Thursday, 10 September 2015

A week with Annie

We motored up to Arkhangelos after giving breakfast to the refugees on Saturday 5th September. We found a nice spot to anchor, 

had a light lunch and swam off the boat. In the evening we put the outboard on the dinghy and motored over to the taverna, Stigma, where we were greeted warmly by Dimitra and her family.

We drank rather too much wine to get comfortably in and out of the dinghy, with Simon with his hip and Annie with her back Annie decided we should put a disabled badge on the dinghy. However, all went well and nobody fell in.
On Sunday morning we motored up to Arki, with no wind at all, arriving about 10.30 to find plenty of room on the quay, where Richard and Ron were already moored. As we backed onto the quay we saw three more yachts coming up behind us, apparently from nowhere, so we had got there just in time. Richard and Ron took our lines and we moored up. Lin and Simon immediately swam off the boat, while Annie, who was doubtful about her ability to get back on board with her rigid back, stayed on board and read. We went for lunch at Nikolas’s with Richard and Ron and after lunch Annie and Lin went to spend the afternoon on the beach.
In the evening we were entertained by a dispute between a couple in a small French yacht and some obnoxious people in an enormous motor yacht. The Frenchman thought the motor yacht had laid its anchor over his chain and wanted them to move it to let him leave, but they refused. In the event he left next morning without any problem. We went for dinner with Richard and Ron at Nikolas’s and dropped into bed.
On Monday we said goodbye to Richard and Ron, who were going up to Fourni, and walked over to Tiganakia to spend the morning on the beach. 

On the way there the path under the tree was occupied by some large goats

so we walked round!

We came back for lunch at Nikolas’s and in the afternoon Lin and Annie went round to the town beach, while Simon read and swam from the boat, having done enough walking in the morning. Late in the afternoon big groups on charter boats came in and rafted up. We went for dinner at Nikolas’s and said goodbye to everybody.
Just as were going to bed, loud music and raucous cheering came from Tripas Taverna – probably a group of charterers having a party. The loud music went on till 4 am, keeping us all awake – Annie used the time to work on her novel.
We left Arki for Arkhangelos at 8.30 on Tuesday morning, expecting strong winds, but in the event there was very little wind. We managed to anchor in our favourite spot in Arkhangelos a couple of hours later. Soon after we had anchored there was a terrible grinding noise. When Simon investigated he found that the anchor chain had wrapped itself around a wreck on the bottom. After some diving, with Lin letting the chain in and out, we managed to disentangle it and re-anchored to be clear of it. We then went in for a cooling swim. We had a delicious lunch at Stigma tavern before lazing, dozing, swimming and reading, for the afternoon. We ate aboard in the evening. Many of the boats left in the afternoon, so there were only half a dozen overnight. Arkhangelos is the perfect anchorage, sheltered, peaceful and now with a wonderful friendly taverna.
After breakfast,

we left Arkhangelos to come back to Lakki at 09.00 and moored in the marina.
We went to lunch at Poppy’s with Richard, 

who was leaving for Turkey with Ron, and after lunch went round to Merikhia to spend the afternoon on the beach. 

In the evening we took a taxi over to Pandeli to meet Bob and Lydia for dinner at Psarapoula.

On Thursday morning, 10th September, we said goodbye to Annie, who took the 11am catamaran to Kos to catch her evening flight home.

We then had three days for shopping, cleaning the boat and getting ready to lift out. We will go to Arkhangelos on Sunday or Monday, lift out on Tuesday, fly to Athens to stay with Lena on 19th and home, after the Greek election, on Monday 21st.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The refugee crisis in Lakki

After shopping and taking in the washing on Monday morning, 31 August, we went along to the Port Police building to join the volunteers who were supporting the refugees. Lin helped handout nappies and packets of biscuits and Simon went and bought and fitted a battery light for the storeroom. We also took some spare clothes and a kid's hat. Next day a man was marching around with a T shirt of the OEMK trade union organisation that Vadim had given Lin!

