerous way to cross the Mediterranean Sea. So far this year, 3,080 people have died or gone missing.

“Crossing the sea takes only a few hours if things go well, but people are often in shock. The main thing people ask for is to inform family and friends that they are alive,” said Eva Jordung Nicolson, from the Danish Red Cross, who is on the island supporting the humanitarian response.

RFL and relief items

Restoring contact between family members is a critical service that the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement offers in times of emergency. On Lesbos, the Hellenic Red Cross provides mobile charging stations enabling up to 80 people to charge their devices at a time, so they can remain in contact with their families. Red Cross mobile charging stations are also present in Oxy, a transit centre in the north and in Kara Tepe, a registration camp in the south.

In addition, the Hellenic Red Cross distributes relief items. On a single day last week, the society assisted 7,500 refugees at Kara Tepe camp. “Full buses arrived from Molivo, and people where wet and shivering. We distributed sleeping bags and food parcels until 4am,” said Katarina, a Red Cross volunteer. Between 17 August-27 September, the Hellenic Red Cross distributed 3,800 family parcels, 1,150 feminine parcels and 600 baby kits. The Hellenic Red Cross stands ready to distribute more stocked relief items when needed.

As part of her volunteering, Katarina also visits a registration centre which hosts unaccompanied minors. Four times a week, she helps people to call families and relatives. “The teenagers wait for me, as they know when I come,” she said. “They all know the procedure: they write down their first and last name, and the number they want to call. They hold their breath when I dial the number, and when they hear the voice of their loved one on the other end, their faces light up.”

For Katarina, it is clear how vital it is for people who far from their families to be able to contact them. She remembers a woman at a hospital who she helped to reach her little brother. “After the call, the lady thanked me with a nod of her head. Without a word she laid down, calm as a baby. She was totally appeased. I treasure these moments,” Katarina said.