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GEN-Europe Takes Action regarding the Refugee Crisis on the Island of Lesvos

RefuGEN 1 concludes - and gives space for RefuGEN 2, a new phase of volunteer work for refugees

During the GEN Europe Conference in Arterra/Spain, the RefuGEN team took some decisions of how to continue the project and the help of ecovillages for refugees.

The RefuGEN initiative was launched at the Green Phoenix meeting in Switzerland in November 2015. It came about as an urgent response to the humanitarian crisis that was and still is unfolding along the migratory routes that many displaced people follow to escape from war and other hardships. Almost immediately, a RefuGEN base was set up on the Greek island Lesvos where volunteers spent many months providing essential services at the refugee camps on the island. A few months later, in March, the authorities started to close these camps and RefuGEN moved to the Skala ecovillage in northern Greece. There, volunteers continued their work at camps such as Idomeni and now more recently, at Lagadikia.

However, and despite the incredible commitment that so many volunteers from ecovillages have shown during their time volunteering on the RefuGEN project, we always knew that at some point we would have to reflect again on how we as a network of ecovillages, could best assist in intervening in the crisis. We took such time to come together and to reflect deeply during GEN Europe Conference held in northern Spain. We considered several aspects of our 6-month old project including the immense volunteer work done up to now, the impact it had so far, the invaluable lessons learnt, future scenarios for the crisis itself, camp conditions and the needs of its inhabitants as well as the collective know-how and skills that we as ecovillagers can offer to develop sustainable living spaces and practices. It is in this context that we took 2 key decisions regarding RefuGEN:

a.     That the first phase of RefuGEN will come to an end on the 31st of August 2016. This means that we will not accept new registrations of volunteers, but will continue to host volunteers who are already at Skala Ecovillage only up to this date. For any new volunteers who are still interested to work as volunteers in Greece (from September 2016 onwards), we can only recommend that they contact any one of the volunteer organisations who still actively recruit and place volunteers at refugee camps in the region. (Please check on the Internet for such possibilities)

b.     That the second phase of RefuGEN will focus on education, training, integration and the creation of model settlements. We have some proposals from collectives such Blueprint and other possible cooperation partners. The exact nature of this focal point – in terms of content and form and duration and the resources needed – will be decided at the next Green Phoenix meeting to be held at the Schweibenalp Ecovillage in September 2016.

We would like to extend our heart-felt gratitude to all those who have participated in RefuGEN – the volunteers, the ecovillage communities, especially the Skala ecovillage, donors and fundraisers and everybody else who contributed in some way or the other.
We are excited about the new form that RefuGEN will take and know that the impulse that its first six months has been given – thanks to you - will see it continue to strive for better livelihoods for those people who find themselves displaced by adversity.
Please stay in touch and look out for our announcement on the new RefuGEN in October.

More: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RMGVGJN


DONATIONS: If you can, please contribute to the refuGEN fund. It is for paying common costs of the mission that we cannot ask individual volunteers to pay for. If we collect enough money we would like to help volunteers in financial need to help pay food, accommodation and possibly travel to the location. It is possible to donate via GEN Europe PayPal account or GEN Europe bank account. Please mark all donations with "refuGEN".

PAYPAL: http://gen-europe.org/spende/index.htm

Postbank Berlin, bank code 10010010, Account no: 7681105
IBAN: DE 11100100100007681105, BIC: PBNKDEFF100

GEN-Europe e.V. is a charity association - Donations to us are tax deductible depending on your country.

MATERIALS: We ask you to consider gathering needed materials to give to needy refugees. Men's clothes, sleeping bags, tents, and perhaps blankets will be needed. Sorting clothes by size and type is helpful. We want you to wait with sending any materials before refuGEN is on location and can confirm what is needed.

Please spread this request in your community and to trusted individuals connected to your community that you think could help with the refuGEN mission.

General information

NOTE: The conditions on Lesvos change all the time!