The volunteers are mostly expats from Britain and New Zealand and holiday makers who have given their time, with a couple of people who have flown over from the US specifically to help out. But the task is daunting, with 1,000-2,000 refugees, including a lot of children and babies – one woman gave birth a couple of days ago. Although the volunteers have been stripping the supermarkets there is never enough to go round. 
A couple of Iraqis were very agitated because one had had all his money, $2100, stolen and the other his mobile phone. They had heard that the Port Police had arrested a thief. We asked the Port Police, who said that it was not a thief they had arrested and that the tent city, where the Iraqis lived was the responsibility of the regular police. He made a couple of phone calls and told them that the police had not arrested anyone. The Iraqis suspected the Algerians, who had come through Turkey having failed to get to Italy through Libya.
Before we went off for a beer one Syrian refugee approached Simon to ask a favour – he wanted his mobile phone charged as he had not been able to speak to his family for five days.
When Simon returned with the phone in the afternoon the guy told his story. He was from Damascus and had worked for the Red Crescent and then for the Danish Refugee Council. When their funding ran down he and others were made redundant. He and his friend, a doctor, had flown from Damascus to Istanbul, then been sent to Izmir, which they hated, Bodrum, which was expensive, and Fethiye, before arriving at Didim. They had been trying to get across on a yacht (more like a wooden tub), which was safer, though twice the price of a dinghy, but it never materialized, so they paid $1400 to cross in a rubber dinghy with an outboard. There were sixty people squashed in the dinghy. They had been told that they would be going to Samos, but fifteen minutes before they left they were pointed to Farmakonisi. One guy had volunteered to drive the dinghy, for which he got a free passage, though he had no experience. They were given a mobile phone and told that the smugglers would be watching them to make sure they were OK. After one and a half hours they landed on the beach on Farmakonisi, where they were stranded for three days as more and more refugees arrived. Eventually the coastguard picked them up and brought them to Leros. He, like most of the refugees, was hoping to get to Germany. They guy who had driven the dinghy was arrested as a people trafficker and taken off in handcuffs.
On Tuesday, 1st September, we went along to the Port Police building at 10 and helped to distribute milk to the children and then water and sandwiches to the adults. We have to restrict the milk to babies, young children and pregnant women. Although older children plead for milk, people are very understanding.
A number of people had medical problems, so we tried to find a doctor. Eventually he found a Syrian dentist, who said he could help a guy with kidney pains. By this time some doctors from MSF had opened a clinic in a shed in the Port Police yard and sorted him out. Registration with the Port Police for today’s new arrivals was going painfully slowly. Once they have registered with the Port Police, now handled with the help of Frontex, they have to wait days for their registration as refugees with the regular police so that they can get their papers and leave, either buying their own ferry tickets or waiting for the refugee ferry, whenever that might come.
At midday we went off for a drink with some of the volunteers, Matina, who is the Greek woman who organizes the Leros Solidarity group(her facebook page is at  the Leros Solidarity Network is at and its facebook page is at ) and two women from the UNHCR. Ana, a Spanish woman, had arrived a couple of days before, having had twelve hours’ notice that she was going to Greece. She is a tough young woman – she has worked for two years in Syria, a year in Somalia and had just been in Ukraine for a year. She explained the priorities and constraints of the UNHCR and stressed the need for everyone to work together. The UNHCR could not just hand out money, everything had to be properly costed and authorized and absolutely transparent. They also had to collaborate with the national and local authorities, which meant long negotiations. I commented that they should do what they could within their legal and bureaucratic constraints and we could do things that they could not do because we did not face such constraints. Ana insisted that she could not liaise with all the individual volunteers, but that everything had to go through Matina, so that there could be coordinated action. The problem is that Matina is overwhelmed and exhausted. Certainly there does need to be better organization. There are too many volunteers in the morning and not enough in the afternoon, to provide shoes and clothes, and not enough in the evening to help distribute the evening meals. The shopping for the morning distribution is a bit limited, which is OK because everything is welcomed by the refugees, but it would be better if there were a more systematic assessment of needs and provision made accordingly. The problem is that volunteers come and go, very few are here for a long time, while Matina, as she said, has been dealing with the problem for years.
Ana insisted that there should be a proper assessment of the refugees when they arrive to identify those with urgent needs and those who had money to support themselves. We explained that it was impossible to identify who had money, except by observing who had bags of shopping in their camp and that those who had money were not interested in our meagre provisions. Ana thought we should give meal vouchers to the needy cases to be used in local restaurants, but I explained that there were not many restaurants, that they were expensive and many of them would not serve refugees.
The volunteers were very impatient and did not seem to appreciate that things take time, understandably they were preoccupied with the problem now, of getting food and water to people, installing toilets and showers and somewhere to sleep. Ana and Matina explained that they had already made good progress. MSF was providing mattresses, blankets and sleeping bags and they had got permission to open a disused hospital building, which has showers and toilets, as a reception centre. They just need approval from Athens, which may prove a problem as there is no government. Ana confirmed that there would be food for the refugees in the evening and that she could handle the distribution. The problem with the evening meal is that the Port Police are responsible for paying for food for those in their compound and the regular police for food for those in tent city and elsewhere, but neither have any money as it is the end of the month. Failing anything else, Ana said, the UNHCR can pay.
(Jad and Julie post their diaries with photos on their facebook pages: The Leros Solidarity Network with pictures and information is at 
We went along to Poppy’s for beer and lunch. Poppy has gone to Athens and in her absence the café is full of refugees, many of whom sit for hours without buying anything or just buying one drink. Poppy is very tough with them.
In the evening the outboard came back. It turned out that the problem was old fuel, which looked and smelt wrong.  The outboard man cleaned the carburetor and fuel tank and replaced the fuel filter and filled the tank with new fuel and now it runs perfectly.
After dinner on board Simon went along to the Port Police to see if they needed any help. Matina was just coming out and said they did not need any help now, but Judith might need help distributing sleeping bags at 11 pm. Simon pleaded the need for his beauty sleep and came back for coffee and an early night.
There are lots of photos on the links above, but here are four of ours.
 Makeshift living arrangements on waste land
 Tent city, tents supplied by MSF
 A small settlement by the wall.

 The single tap in tent city, catering for over 1000 people (there is no toilet - there is one toilet in the port police yard, but access is restricted)
The Guardian posted a video of the Leros crisis a couple of weeks ago ( with some dreadful comments posted by Daily Mail readers. 

