‘They are real people, not just a problem that needs solving’ - Lowestoft’s Polly Grice on volunteering at Kara Tepe refugee camp in Greece

Former EDP, Lowestoft Journal and Beccles and Bungay Journal reporter Polly Grice working at a refug

Former EDP, Lowestoft Journal and Beccles and Bungay Journal reporter Polly Grice working at a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece. Pictures: POLLY GRICE - Credit: Archant

I've been volunteering at Kara Tepe refugee camp for six weeks now, and it has quickly begun to feel like a small village.

Former EDP, Lowestoft Journal and Beccles and Bungay Journal reporter Polly Grice working at a refug

Former EDP, Lowestoft Journal and Beccles and Bungay Journal reporter Polly Grice working at a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece. Pictures: POLLY GRICE - Credit: Archant

It makes it easy to draw parallels with life back home in Suffolk. The cafes I used to eat lunch in have been replaced with a tea point where we serve hot drinks to refugees. The shops I loved browsing have become a clothing distribution point, where families come to get warm jumpers and coats for winter. And the local schools I visited to cover stories for The Journal have become small classrooms where I teach English to an enthusiastic class.

We have almost 1,000 people here at my camp - mostly Syrian, Afghani and Iraqi refugees. They are well cared for by a whole host of organisations, including the Humanitarian Support Agency who I am volunteering with.

We focus on tea and clothes, with families coming to our clothing distribution centre for private appointments. They are able to get everything they need - from winter shoes to baby grows - thanks entirely to donations.

They get three meals a day, they live in weatherproof housing units and there are plenty of activities to occupy the 400 or so children. They may have the equivalent facilities of a small village, and they are certainly better off than many refugees trapped in Europe, but it still isn't a life as we know it.

Polly Grice when she worked at The Lowestoft Journal and the Eastern Daily Press.

Polly Grice when she worked at The Lowestoft Journal and the Eastern Daily Press. - Credit: Nick Butcher


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Some of our residents have been at Kara Tepe for eight or nine months. That's a long time to be unable to do something as simple as choose what you eat for dinner and when. Unable to see family members back home or elsewhere in Europe. Unable to get a job.

Many of the refugees I know want to go to Germany as they have family there. Some dream of Canada. But most of them simply want to get out of a refugee camp and move on with their lives.

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There are around 6,000 refugees in Lesbos, more than 15,000 on the Greek islands in total - and the numbers can be overwhelming. There have been over 169,000 arrivals in Greece this year so far – almost 3,000 last month alone.

And when you're talking about numbers this big it's easy to lose sight of the individuals caught up in the crisis. But that is what volunteering at Kara Tepe has brought home for me.

Every one of those numbers is a person, not just a statistic on a spreadsheet.

From now on when people talk about the refugee crisis, I'll be thinking of the goldsmith who makes jewellery from wool for all the volunteers at the camp, the university professor who starts every day by asking after my health and the children who track me down when they break something because I know where the superglue is kept.

They are real people, not just a problem that needs solving, and I'm privileged to be out here helping them in my own, small way.

To find out more about the Humanitarian Support Agency or to donate, visit http://humanitarian-support-agency.org/

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