Chios: Helping patients and coaxing smiles as migrants wait to register

Publié: 19 janvier 2016 15:14 CET

By Caroline Haga, IFRC

Next patient,” a smiling nurse calls, ushering a father with his child behind the curtain where the doctor awaits. She then swiftly begins registering the names and symptoms of the newly arrived patients.  Meet Karen Fridas (55), born and raised in America, who is among the 144 Hellenic Red Cross volunteers working to support people on the move everyday.

We are at the Tabakika reception centre on the island of Chios where migrants wait to be registered before heading onwards to mainland Greece. Chios is one of the main arrival islands in Greece and continues to receive up to 1,900 people per day.

Non-stop patients

At the centre, the Spanish Red Cross is providing basic health care to those in need supported by Karen and a team dedicated Hellenic Red Cross volunteers. The days are busy with a non-stop flow of patients. Most have breathing difficulties, coughs and colds or stomach problems and are relieved when Red Cross medics reassure them they’ll make a full recovery.

“Everyone is so sweet and grateful,” Karen explains. “Once, an old woman took my hand and began telling me something. I didn’t understand a word of what she was saying, but she kept on talking and in the end kissed and hugged me. I think all she needed was someone to talk to.”

Another new patient arrives. Karen patiently tries to decipher her name, age and symptoms with a determined combination of a few Arabic words and hand gestures.

 “I really love helping out here at the clinic. I especially enjoy making the children laugh,” she says.

Giving back to the community

Karen moved to Chios from America 36 years ago and has raised a family on the island. Now her children have grown up, and she is keen to give back to the community.

“I joined the Red Cross three months ago because I was getting very upset at what I saw as I live by the beach and felt that I had to do something,” she explains. 

“I volunteer as often as I can. My husband just says ‘why do you always have to go’ but I just love helping people,“ Karen laughs. And it is clear that she does as she yet again stays for almost an hour longer than planned. 

The Hellenic Red Cross has reached more than 59,000 people across the islands of Samos and Chios since 2015 with food, water, medical care, psychosocial support, toiletries, blankets, sleeping bags, and baby kits.  It also helps to reconnect families separated along the journey.