Wednesday 2nd September

On Wednesday morning, September 2nd, we went up to the Port Police at ten to distribute food and water, nappies, shoes and clothes. Just as we arrived a new boatload of people, about 100, came in. We gave them water and biscuits and milk for the children, but they did not seem to be in too bad condition. Another coastguard boat came in a couple of hours later with 100 more people – the coastguard said that they had taken these people off the water, though they were not wet, so had probably been picked up from dinghies or a yacht. They said there were 530 people on Farmakonisi who they would be bringing over in relays today, so we will go back to help when we see more people coming in. We have had a lot of help with distribution from refugees, so that we are not having to carry masses of water to and fro. There was a young woman in floods of tears who had just arrived from Farmakonisi and was upset because she did not want to sleep on the ground. We later discovered from her friend that she was traumatized because their boat had caught fire when they were below. They came up on deck and the young woman had wanted to jump in the water, even though she could not swim. Fortunately they were picked up by the coastguard just in time. She was still crying when we went back in the evening.
 Simon had help from a Palestinian, originally from Haifa, who had fled Damascus when ISIS took over their camp. Most people are very grateful and helpful, but there is a handful, mostly young Iraqis, who try to grab at everything. We have been impressed by the Port Police, who have been sympathetic and understanding. Of course, they have to shout to keep people in line as they wait to register, but there is no bullying or threats. The refugee ferry, Eleftherios Venizelos, should come tonight to take those who are registered to Athens, but we were told that it might not come as there are so many people to be picked up from Rhodes, Symi and Kos, before it gets here (it is one of the largest ferries in the Mediterranean, with a capacity of 2500 passengers and 1100 cars). In that case people will have to wait another four or five days, by which time there could be 4,000 refugees waiting here to get to Athens, unless another ferry can be found. A few people managed to buy tickets on the Diagoras last night, but there were few places left.
We went for a beer and lunch at Marietta’s and she told has that they had given a room to a Syrian family who had been sleeping in the road for four days. Their neighbour immediately complained that they were allowing ‘those people’ into their room. Marietta was specially upset because they thought she was doing it for money. We talked to a Syrian software engineer who is waiting to leave, who was refused a room at the hotel because he was Syrian. As Marietta says, the way in which it provokes racism among some of the local population is as distressing as the fate of the refugees themselves.
Matina asked us to come back to help at seven. The coastguard boat sat on the quay all afternoon, but it went out about five. Just before seven a coastguard boat arrived with another 150 refugees from Farmakonisi. We went back to the Port Police to give them water and biscuits. They were desperate, with a lot of families with young children and babies. Many of them had not eaten for three days, sitting out in the sun on Farmakonisi. There was a man with a broken leg, a young man who had had convulsions three times, a man with diahorrea, a sick baby and everyone was very distressed. There was no doctor on site. Those who needed urgent medical care were told that they could go to the hospital after they had registered, once they had permission from the Port Police. We had only three bottles for the babies, which we gave to the three smallest we saw, but no formula for them. Frontex processed them quickly and humanely.
A Greek man exploded at Ana, the UNHCR representative, for failing to give anybody any information about when they would get food, where they could get water and what was happening to them. At our meeting yesterday Ana had stressed that information was the most important thing for them. She told me that she was going to have an information meeting for those in the compound, but it never happened. I think she is in her first position of responsibility and is clearly out of her depth. She wants to organize systematic assessment of the refugees and a system of distribution whereby she will sit at a table and people will queue up, which is completely impractical in these circumstances. Last night she distributed sleeping bags at 11pm, when most people were already asleep, so they had to be woken up to receive them. Boxes of sleeping bags and hygiene kits were delivered today, but Ana did not want me to give them to families as they registered, she wants to distribute them tomorrow.
Ana disappeared up into the Port Police office, presumably to see about giving people an evening meal, which had not appeared. It turned out that neither the Port Police nor the regular police had any money to feed people, so there was no evening meal. There was nothing more we could do – we had given everybody water and there was no more food. Just as we were about to leave we heard that there another 250 refugees arriving. Since we had nothing to give them, and there we enough people to give them water, we went back to the boat for a late dinner. There was no sign of the refugee ferry.

So today has been more than hectic. This morning Frontex said there were 1800 refugees on the island (the population of Lakki is 1900). Today another 600 arrived. Heaven knows what will happen tomorrow. 100 or so left on the regular ferry this evening, but again all the tickets were sold.

Thursday 3rd September

Today’s photo of the little boy drowned off Bodrum moved us to tears, while David Cameron’s refusal to countenance taking more refugees provoked our fury and shame to be British. The number of refugees in Lakki now outnumbers the local population. Although there is some resentment, there is still a lot of sympathy – people are conscious of their own history – and there are no signs of overt tension between refugees and the local population. One source of friction is litter, but this morning we saw a group of refugees with black bin bags going around and collecting litter, I think on their own initiative.
Tension mounts between Ana, the UNHCR representative, and the volunteers, with Matina and the Leros Solidarity Network caught in the middle.  Matina told the international volunteers to distribute biscuits yesterday to clear out the store room.  The volunteers thought this was in order to make room for the anticipated UN foodstuffs but none have arrived. It seems that Matina has been told to up her management style by Ana and the order to clear the store room is a product of this. Nobody knows what is happening, least of all the refugees. Leros is a relatively small part of the overall crisis – it is reported today that 15,000 are waiting to leave Lesbos - but it is small island with few resources and obviously not a major priority for the UNHCR or Athens.
We went along to the Port Police at ten. The guys from Frontex were registering some of last night’s arrivals and a new intake of 100 out in the street because there was no more room in the yard. 

We distributed water, milk for the kids, biscuits, chocolate croissants and bread and olives, first to the new arrivals, many of whom had not eaten for two or three days, but the food soon ran out. There had been no evening meal the night before, so those without money outside the compound were also very hungry. Simon went and bought some big bin bags and recruited ten teams to pick up litter in the camp and the streets around, because litter is one of the things that most disturbs the local people. We also distributed 100 or so UNHCR Hygiene packs (soap, flannel, toothbrush, toothpaste etc) to families. They had been sitting in the store for three days because Ana did not want to distribute them until she had set up a system. Our system was for Radvan, a Syrian refugee who had worked in the construction industry and had not eaten for two days, to identify the most needy families and to give them the packs. He was a tower of strength in distributing everything. Some of the Iraqis accused him of favouring Syrians, but Kate said that was nonsense, he was giving the packs to every family (many of the Iraqis are single men). When all of the food and most of the water had been handed out there was nothing more for us to do and we went to Poppy’s for a beer.
Camping in the port police yard
It seems that there will be no food this evening, so I gave Anne, who has a car, some money donated by our friends and asked her to get some food from Kamara for this evening. Matina has arranged for a local bakery to provide filled rolls for 1.80 euros, but they need 24 hours’ notice and we never know that far in advance whether or not there will be food in the evening. Just before we left Radvan asked me to get him a T shirt, jeans and flip-flops because he had lost his bag and only had the clothes he was standing up in. Simon told him he would see him at 7.
As we were having a beer the refugee ferry, Eleftheria Venizelos, came in. As the ferry came in, the coastguard boat also came in with 150 new arrivals, 

who had to wait until the ferry had been loaded. We said goodbye to our Syrian friends at the next table, who were hoping to get to Holland, and went round to the ferry quay to see everybody off. Simon took a photo and was admonished by the Port Policeman, though it was OK when he saw it was innocuous,

but he said ‘they have had enough pain, we do not want to make it worse’. Eventually 1200 refugees boarded. It was a very poignant moment seeing off so many people, many of whom we had got to know, going off on the next stage of their travels. 

