Former Journal reporter Polly Grice reflects on camp life as she returns from three months volunteering with refugees in Greece

Former Journal reporter Polly Grice with other volunteers at the camp.

Former Journal reporter Polly Grice with other volunteers at the camp. - Credit: Archant

I'm back in Suffolk now, and although I'm pleased to be home, I often find my thoughts wandering to camp.

Former Beccles and Bungay Journal and Lowestoft Journal reporter Polly Grice.

Former Beccles and Bungay Journal and Lowestoft Journal reporter Polly Grice. - Credit: Nick Butcher

Since I've been home people have been asking me what it was like, but it's impossible to sum up three months extreme highs and lows in a one-sentence answer.

I wasn't prepared to get as emotionally invested as I did. I thought I could maintain a level of separation, but you just can't help getting close to people.

The refugees I met at Kara Tepe camp are some of the most generous people I've ever met. They have next to nothing, but would always give me soap when I was washing my hands at camp, or bring volunteers food when they could.

I quickly grew to think of them as my friends, which made it all the harder to leave them behind when I have no idea what will happen to them in the future.

Polly Grice working at a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece.

Polly Grice working at a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece. - Credit: Archant


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The daily work was intense – dealing with very desperate people who feel as though they have been forgotten. I had to quickly accept I couldn't change the world or solve all their problems for them, no matter how much I wanted to. I couldn't send them to Germany to be with their families or help them start a new life in Canada. But I could give them clothes, teach them a bit of English and be a friend at this vulnerable point in their lives. So that's what I did – although it broke my heart knowing I couldn't do more.

As I left Lesbos, winter was truly starting to come in. The charity I volunteered with helped to make sure every one of the 1,000 residents had warm clothes, winter coats and good shoes to see them through the months of bad weather that lie ahead.

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Small heaters have been installed in the refugees' housing units, and they were all given Thermos flasks to fill up with hot tea from our drinks point whenever they want.

It will physically get them through the winter, but I worry about how they will cope mentally.

Many of the refugees have been at Kara Tepe for the best part of a year. And with the EU only meeting 5% of its yearly target to relocate refugees in Greece and Italy, it doesn't look like the 62,000 people stranded in the country will be going anywhere fast.

With no end or solution to this humanitarian crisis in sight, all we can do is to make Kara Tepe the best that it could be.

As I left, there were plans to upgrade the refugees' houses to sturdier pre-fabs, to increase the capacity to 1,500 and to deliver bedframes so people don't have to sleep on mattresses on the floor anymore.

My part in the story is over for now, but there are so many wonderful people still working all over Greece to try and help these vulnerable people in their most desperate times.

And having seen first hand the selfless dedication of volunteers on Lesbos, I know the friends I've left behind are being cared for as best as they can be until the day they are finally given a chance at a new, peaceful life.

To donate to an organisation caring for refugees at Kara Tepe camp in Lesbos, visit www.humanitarian-support-agency.org

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