As thousands of people continue to make the journey to Europe from countries such as Syria, Iraq and Eritrea, ShelterBox is providing much-needed shelter on the Greek island of Lesbos – a halfway point for many weary travellers.
Earlier this month, a ShelterBox Response Team, made up of Sam Hewett (UK), Jennifer Butte-Dahl (US) and Jack Bailey (UK) travelled to the island to set up 100 tents in the Kara Tepe camp near the main port of Mytilene.
In contrast to many refugee camps, where people sometimes stay for years on end, the people passing through Lesbos and other Greek islands do not stay for long. This is just a temporary stop after long truck rides and dangerous sea crossings before continuing on to other European countries. Most families are only there for a few nights at a time, before they receive the necessary paperwork to resume their journeys, but the number of people arriving is so high that many local resources have been overwhelmed.
Response Team member Sam Hewett describes the unique situation in which the team was working: ‘On the first day I was nervous – normally you get everything in a camp set up before the intended occupants move in, and undertake tent construction like a production line. You ensure that essential services such as water and sanitation have been installed and you draw up a list of households who will move into each tent to prioritise the vulnerable.
‘But in this case, we were putting up our tents in and around people’s tiny camping tents. We couldn’t draw up a beneficiary list because groups of people arrived every half an hour or so – many with small children, pregnant women or disabled family members, while others departed each day.’
One of the households we helped was the Jejou family from Mosul in Iraq. They told the team that they left Mosul in August because of the threat posed by Daesh (Islamic State) and for the future of their children.
One family member said: ‘We have suffered a lot and lost everything. We are Christians, and Christians are all being killed by Daesh in Iraq. Churches are being destroyed and Daesh kidnapped some of our relatives. Two children in our extended family were killed by missiles.’
They carried on to explain that they travelled to Greece with five other families. There were 40 people in total and they all went in one boat. The motor died in the middle of the sea, but thankfully they managed to fix it and continue.
The experience of the journey has made a big impact on the family’s three children. The parents told us: ‘They’ve lost their manners. Every day we move to a new place, meet new people. They are learning bad habits. Their days have no structure and there is no controlled environment. The children want to get back to school and we want them back in school as well.’
However, in the short time that the family were on the island of Lesbos, they were able to have a brief rest in a secure environment, thanks to ShelterBox.
They said: ‘The tent is big – we can put our luggage inside to keep it safe and the whole family can live in this tent. This tent provides shelter for us and it is a safe space.’
Hundreds of others, just like the Jejou family, have been able to rest in somewhere safe and comfortable thanks to ShelterBox. An item as simple as a tent is not only providing shelter, but much-needed security, in the midst of many harrowing journeys.