We were overwhelmed by their thank-yous as we wished them luck.
Simon went back to the Port Police at three to help the new arrivals. The existing people in the port police yard were being released, all sitting while their names were called.  Radvan was waiting there, so he still could not get out. The new arrivals, including an old woman in a wheelchair (god knows how she got across, had to sit on the pavement outside until space had been cleared. Simon and Spiros handed out all the remaining water, cups and a few biscuits. Simon had a long talk with the port policeman escorting the group, who was very humane and sympathetic. As he said, ‘they have their rights, but we cannot meet them’. The port police have been assigned four extra posts to deal with the massive work of ferrying people from Farmakonisi, picking them out of the sea, registering, feeding and caring for them.
After tea, we at last found time to hose the boat down. Simon went up to the Chinese shop to get clothes for Radvan, but decided that it would be easier to give him the money and let him buy them himself now he had been released from the Port Police. After a shower and a quick drink Simon went back to the Port Police to help hand out the evening meals. We had ordered 350 meals from Poppy’s tavern at Marikhia, for the 150 newcomers and a further 200 expected in the evening. We gave out the 150 meals in a very smooth operation. Spiros came over to ask us to go to the pharmacy to get some Insulin for a young diabetic whose insulin had been destroyed by the heat. He was now on a drip in hospital, but was hoping to go to Athens on the regular ferry tonight. Simon had no mney with him, so Judith agreed to go. There was no sign of Radvan, so Simon went back to the boat and we headed out to dinner.
On the way to dinner Simon popped in to the Port Police. Radvan was now outside, but he had still not eaten and wanted to help hand out the dinners, as the further 200 refugees had arrived. Simon smuggled him back into the compound as a helper, so that he could get dinner, and gave him some money in an envelope to get clothes. Spiros had managed to get him a bed in a hotel in Alinda. He was paying 30 euros for a three-bedded room and had got two other rooms at the same price for families. There were enough people to hand out the dinners, so Simon went on to meet up with Lin for dinner at To Petrino.

And so to bed!

Friday 4 September

Annie arrives today. We did our shopping first thing in the morning and then went to distribute breakfast for the refugees in the compound, milk for the children, nappies and wipes for the babies and clothes and shoes for the children until we had nothing left to distribute. At midday the coastguard boat brought another 100 in. Fortunately a lot of water and sesame bars were delivered in time to distribute them to the newcomers, but we had to leave to meet Annie off the ferry. There has been no sign of UNHCR Ana, but presumably she has been busy negotiating. MSF have got toilets and showers to install in the proposed reception building, but they will not arrive until Saturday and they are afraid that the council will not be able to install them at the weekend. We were told that the Port Police owe 18,000 euros to the local restaurants who provided evening meals, so they will not provide any more. Last night dinner was paid for by volunteer donations, but there is not enough money or capacity to provide for those who have been processed and are living outside the compound. Of course, many of them have some money so can buy their own food, but many have nothing and even those with money need to save every penny they can for their onward journey.
Annie arrived on the catamaran at 12.30 and we went off for lunch and a beer at Poppy’s. 

Radvan joined us. He had been to buy clothes and was proudly wearing a garish pair of Bermuda shorts – we told him that he would need better camouflage for trying to get through borders! He confirmed that there has been no sectarian religious tension in the camp, which is heartening. We took the evening off to go for dinner with Simon and Christiana, who also arrived today, at Pandeli. The refugees in the compound got minimal food for dinner.

Saturday 5th September

The coastguard boat came in with 100 more people at 8 am. Simon went over to give them water. This lot were mostly men – presumably they had brought the families over last night. Simon, Lin and Annie went to help give breakfast for everyone in the compound, which we did in record time with plenty of volunteers. We then went back  to the boat and left for Arkhangelos at 11.30, promising to be back next Tuesday or Wednesday.

Our friends report that there is a real problem knowing how many people are coming when, so that we can have food and drinks ready for them. Either the Port Police don’t know or they won’t say. It is so chaotic that it is probably the former.
UNHCR Ana is hardly seen – she is busy trying to put her systems in place, but nothing appears on the ground.  She arrived with more sleeping bags on Saturday evening, but said that she would give them out herself (once she had got her system in place?), but then went off for dinner and was not seen again. Anne organized souflakis for everybody on Saturday evening, because otherwise they would not be fed, but this costs a fortune. On Sunday she and two Lithuanian volunteers made and distributed hundreds of sandwiches. A nine-year-old boy from Idlib in Syria has arrived having been separated from his parents ( .
The head of MSF in Greece and the Balkans, a Greek national with 23 years experience, is reported as saying that “I have never seen such a poor reception to a refugee situation – and this is backed up by my colleagues… The Greek government is behaving as though nothing is happening” ( ). The story is repeated across all the islands – neither the government, nor local administration, nor international agencies are providing any significant support. The refugees are being provided for almost entirely by local and international volunteers and their donations.
On Monday MSF had installed toilets and showers in the tent city and Ana from UNHCR had secured the reception centre, which just needs to be repaired to provide shelter, toilets and showers. Still the Port Police have no money to feed the 500 or so refugees in the compound, so the volunteers are now having to feed them with the bare minimum twice a day, paying with money from donations.

The mayor is quoted as saying that he wants to create an Amygdaleza, the notorious detention centre for immigrants outside Athens which was closed down earlier this year, but ‘under more humane conditions’. This will be at Lepida, the even more notorious psychiatric hospital, which is now derelict and is three kilometers from town. Instead of providing services to the refugees where they are, the mayor has instructed the municipal services to clear waste land at Lepida and threatens to move the refugees there, even though they have been processed and are free to go where they like. If they do not move, the municipality will cease to offer any help. One of his entourage has even argued that they should not speed up the registration process because this will make Leros more attractive to refugees! 