Some weeks ago there were arriving on the island 6000-8000 thousand refugees per day, the last week the number changed into 1000-1500.

What is the Village "of All Together"
The Village “of All Together” is a self-managed-autonomous space, which has hosted during this time more than 6.000 refugees, some for few days and others up to a year. The refugees include asylum and family unification applicants and/or vulnerable groups of newly arrived refugees e.g. people with disabilities, sick, pregnant, refugees, who have experienced lost of parts of their families after sinking, etc. There, the volunteers are offered food, clothes, medicines, hygiene, legal counseling, and medical help as well as they organize activities for children and classes of Greek and English and occasionally, they provide them transport expenses and social support. In the Village “of All Together”  there are small wooden houses, many big tents, a big professional social kitchen, where they cook warm food for 600-1200 refugees per day, a medicin place, central Store
house, where they collect clothes, food etc… They share the food to the different camps, in Moria, in the port of Mytilini, in Kara Tepe. At the moment 60-70 people live there, but this can change very
quickly.

What is most needed?
What they need is psycho-social support because they stay longer there.  There is also need for technical support, help in the Kitchen, work with children, creativity and art, empowerment for women, children, creative actions, to create a child friendly room, social spaces for, musical experiences etc. Also, they want to cooperate with us on ecological level and to help them creating better conditions in all levels for the refugees they host.

Logistics

There are flights to Mytilini (Lesvos) from Athens and Thessaloniki. But not every day. So some days the plains fly from Thessaloniki and some days from Athens. Skala Ecovillage is located on the north of Greece, 40 km from the airport of Thessaloniki. If some people want to stay in Skala before or after their stay in Lesvos, are very welcome to do it. Food and accommodation in Skala costs 15 euros per day.

For the people that fly via Athens, it's better to go directly to Lesvos. The Village of All Together, in Pikra is close to the airport of Mytilini, 5 km from the city of Mytilini. That means that the volunteers need also transport possibility, to rent a car, bicycles… There is also a bus connecting the city with the airport, every half an hour.

Donate

GEN is already a silent force engaged in humanitarian Aid all over the world. Look at our map of emergencies actions; there are many members with large involvement in post-disasters scenarios. Help us to help them. We aim to offer a holistic dimension on refugees and refugee' camps; everywhere, the solutions we bring are wellcomed: help us to spread them where they are needed!

We are now working in the Mediterranean area, trying to set a network around our common and shared sea, with members from North Africa, Middle East and South Europe; help us to reach the other shore...

Thank you for considering supporting the Global Ecovillage Network of Europe financially! 

Your contribution - large or small - is truly appreciated.

 

You can either use paypal or transfer the chosen amount to our bank account:

Bank account

Postbank Berlin, bank code 10010010, 

Account no. 7681105 

IBAN: DE 11100100100007681105 

BIC: PBNKDEFF1

A letter from one of our RefuGEN activists

Dear friends,

Once more, I would like to share with you an account on what has been happening during the last month in this corner of our planet.

Yesterday we spent another day in Idomeni, and it seems like everytime I go to Idomeni it is raining. Through the cascading raindrops, we can make out mattresses strewn around and tents - small, medium, large - for as far as our moist eyes can see.

Who supplies the tents and who distributes them, who supplies the mountains of blankets, raincoats, jackets and sweaters? Who receives the swarms of people arriving day and night, who guides them, who cares for the basic needs of more than ten thousand people who have come to the border, in search of hope? Verbal communication is difficult. Some refugees manage to make themselves understood with rudimentary english and gestures, but more agonising is to try to understand the infirm who pleads with you to comprehend her pain or a wailing child who lost his relatives?

