British Columbia

Vancouver Island woman volunteering in Greece vows to advocate for refugees

A Vancouver Island woman volunteering in Greece to help refugees, vows to advocate for them when she returns to B.C.

'I think we need to understand the danger that people are going through to seek freedom'

Melie DeChamplain met this orphan named Mohamed in Lesbos. His parents were killed in a bomb blast in Aleppo last month and he is travelling with his 24-year-old uncle and three other orphaned nephews. (Melie DeChamplain/Facebook)

A woman from Vancouver Island is currently volunteering to help the thousands of refugees arriving daily on the greek island of Lesbos. 

Melie DeChamplain — a trained nurse — has volunteered in many disaster zones around the world, through Doctors Without Borders. Currently, the mother of two is putting her medical training to use in Greece, through the Lighthouse Relief organization. 

"Our work is really to identify and go from one person to the other and see which ones are the most vulnerable," said DeChamplain. 

"We try to identify the ones that are injured, hypothermic, in shock and we bring as many as we can into the clinic."

DeChamplain says boatloads full of migrants arrive at all times on the island — in the middle of the night or the during the day.

"Mothers and children that are telling me that their houses have been bombed, and they lost their husband or that their husband has been taken by the taliban and they need to run away."

Used life jackets are recycled at a refugee camp in Lesbos to help keep the tents warm. (Melie DeChamplain/Facebook)

DeChamplain said she has heard horror stories from the refugees about smugglers and the way they operate. 

"I think we need to understand the danger that people are going through to seek freedom," she said.

DeChamplain is particularly concerned about the life jackets refugees are using, saying some are being filled with plastic bubble wrap.

"The life jackets — they don't float —they've been made with the wrappers, you know the wrappers for the computers, so when you open the life jacket, you see that they are not made to float," she said.

"So they are paying a lot of money and putting their life in something that doesn't even work."

Melie DeChamplain at the Lighthouse Refugee Relief centre in Lesbos, Greece. (Melie DeChamplain/Facebook)

While she's scheduled to come back to B.C. on Friday, DeChamplain says the experience in Greece has left her wanting to advocate for refugees when she returns.

"I think we're very fortunate over the last few months Canada has opened its door to receive more refugees and this is great, but I think Canada should also be playing a role to stop the boats from coming  but not by finding a way to stop them and then smugglers take the refugees anyway  I think we need to find a way that we can possibly register refugees directly in Turkey so they don't need to take the boat so they can have a safe migration to a host country."


Bal Brach


Bal Brach is an award-winning reporter at CBC News Vancouver. She has worked in television, radio and online news across Canada for more than 15 years. Bal's storytelling skills have earned her two Jack Webster Awards. She is also the recipient of regional and national Radio Television Digital News Association awards. Bal can be reached at or on social media @BalBrach


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