Wednesday September 9th

We got back to Lakki on Wednesday September 9th. Julie reported the latest developments on her Facebook page ( ):
“The mayor held a public meeting last night to discuss the situation of the refugees. Many of the public were shouting about refugees on the streets and the dirt, not mentioning the fact that the authorities had provided no toilets or showers (just the one toilet for 1500 refugees). No mention of the huge amount of business the refugees are bringing in. Nothing at all about why the authorities are failing to give food to refugees or how the volunteers are undertaking all the work the authorities should be doing to ensure the refugees do not go hungry. [this is by no means the view of everybody – many local people are still giving food, clothes and money and helping to distribute it and many people we talk to are still sympathetic. Probably the meeting was only attended by malcontents and the mayor’s supporters. SC] …
The meeting was full of people who simply want the refugees out of sight. Many Greeks were taken in by other countries when they escaped the famine, and their own civil war by migrating to America and Australia. What short memories people have. Why are all the empty buildings not opened to the refugees. Instead, the Mayor has padlocked the reception building Matina Katsiveli was getting ready where families could sleep comfortably and have toilets and showers. Can anyone believe such a strange reaction? The volunteers do not understand it. We are also surprised that the Greek Government are letting the mayor over-ride the Health Minister on the decision about the use of the reception building which they have agreed the volunteers could use. …
So the mayor is still insisting the refugees go to Lepida, a place the volunteers cannot reach. …
All Ok this morning, plenty of volunteers, we had made lots of sandwiches, and our American friends Chris Angiel and Stella H Perlman brought more. The children's milk round is always popular with lots of little white moustaches asking for more. We have some new Greek volunteers helping to give out clothes and some of the kind locals are donating clothes.
There are also now 3 Danish women who have brought donations and are paying for a local restaurant to make up sandwiches every evening for people in the camp. Thanks to all the contributors from Denmark.
A consignment from Ireland landed late last night when Anne Tee had no baby bottles to give to a woman for her baby. The shops were shut and she was wondering what to do. She opened the box and low and behold ! Baby bottles right at the top. Just the thing needed. Thank you all the lovely people in Ireland for donating stuffs.
Mary Coughlan, who is national treasure in Ireland, a well known folk/rock singer, heard our chum Patrick Muldowney speak on the Joe Duffy show (RTE Irish Radio @talktojoe1850) As a result, she has organized a series of 3 concerts starting this Sunday in Whelans and the 2 following Sundays .
She will give the first concert this Sunday with guest artists and the proceeds going towards Doctors without Frontiers who have been helping in Leros, and the second Sunday’s concert with Mary Black who is a huge music legend here in Ireland will give the proceeds to Leros; tickets already sold out! Thanks from all the volunteers here to Mary Coughlan and Mary Black for their wonderful kind gesture and for Patrick for highlighting the plight of the refugees in Leros.”
At lunch at Poppy’s there was a meeting at the next table involving some of the volunteers, including some new arrivals, which we did not join as we were only staying for a few more days, but they were discussing financial and organizational issues, which we thought was a bit strange because neither Julie and Anne, who are organizing the international volunteers, nor Matina, who heads the Leros Solidarity Network, were at the meeting. I asked Kate why they were not there and she replied that they had been invited but had not wanted to come, so I don’t think this is a symptom of a split in the volunteers, just of some people’s love of meetings. Next morning I spoke to Julie on the phone and she said that they all knew what was going on so did not need to go to the meeting. Later the Dutchman was briefing Anne on the outcome of the meeting.

Thursday 10 September

There are many fewer refugees in Lakki. Last night quite a lot got on the Blue Star ferry Diagoras, which made an unscheduled stop in Leros to take them to Athens, and we have seen no new arrivals in the last 24 hours. In the morning the Port Police compound was empty and was being bulldozed clean.

Workmen were laying drains from the new showers and toilets in the camp and police were clearing all the refugees from the pavement and little park in front of the school.

 It looked rather as though Lakki was being cleared of refugees, but I later discovered that the police were only clearing the area around the school.
I bumped into UNHCR Ana, who told me that 900 refugees had left on the ferry last night and 800 the night before so there were very few left, though it did not look to us as though anything like 900 left on Diagoras. I was later told that 350 had left, with another 150 expected this morning.
We met the regional UNHCR representative from Kos while waiting for the catamaran to arrive to take Annie home. He said that the mayor’s objection to using the building by the hospital as a reception centre is that the way to the entrance takes them past the school, so the UNHCR will try to negotiate with the hospital to allow them to go in through the hospital. They are also planning to negotiate with the army to allow them to keep stocks of food and drink on Farmakonisi, and even tents or housing units, because with winter weather the refugees could be there for three or four days. He said that the Kos mayor is even worse than the Leros one. Leros has agreed to have a reception centre, the only issue being where it will be, but Kos refuses to have one at all. Samos has a reception centre which is working very well.
Ana and Tevon had been at the mayor’s public meeting and said the atmosphere was horrible. But Ana thought that those who were not prepared for any dialogue isolated themselves by taking such a hard line. One person proposed having a demonstration against the refugees, but only a handful of people indicated that they would participate.
Just before the catamaran came in, the coastguard boat arrived with 150 refugees,so the catamaran had to squeeze on the end of the quay.

The refugees were soon disembarked and lined up on the quay.

Some of the port police wear surgical masks and gloves, which sends a horrible message, but apparently it is an individual decision so they cannot be asked not to. The refugees were processed on the quay by Frontex.
When Annie had left on the catamaran, Simon went to the port police building to see if we could help feed the new arrivals. Anne was there and said that they had had a lot of sandwiches left over from last night, but they had all been thrown away when the yard was cleared, so we only had juice and biscuits to distribute until she could go back to Partheni to fetch more sandwiches.
By lunchtime the drain to tent city was complete. They now have three men’s and two women’s toilets, plumbed in to the main sewer, and a shower. All the tents now have camp beds. A fantastic improvement, at last!
Another 100 refugees arrived at 4pm on the coastguard boat. They were marched down to the ferry quay, we presumed for processing by Frontex, but as we came back from our swim they were being marched back again, more likely a sign of disorganization than super-efficient processing.
100 more refugees arrived in the evening, so 350 have arrived today and put in the Port Police compound until they get their papers.

