Winnipegger in Greece fundraising to bring urgent care to Europe's largest refugee camp
Centre needed to provide health care, ease tensions on Greek island, says co-ordinator Katie Muirhead
As Europe's largest refugee camp continues to face a humanitarian crisis, a Winnipeg woman is leading a campaign to bring an urgent care centre to the camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.
"You're seeing people sleeping on the street, just head on concrete, because there's a lack of resources" at the Moria refugee camp, said Katie Muirhead, a Winnipegger who has been living in Greece for a year.
"You're seeing people sleeping underneath olive trees. People are finding shelter wherever they can — and in some cases, they're not finding it at all."
Muirhead — who has a master of arts degree in peace and conflict studies from the University of Manitoba, and received the university's Nahlah Ayed Prize for Student Leadership and Global Citizenship in 2018 — is a support co-ordinator with the Health-Point Foundation. The organization helps get medical and dental care to refugees living in places like the Moria camp.
Now, she's hoping to raise enough money for Healthbridge Medical Organization, a non-profit which she founded, to bring an urgent care centre to the camp.
The camp is about eight kilometres from the Turkish border, and made headlines when its population reached several thousand people a few years ago. Muirhead said that's a far cry from what she's seeing there now.
"It was dire, but I wouldn't say it was as desperate" as it is now, she said.
"You're seeing, literally, tents floating away. You're seeing people living among dirt and water and sewage, and garbage is getting picked up once a day, when it needs to be picked up about 10 times more frequently."
Now, the camp built to hold 3,000 people is home to at least 12,000 refugees, according to official figures, though some estimates place the number at several thousand more — a huge group on an island that had a population of 85,000 in 2011, but is likely several thousand more than that now, according to the United Nations.
Muirhead said the shift in population has placed a huge burden on an under-resourced health-care system, and has led to tensions between Greek residents and refugees, which she said she saw first-hand when she briefly stayed in a Greek hospital last year.
"Refugees would show up to the hospital with no translators, and doctors and nurses would have been working for the last 12 hours," she said.
"There's no translators, and the emergency room is full, there's a lack of beds. So unfortunately, that was breeding further animosity, and people were being told to come back the next day."
It's one of the reasons Muirhead said an urgent care centre is needed in the camp, and why she launched a fundraising campaign to help get it done.
She said she has received permission from Greece's national health organization and Moria camp management to set up the clinic, and she has already signed a contract to rent the land where she wants to build it.
Muirhead said startup costs for the centre would be about $22,000 Cdn. Those funds would go toward purchasing shipping containers, which would house the centre, plus medical equipment and other supplies.
She's set up a page for donations, titled "Urgent Care Centre for Moria," on the fundraising website GoGetFunding.
Muirhead said the money would also help pay Greek doctors and nurses to staff the centre, which she said could help ease tensions in the area — "again, bridging that divide, trying to say that we're focusing on that element of integration."
Now, she's calling on Canadians to help solve a problem she said is growing every day and creating a ripple effect across the world.
"The refugee crisis is still very much going on, and you really don't need to look far into our own history to see that," she said, referring to the the surge in asylum seekers crossing the border into Manitoba a few years ago.
"This isn't a story that's far from Canadians' hearts and own history."
- An earlier version of this story indicated the total population of Lesbos was 8,800. In fact, the population was 85,000 in 2011, but is likely higher now, according to the United Nations.Dec 12, 2019 4:19 PM CT
With files from Marjorie Dowhos