BOSTON -Two Greek-American psychotherapists from New York who specialize in trauma, Irene Hajisava and Eugenia Karahalias, assembled a group of volunteers and traveled to the island of Lesbos in Greece in order to help the islanders cope with the strain of being the first responders to the arrivals of migrants and refuges from Turkey, which is very close to Lesbos.
The covered most of the expenses on their own, with some contributions from friends.
In an interview with The National Herald Irene Hajisava said that “in October 2018, I along with my colleague, Eugenia Karahalias, returned to Lesbos, Greece to continue our mission work that we initiated in July of 2016. We are both trained psychotherapists with specialties in trauma. Our initial pilot visit was in July 2016 when we were invited to do trauma work with the Greek islanders who themselves had volunteered as first responders to help the hundreds of thousands of refugees that had come by boat to Lesbos. There was significant tension between the Greeks helping the refugees and other islanders who felt the migration had destroyed the livelihood of the island. Our second visit was for two weeks in October 2018. We worked with both the local Greek villagers from the village of Moria and the staff of various Non-Governmental Organizations as well as refugee children and adults. To all groups we taught self-administered trauma techniques to manage anxiety and distress.”
Almost all the migrants have been gathered at the village of Moria, situated just six kilometers from the capital of Mitilini.
The situation in Moria, about which TNH has written many times in the past, has become unbearable for the people of Moria well as for the migrants and refugees. Describing the situation Dr. Hajisava said, “the camp is built for a maximum of three thousand residents and at any given time there can be eight to ten thousand people here. There is no more physical room within the walls of the camp so the thousands who are part of the overflow are in a villager’s olive grove in tents and crudely erected structures. The migrants have no choice but to wait possibly for a year or two because the borders are mainly closed to asylum seekers. The level of depression and mental illness is significant at the camp, with many residents traumatized and hopeless. The one thousand villagers of Moria are under siege and traumatized. Their stores and homes have been broken into, their livestock slaughtered, and their sense of safety severely compromised. Everyone in Moira is a victim. The camp is overcrowded with substandard living conditions and the Greek villagers are unable to protect their homes and properties.”
Dr. Hajisava continued, saying that “on a daily basis at the camp there are long lines for food and as many as are able leave the camp and walk through the surrounding communities looking for wood or scraps to add to the makeshift shelters in the olive groves. There is no running water or heat in this area. There are several NGO’s trying to provide services outside the camp, including showers for women and teenage girls, food, programs for children and women as well as medical care.”
The group of volunteers met with the president of the Moria community Nikos Trakellis, for whom they had only praise. Dr. Hajisava said “we spent a great deal of time with Mr. Nikos Trakellis, who escorted us to the camp and to the surrounding community. We presented at an open forum in the village where we taught about the impact of trauma and some trauma techniques to some of the women of the village and had the opportunity to speak to a number of the villagers who were anxious for us to understand how trapped and frightened they felt. The president of the village is very skilled in defusing much of the fear and rage that the villagers are experiencing. There are many Greeks who continue to help and provide aid to the refugees even though their economy has been compromised. The villagers are very frustrated by this because they feel that any help that comes to the community is focused on the needs of the refugees, with no concern for the local community and their suffering. On several occasions we heard from the villagers, ‘What about us? No one cares about us and what we are going through. You are the only ones offering us any help.’ The villagers are in dire straits, pleading with us to help them to receive funding to clean up their community. They feel the rest of the world does not understand just how severe the problem is there.”
She added that, “the migrants and the Greek villagers are trapped by the sheer numbers of individuals that are residing in Moria. The substandard living conditions in the camp contribute to the overflow of rubbish into the community. Some significant measures must be taken to reduce the overcrowding and provide more appropriate housing. The refugees have no choice but to spill over into the local community and damage the land they are forced to camp on. Also, the village needs to feel they are not abandoned by the larger Greek and international community.”