Friday 11 September

The coastguard boat arrived at 9 am from Farmakonisi with 130 refugees. They were held for processing on the ferry quay. We took them water and biscuits, which did not please a guy who had set up a stall to sell them food and drink once they had been processed.
We did the usual distribution of milk and chocolate croissants for the children and cheese sandwiches for the adults for the 350 people in the Port Police compound, then we distributed clothes and shoes. We have plenty of baby’s shoes and dainty women’s shoes, but very few for the children and the men. We will probably have to buy a lot of trainers at the Chinese shop because flip-flops and crocks are no use for the walking they are going to have to do.
Matina was meant to be having a day off, but she came in with more donated clothes. She told us that the mayor has invited one of the Golden Dawn leaders to the island to join a demonstration at the proposed reception building that the mayor announced at last week’s public meeting.
Another 150 people arrived by coastguard boat in the middle of the day. We had lunch with Frank and Lynn at Poppy’s.
Frank told us of their experience of arriving refugees in a bay on the east of Pserimos. They were woken about 5 in the morning by shouts and cries to see refugees scrambling ashore from a half sunk dinghy. They told the refugees how to get to Pserimos town (they had been going the wrong way) and contact the coastguard via a phone call to Kos marina. People from a neighbouring Dutch boat inspected the abandoned dinghy and found a 40hp outboard attached, under water. The Dutch lifted the outboard, which looked in excellent condition, and made off with it. Some time later a fast RIB arrived from Turkey and a couple of guys got in the water and searched around the dinghy, obviously hoping to retrieve their outboard, and appearing very disgruntled when they could not find it. (That afternoon the coastguard boat brought three big outboards back from Farmakonisi, together with its load of refugees).
After lunch went to take water to the new arrivals, who were being processed on the ferry quay. There was nobody with a car around, so Simon took bottles of water in relays on his bike and Lin distributed them. Lin talked to the Port Policeman on the gate who was very upset that the café owner was ripping the refugees off.
After a cup of tea, Simon went back at 4pm to join the party who were organizing the cleaning of the reception building. Nothing was happening, so we distributed water and biscuits to this morning’s arrivals, who were having to sit outside on the pavement until yesterday’s arrivals were released from the port police compound, which the police were doing, but very slowly. We then went around the building to see what had to be done and discussed how to recruit refugees to help clean. The problem is that as soon as they are released from the port police they go into town to try to buy food and drink and ferry tickets, so we decided that we would have to do it later. With some people going to hotels, with camp-beds in the tents and now the hospital building, nobody needs to sleep on the street.
We have a Syrian doctor in the compound. A gynaecologist, he headed a large hospital, had a comfortable house and two farms. They cut down all his trees, confiscated his house and farms and threatened to shoot him – because he treated women.
After ouzo and mezzes at Tacis’s, we went back to the Port Police building to distribute food at 7pm. We distributed hundreds of sandwiches to those inside and outside the compound, milk for the children, nappies for the babies and some clothes and shoes. About 8 pm hundreds of hot meals arrived, ordered by the Port Police, who have now received money from Athens (funded by the EU). After distributing these meals we went back to the boat for a light supper and bed.

Saturday 12th September

We went to feed the 350 refugees in the Port Police compound as usual. Simon took a little girl and her mother to the pharmacy to get some anti-histamine – she held his hand all the way. We then popped in to the supermarket for her mum to get her some M&Ms before we went back to the compound and checked them back in. The young Syrian man who came with us as an interpreter is hoping to get to Holland. He plans to buy a Greek passport and fly there.
It is ridiculous that Germany is willing to take the Syrian refugees, but they are not able to fly there without a visa or an EU passport. Surely Germany could agree with the airlines to allow Syrians to fly direct from Athens (or even Turkey) without a visa (or even issue Schengen visas to the Syrians – that would put the cat among the pigeons!)? This would be great PR and good business for the budget airlines.
Lin and Simon then went down to the ferry quay to give some food and water to the new arrivals. 170 are expected today, against 350 yesterday, and the coastguard seem to be clearing Farmakonisi every day, so nobody is spending more than a day there. Nobody knows what to expect over the winter. Most people expect the flow to die down by the end of October because of the bad weather – there can be very strong winter storms – but I am not so sure. The traffickers don’t care about the safety of the refugees and there are periods of calm weather, but it will mean that refugees might be stranded on Farmakonisi for days on end until it is calm enough to take them off.
After a quick lunch Simon winterized the watermaker and changed the engine oil and filter while Lin, who had been awake since 5, slept for a couple of hours. Elefterios Venizelos, the refugee ferry, came in at 7pm, but many people left on the Blue Star ferries the last couple of nights and many more have already bought tickets on regular ferries, so there were only about 100 going on it. The police were so slow in processing people that 160 were left behind, but there is another ferry on Sunday. Just before it came in, the coastguard boat unloaded another 180 refugees. In the evening we went for dinner at Ostria with Frank and Lin.

