SCM Medical Missions

Something’s Gotta Change: But When? And How?

By Dr. Bill Dienst April 29, 2016, Idomeni and Polykastro, Greece

The 40 year old man who stumbled in front of a Greek police bus while fixing his tent suffered a devastating crush injury to his head. He received immediate medical attention by Dr. Omar Al Heeti who works as part of our joint team of medical professionals from Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and Salaam Cultural Museum (SCM), and with help from doctors from Medecins San Frontieres (MSF).

When the Greek Ambulance arrived, Dr. Omar traveled with the Ambulance crew all the way to the rural Kilkis Hospital, providing positive pressure ventilation and suctioning. The transport time was over an hour. At Kilkis, this man received intubation from a Greek anesthesiologist. Due to massive facial injuries, the intubation was extremely difficult. He was then transferred to the medical center in Thessaloniki. He remained comatose and died from his injuries two days later. He leaves behind a grieving wife and 4 small children who are still stranded in a tent in Idomeni camp.

On April 26, 2016, the Greek Ministry of Interior and Administrative Reconstruction issued the following notice in Arabic, Kurdish, Urdu and Farsi to refugees living in the camps around Idomeni:

Information to Refugees – Migrants

You are in Greece and you are guests in this country. It is your obligation to follow the rules and instructions of the Greek state.

The borders, and this is not a responsibility of the Greek government, are and will remain closed. This settlement does not cover any of your basic everyday needs. It will end its operations. You should move to the camps run by the Greek State, in a fast and coordinated way, under the responsibility of the Greek authorities.

The Greek State gives you the opportunity to stay in the temporary receptions facilities (camps, hotels, settlements and other facilities) in various areas in the country.

These facilities are open but are guarded and controlled so that you and your families are safe. There you will find food, medical care, clothes and personal hygiene items.

While in these reception facilities, you can move freely, going out and coming in, but you must return back at a specified time and you must observe the Operation Regulations. If you do not observe these rules, you will lose your right to Stay there.

You must also register. Soon after your enter the reception facility, the Greek Authorities will give you information on on your right to apply for asylum in Greece, and the option of relocation in another EU member state for those fulfilling the terms and conditions of the relocation programme. You will also receive information on the family reunification procedure so as to reunite with members of your family in EU member states.

You will also receive legal and financial aid so as to return to your country of origin in case your asylum application is rejected or in case you wish to return.

You are requested to follow the orders and instructions of the competent members of staff who will tell you how to leave this settlement in an orderly manner and how to be transported safely to the reception facilities.

Many of the refugees, and some of the international volunteers who have put so much time and effort developing the healthcare and humanitarian infrastructure at Idomeni camp, found this notice very upsetting. Some are angry with the Greek government for suggesting that Idomeni camp will soon be dismantled. MSF, Medicins du Monde, Praxis, ICRC, Safe the Children and hundreds of smaller NGO’s like us have invested tens of thousands of dollars trying to make life tolerable here. Infrastructure is still being developed: new showers, toilets, makeshift schools, etc.

Now we are finally catching up with the health care and humanitarian demands of this trapped population. For the first time, a dental clinic has started operations 5 days ago, fulfilling overwhelming dental needs. We hope to have similar dental services at the other gas station camps soon. Those of us who have been here awhile arrived to witness long queues of people shivering in the cold mud and torrential downpours of late winter rains. We had limited supplies and had to tell many people waiting in long lines “no, we don’t have the resources to help you right now with your problem.” Many of these limitations have been slowly but surely getting better.

The cold winter rains have subsided. Now, in spite of a few days of tear gas, sound grenades, rubber bullets and high winds which rip some of the tents to shreds, the overall weather and living conditions are improving.

It is no longer too cold, but soon, it will be too hot. I shudder to think what will happen in when the holy month of Ramadan starts in June and people are fasting from sunrise to sunset during the longest days of the year and summer swelter: heat stroke, dehydration, kidney stones etc. The treatment for heat stroke is to cool the patient down. But we have no air conditioned shelters, no ice, only tents, which can get hotter on the inside than on the outside during the daytime under these conditions. The nearest hospital in the town of Kilkis is over an hour away, and ambulances are limited.

No, the situations at Idomeni, EKO, BP and Hara gas stations are not tenable in the long run. We cannot blame the Greeks, for they did not ask for all this refugee crisis either. It was put upon them. The farmers in the tiny village of Idomeni (population 154) want their farmland back, and their way of life; and who can blame them? The railway station needs to reopen again soon someday.

This stalemate has to end sooner or later; maybe sooner would even be better than later, especially with the hot summer sun approaching. The problem that those of us serving the refugees face now has to do with timing: there is no way to accurately predict when the camps here will be dismantled. Meanwhile, we continue to develop further infrastructure to meet fundamental human needs for those who can’t wait.

DSCN2159Dr. Bill Dienst is a rural family and emergency room physician from North Central Washington. He has extensive experience in medical exchange programs in Veracruz, Mexico and in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He is currently on assignment with Salaam Cultural Museum, a Seattle based nonprofit organization doing humanitarian and medical relief work with refugee populations in Lesbos and Idomeni, Greece.

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