A First Day in Numbers

  • 7,000 estimated refugees on the island
  • 2,500 estimated capacity for refugees on the island
  • 2000 euros estimated spent daily on food and water alone
We’ve already completely cleared out the more local markets- rumors are that the island is getting low on food


  • 650 sandwiches made (300 by well-meaning American tourists, 300 by surfer-Brit documentary filmmakers in exchange for an interview with the coordinator, and 50 by me when they were all taken to the transit camp and a new boat arrived)
  • 100 members of the whatsapp group through which all updates and coordination occurs
  • dozens of shoes, pairs of pants, jackets, bags, everything that, once waterlogged, were discarded and replaced by donations from all around the world. the wet stuff is set out to dry, laundered, and set out for new incoming migrants
  • 10 hours working, and that was a light day
  • 8 other volunteers on my (loosely named) team (2 Dutch, 1 Aussie/Dutch, 1 Quebecoise, 1 German, 2 Brits, 1 Greek)
  • 3 boats arrived in the harbor we welcomed with blankets, water, dry clothing, sandwiches, fruit and juice (1 group of Syrians landed on their own, we had to take them to our transit camp to wait for a bus to Mytilene, the main city, where they can get registered (just to be here, this is not the same as applying for asylum); the other 2 boats were pulled in by the coast guard, which, while it means their situation was more dire (ship was sinking, etc.), they turn out to be the lucky ones, as they get registered immediately and are entitled to immediate transport to Mytilene)
Locals have been taking the boat motors, sometimes auctioning them off to raise money for refugees, other times as a personal hustle in the midst of the cash-strapped Greek economy
  • 3 excellent English speakers among them, one in each group, who often prove to be the lifeline for explaining group needs to the volunteers and to officials, English being the most lingua franca, the groups most often speaking Arabic, Farsi or Urdu
  • 2.5 km to the bus station where the refugees can be picked up (they have to walk through the town, which is all cobble stones and often too narrow for even a bus. A car can sometimes be brought in for people who are sick, hurt, disabled or pregnant.)
  • 1 cleaned if ever-ramshackle camp, the owner of the land pacing about frequently, complaining
Cleaned Harbor Camp
  • 1 closed restaurant, headquarters for the volunteer organizing
  • 1 massive pile of discarded lifejackets, no longer needed
Note: There are too many images of suffering of this crisis already, which implies that there have been too many journalists, ethically or not, willing to put a camera in the face of a suffering person. I’m going to stand in solidarity with the refugees who are having a difficult enough time without their individual image being exploited in the name of awareness-raising, thank you, and the organizers here who more often than not kick journalists out; therefore I will not be taking pictures of the migrants, even the really, really cute infants I get to play with (there are loads) (ok, given consent, especially not them). If I connect with folks and they’re cool with what I’m doing here, I will ask for their consent first and then take their pictures, and will do the same with the other volunteers. Until that happens, I’ll try to find shots not of people that capture the scenes I describe in these notes.

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