Sunday 13th September

We went down to give breakfast and distribute clothes as usual. Several people had a lot of insect bites, apparently there are bed bugs in the army blankets on Farmakonisi. Simon found an open pharmacy and bought a lot of anti-bite cream.
The hospital building that UNHCRF Ana was going to get cleaned three days ago has still not been cleaned so it is not available for the refugees to sleep in. The tents are overflowing so refugees are having to sleep in the street again.
News came in that a dinghy with 100 people on board sank at 2 am this morning – there is a strong wind and rough seas – they should never have set off in such conditions, but the smugglers don’t care and the Turkish police do not try to stop them. The coastguard boats rescued 65, 30 or so swam ashore, three are dead, including a child, and ten are still missing. The survivors are coming in on the coastguard boat at mid-day. Unfortunately we have already distributed all the clothes, but there will be food and water and a psychologist has been mobilized. This is the first tragedy here since 19 died in July ( ).  Everybody is very shaken and meeting them will be very traumatic for all of us.
When we got to the ferry quay the situation was far worse than we had expected – we were told that 45 people had died. An Iraqi who had been an interpreter for the Australian military told us what had happened. They had paid 2700 euros each to be taken to Greece by boat, with children half price (this is double the price of going in a dinghy because it is considered to be safer). They had been taken by bus from Bodrum to Didim, where they were led to a field behind the beach. The traffickers looked like gangsters – armed toughs ordering people around. After dark they were taken to the beach and ferried over in little dinghies to an old wooden gullet anchored offshore. There had been 270 in the field, but only about 150 managed to get on the boat. They were told that the weather was good and the sea calm, but as soon as they set off they discovered this was not true, there was a strong wind and big seas. After a few kilometres the guy who was driving the boat jumped overboard, to  be picked up by his cronies, and told two Syrians to take over, using the GPS on their phones to find the way (others told us later that the trafficker ordered them to hole the boat and jumped off to be taken away by a speedboat). They motored slowly across to Farmakonisi and when they were about 600 metres offshore, at 2 a.m., they smashed a hole in the bottom of the boat and water gushed in. (This is standard practice – they are told to sink the boat when they see a Greek flag and they will be rescued by the coastguard. It is probably to make sure that the coastguard do not tow the boat back to Turkish waters). Many people, mostly women and children, were trapped below. The boat sank in about five minutes, with only a bit of the superstructure above water which people could cling on to – many people had basic buoyancy aids, but most could not swim. Our informant had swum to the shore with his seventeen-year-old friend and they had then decided to go back to help rescue more people. In the heavy seas his friend got cramp and said ‘let me die’, but they clung together until they were picked up by the coastguard boat, which arrived three hours later. (Many of the refugees were angry that the coastguard had taken so long to get there, but it had been pitch dark so it was probably some time before the alarm was raised and then the coastguard boat had to get to Farmakonisi from Lakki). The coastguard told the refugees not to tell anybody that 45 had died, presumably because they did not want any bad publicity. They later told us that there were 20 bodies in the wreck on the bottom of the sea.
Most of the refugees were severely traumatized. One woman with a child was completely hysterical and was taken straight off to hospital – the ambulance went to and fro taking the injured to hospital. One man had lost three brothers, his wife and two children. One man with his daughter had lost his wife, his brother and his son. His daughter had swallowed a lot of seawater and inhaled exhaust fumes, so they were taken off to hospital. We provided basic food, but very few of them could eat anything, though they took water and fruit juice. They had all lost everything in the disaster – passports, money, shoes, clothes, mobile phones. The volunteers comforted people as best they could. Grown men held back their tears until they were comforted by volunteers, when they would break down in tears. We were also all in tears with them.
We had a break to recover, have a quick lunch and change the fuel filters on the engine. We went to the Port Police compound at four to buy and distribute shoes and get pharmaceuticals and buy and distribute cigarettes. The talk is now of 70 or more dead – nobody knows how many were on the boat. People are still hoping that their friends and relatives will turn up, but the coastguard have been searching all day and there is no hope of any more survivors. They have recovered 23 bodies so far, but nobody knows where the bodies will be taken. The UNHCR has promised to organize decent accommodation for them tonight, but nobody expects the promise to be realized. Meanwhile the locals are trying to organize hotels for them.
We were told that the Port Police will issue a statement tonight and the police will interview all the survivors individually, with a psychologist. This could be nasty because the police will want to identify the two guys who holed the boat. Judging by the Greek press coverage so far, the port police will want to play it down. We were also told that somebody wants to hold a meeting with all the volunteers to tell them what to say about the incident, but there is no way that anybody will be gagged.
A TV reporter came into the compound and tried to film the survivors. The police had earlier warned us that anyone taking photos would be arrested. We tried to block him and called out the port police, who took him upstairs and eventually led him out of the compound, where he filmed his report on the street outside.
After dinner we went to see many of our friends off on the ferry to Athens. It was a moment of great joy as we kissed and embraced them and wished them luck. There are so many such lovely people it is outrageous what they have to go through to find a place to live in peace.

Monday 14th September - Saturday 19 September

We left Lakki on Monday morning to go up to Arkhangelos, ready to lift the boat out in the yard at Partheni, but Julie has kept us all informed through her Facebook page.
On Monday and Tuesday the volunteers bought shoes and clothes for all the survivors of the tragedy. There is a big question mark over why the coastguard took three hours to reach the survivors. Some of the latter said they were shouting and shining torches and laser pointers towards the shore. At one stage they saw the military on the shore just looking at them, but doing nothing to help those in the water or those who had made it to the rocks.
On Wednesday the refugees were taken to Rhodes, where the bodies had been landed, to identify their loved ones, though the Greek press reported that seven of the survivors had been arrested as suspected people smugglers and taken to Kos. Nobody seems to know what will happen to them next, though there are rumours that they will be flown to wherever they want their bodies buried.
Ana, of UNHCR, stressed to all the volunteers that they must not talk to the press or post anything about the tragedy on social media. She is obsessed with the idea that everybody must speak with a single voice, i.e. hers, even though she is never there when it matters and knows nothing about what is going on. All the refugees we have spoken to want as much publicity for their plight as possible.
The situation has been more manageable this week, with around 100 arriving each day and refugees regularly leaving on the ferries to Piraeus. Although they buy full price tickets (and sometimes double price for first class tickets when all the regular fare tickets have gone), apparently the refugees are not allowed in the saloons on the Blue Star ferried but have to stay outside on deck for the nine-hour overnight crossing to Piraeus. There is very little deck space so no doubt many have to stand.
On Thursday some of the volunteers met for dinner, because quite a few are leaving this week. As some leave, new volunteers arrive, but if the flow continues into November there will be few foreign visitors left, so the whole burden will fall on Matina, Anne and the permanent local residents.

We fly to Athens on Saturday morning, just in time for the election on Sunday, and back to Birmingham via Copenhagen on Monday.

I have not been posting pictures because there is no time for taking photographs and I do not want to be intrusive, but there are many pictures on the Leros Solidarity Network’s Facebook page ( ).

Ten days with Charlie and Andrew

We had two days in Marathokambos, on the outer quay, waiting for Andrew and Charlie. 

Kai took a series of brilliant photos for his school photography project, including one of an old man, his shadow and his reflection in a car.

We had booked a car in Marathokampos for Wednesday 19th so as to pick up Andrew and Charlie from the airport. When we went to pick up the car, they had no trace of our booking. We had been a bit doubtful because when we booked it the man did not write anything down. His wife phoned him and balled him out, but they had no car available, neither did the other car hire place. With A2B quoting 86 pounds for a taxi from the airport we decided to sail along to Pythagorion, where we got a place on the quay without any trouble.
Next morning, Thursday August 20th, Simon and Kai went to watch the plane coming in 

and Andrew and Charlie arrived half an hour later.
 We immediately set off for Agathonisi,though Charlie and Andrew soon fell asleep.

Arriving in Agathonisi, we first went alongside the ferry quay, but before the ferry came we went and free anchored off the beach.
Agathonisi had about 300 refugees, nearly all Syrian, with a hundred more arriving every day. They were sitting and lying in every spare bit of shade. 

