Preparing for Winter as Refugees Arrive in Lesbos


Mark Buttle

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Program Emergency Response Personnel

Lesbos, Greece

October 20, 2015

 Arriving at the airport on Lesbos for my flight home I realized that, for a change, I was early and it being 4:45 a.m., that the airport was closed! I walked across the road to the beach, wondering how many refugees were crossing the dark sea before me at that very moment, some of whom head directly for the bright lights of the coastal airport. All was quiet, so I sat down on the wall of a tiny chapel, where I could keep an eye out, and allowed myself to doze.  

A boat full with refugees arrives on the Greek island of Lesvos

Yesterday it had been all hands on deck as all available staff scrambled to assist with the distribution of a daily meal at Moria transit camp, completely over capacity yet again with a new influx of refugees. With thousands of people crammed into a space far too small, every available Save the Children person was wearing our red t-shirt, as over 2,000 hot dinners were served. Luckily they didn’t run out and everyone got their share.

At Moria transit camp, Save the Children has coordinated with MSF and the local government to improve hygiene conditions. As winter approaches, I know that we will need to provide hot water in the showers: in fact we will need to winterise the camp as a whole, providing better drainage as well. The existing shower block doesn’t have a roof, has no windows, and puddles form on the cracked and missing tiles of the floor: there is only cold water. Kids lose heat more quickly than adults, so they will try to avoid washing if that entails using freezing cold water. At the moment, comic shrieks can be heard as reluctant children jump under chilly jets of water. Warm water could be considered a luxury, but it is not funny to see a four-year-old crying and shivering uncontrollably, especially as many of these children are already sick and exhausted.

On Kos there are no public toilets that are really suitable for women, and new toilets have insufficient water available and are in terrible states as they are used by far more people than they are designed to. Meanwhile refugees camping on the seafront are on the promenade, literally a few feet above the sea. During the next storm they will be soaked by crashing waves.


A mother and her young son wait to be registered at an informal camp in Lesvos so they can be transferred to Athens

As I sat on my wall, I was brought back to reality by the faint but distinct sound of a young child’s voice. They were coming. But instead of a boat landing in front of me, a bedraggled line of people appeared on the coastal road: they had arrived south of the airport, with quite a walk ahead of them to get to the transit camps, where they need to go to register before they can move onwards with their journey. “Baba…” a two-year old said to his dad, who was carrying him on his shoulders. “How far?” a man asked me simply. I could have said, “A ferry ride to the Greek mainland, then another bus or train ride to the border, then walking or catching buses through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Croatia and Austria, crossing borders with no idea how to, or where to go; no idea what will happen when you arrive, or if you will be welcome, and no idea what will happen to your children over the coming years as they try to fit into a new society.” Instead I said, “About 6 miles to the registration point. Good luck.”

To learn more about our response to the refugee crisis, click here.