The state is absent. Perhaps a blessing in disguise because such a tsunami of human needs cannot be tackled by officers with a work schedule on their own. A variety of NGOs offer valuable help during the day, but at night of course return to their homes and offices. The volunteers work in shifts, tirelessly.  Greek and foreign volunteers work side by side. Together they help to look after everybody in the camp, and nobody asks about each other’s ideologies. Here, that does not matter. This is another Greece, another Greek
society, unexpected, rebellious, deeply concerned about its social priorities, humanity; enacting the joy of giving. If we are still able to reflect on the past year’s events from the comfort of our homes, we might be pleasantly surprised by this enthused attitude towards refugees, as we were by the Greek referendum on the 5th of July 2015.

Yet, in recent days ships chartered by Frontex are trying, despite great
difficulties and reactions to transfer refugees from Lesvos, Chios and
the other islands to Turkey. The agreement is meant to make refoulement difficult. An agreement that some "advertised" as a lifeline, but which others have challenged and criticised. The reactions are coming from many different sides, but all come to the same conclusion: it cannot be considered as a
lasting solution. Amnesty International has repeatedly pointed out
that Turkey is not a safe destination for refugees, and serious
objections to the legality of the agreement have also been expressed by the UNHCR. Others comment that if the Turkish side really wanted to control
trafficking networks on the coast, it would already have done so. There is also a concern about the potential presence of Turkish officials on the Greek
islands, raising fears and questions about sovereign rights in the Aegean.

In recent days, thousands of refugees decided to seek asylum in Greece
and not to return to Turkey. However, the structures and human resources
needed to control, collect identity data and process asylum applications are not enough. Some things have been done to establish hosting sites with decent conditions for those who will stay in the country temporarily, while there is still no provision for the approximately 50 000 refugees, who it seems, will settle permanently in Greece.

And in between all this turmoil, about two weeks ago, we also decided to
formally establish the REFUGEN project in the Skala Ecovillage. In conjunction with OIKOPOLIS - an organization with whom we have a longstanding cooperative relationship - we now officially work in Idomeni, helping with the cooking and distribution of food, clothes and whatever else might be needed, and in Diavata, the refugee camp in Thessaloniki, and in OIKOPOLIS also in Thessaloniki, organizing the warehouse, the shop, sorting clothes and participating in the coordination activities for children, language and communication amongst others. Our team assumes a large share of the volunteer work responsibilities and the people recognize and appreciate our engagement. In the coming weeks another Refugee Camp for 700 people consisting mostly of families will be opened approximately 15 km from the Skala Ecovillage and we intend to be active there too. Our volunteers are ready to take on any task - in the forefront or discretely behind the scenes - without heroism and this is also often appreciated.

There are many realities which run in parallel: the reality of the
refugee camps, the reality of Oikopolis in Thessaloniki, the reality
of being in a big city, of being in Skala Ecovillage, our inner
reality. It is our daily challenge to somehow remain conscious of all these states of being and yet be fully present and calm and ready to contribute in whatever way is needed. We witness every day that the spirit of the community is what makes the difference and gives us strength to work
so many hours a day and not to forget who we are. What incredible energy
is released when people open the frontiers of our minds and hearts and
come together to serve a higher goal! We care and take care of each
other and on Sundays we take time to look after the community. In the
mornings we gather in a morning circle to share and occasionally
permit ourselves to celebrate, to dance and sing or cry and we start to
connect with each other, to love one another. I feel that whenever we experience a major crisis like the one that is playing out right in front of our eyes, our knowledge about the social and spiritual levels in particular, as contained in our Network of Ecovillages, may be the main stabilizing factor which allows the many wounds, whether systemic, personal or social, to heal. Because, what is healing, if not freedom; freedom from physical pain of course and freedom from mental pain, despair and the meaningless, freedom to think independently and to decide to participate in life, in co-creation. Through our work in REFUGEN we are filled with a stronger sense of community. We feel nurtured by the warmth and security of our ever-growing family and friends.

I hope that after the GEN Conference we’ll find 1-2 days together to envision the next steps. Thank you all from my heart for the opportunity of this wonderful team and this amazing work of REFUGEN!

love

Anna


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