The locals are getting desperate. There are no public toilets or litter bins, so the refugees relieve themselves where they can and litter is piling up. Tourists are being driven away – people leave as soon as they see all the refugees milling around the village. Voula was preparing a petition to be signed by all the islanders and Simon wrote a letter to the Guardian, which they published next day ( more pictures at ). The BBC emailed Simon next day for contact numbers in Agathonisi and their film appeared on the BBC news a few days later ( ).
With the winds forecast to increase we motor-sailed across to Arki the next day, Friday 21st, where we anchored in the bay until a space appeared on the quay. We launched the kayak so that Andrew could paddle Charlie to the beach, where Alexandr was playing with his Polish gran. Alexandr was shy at first, but soon they were having swimming races and getting on well using sign language.
We stayed in Arki for two days, with strong winds encouraging everybody to stay, swimming and chilling. On Friday evening the German couple in the Swan 42, with their two daughters, tied up alongside us. Kai got Charlie and the German girls playing in the square and decided that he would like to stay longer, but Sunday night was festival night, with hordes of people expected and music all through the night, so we decided to move on so as to get a good night’s sleep.
We motor-sailed down to Lipsi on Sunday 23rd, missing their festival which had been the previous night. On the way Andrew thought he saw a floating log, but when it popped its head up he realized it was a turtle. We got a good space on the quay in Lipsi and Kai went off to play with his friend Manolis. In the evening we went for dinner in Manolis’s dad’s tavern, To Pefko, and again had an excellent meal.

On Monday we took a taxi over to Platy Gialos, on the northeast of the island, to meet Manolis and Sheila. The bay was very sheltered, despite the strong wind and big seas, but the beach was packed and the water very warm and murky because it was so shallow. Sheila gave us a lift back to Lakki, via the scenic route. In the evening we had excellent take-away pizza. On Tuesday morning we took a taxi over to Katsadia beach, which was well sheltered but the sea was much clearer and cooler than at Gialos. Charlie really enjoyed swimming there.

We had a good lunch in the (expensive) tavern 

and got a taxi back to Lipsi town in the early afternoon, with another takeaway for dinner. Kai went off to say goodbye to Manolis and came back about 11. At 12.30 we were woken by shouting – it was Manolis who had brought back Kai’s jumper that Kai had left at Manolis’s house.
On Wednesday, August 26th, we left Lipsi and motor-sailed down to Arkhangelos. As we were taking the sails down the local dolphins, an adult and child, swam around the boat, but as usual we could not get a good photo, though Kai shot a bit of video.

In Arkhangelos anchorage we managed to anchor in the prime spot, near the taverna. 

Andrew took Charlie to the beach in the kayak, and we all went for a light lunch at Dimitra’s taverna, 

being welcomed with the usual hugs and kisses. In the evening we had spaghetti Bolognese on board, in the saloon because it was too windy on deck.
On Thursday, August 27th, we motored down to Xerokampos, Charlie having cold pizza for breakfast on the way.

In Xerokampos picked up a buoy. Sue and Steve arrived a while later and picked up the buoy behind us. Charlie got in to swimming off the boat, 

and Lin and Charlie swam across to Sue, hanging on to their mooring line. 

In the evening we went with Sue and Steve to Mama Veta’s tavern.

Charlie was cold, so wore Lin’s Russian sweatshirt.

On Friday, August 28th, we motored up to Lakki, Charlie perching under the storm hood, which was Kai's favourite place when he was little.

We anchored first off Merikhia so that the boys could go to the War Museum in the wartime tunnels. 

Charlie panicked when he turned a corner in the tunnel and saw a video showing at the end, so they had to come out.
As we came in to Lakki a Greek navy gunboat was unloading its first load of refugees on the ferry quay. 

There have been several such loads arriving every day. Although the specially chartered ferry, Elefteria Venizelos, one of the largest ferries in the Mediterranean, picks up the refugees every few days, arriving that night,

we were told that there are now 800 waiting on the island. Medecins sans Frontiere has establish a tented camp in a large yard opposite the port police, so everything is now much more organized. At lunch at Poppy’s we met a Dutch couple who have stopped sailing to organize volunteers to support the refugees, giving them water, shoes for the children and helping them with registration. They said that the Syrians are always calm and polite, but there are some Iraqis who ‘have the character of Sadam Hussein’. They said that the Turkish authorities are positively encouraging the migration, directing refugees to the pick-up points. There were even three Algerians who had flown to Turkey because they had failed to get to Italy.
In the afternoon all except Simon took a taxi over to Crithoni Paradise to swim in the pool there, while Simon fixed his bikes. He had punctured the Brompton rear wheel when putting the tire back on so he repaired the puncture with his last patch, but it failed, so next morning he took it to the bike shop, where the man fitted a new tube and supplied a new puncture repair kit. He asked for only 7 euros, but Simon gave him ten.
That evening Elefteria Venizelos arrived to pick up the refugees and take them to Athens. Andrew took the boys to the play park before they came back for a late night.
On Saturday August 29th the first group of refugees were lined up on the road across from the marina, while they dumped their rudimentary lifejackets in the rubbish bin, and were then led off for registration. 

Immediately after, the scavengers arrived, sifting through the lifejackets to take away the best ones. 

Hundreds more arrived through the day. In the morning we went by dinghy across to a little beach, 

where Simon trod on a sea urchin, fortunately without too much damage. Over lunch we met a couple of Americans from Boulder, Colorado, who had just flown in as volunteers to support the refugees, having seen the situation on the news and in the papers.
In the afternoon we picked up a car and all drove over to the pool at Crithoni paradise. Charlie had a great time jumping in 

and even swam a few strokes without his armbands.

 In the evening we went for a steak dinner at To Petrino. Kai went to the play park and on the way home met a Syrian family with five kids. He came back to collect his football to give to them, but we told him it was too late to go out again and he got a (relatively) early night.
On Sunday morning the boys got everything packed up ready to leave. Kai and Charlie went to Poppy’s for breakfast, where they charmed a couple of Americans from California. Kai told them the history of Leros, while Charlie told them about the War Museum, showing them the leaflet. Kai could not find his Syrian friends to give them the football so he gave it to a group of teenagers.
We drove up to Partheni to see Richard, who had arrived on Saturday. His boat was not in the yard, but we saw it on one of the buoys off the beach, so we called to him and he rowed ashore. We all went for a drink in the taverna before it was time for Andrew and the boys to check in and get the flight home. 

We gave Richard and Ron a lift back to the beach before driving back to Lakki and handing over the car.

After tea, Simon cleaned the carburetor and fuel system of the outboard, but when he tried it next morning it would not start at all.