NOH RUG 3rd semester Work Placement Track Internship.
Internship supervisor at university: Mr. Andreas Nohr Jakob Matthias Grüter (s5008514)
FINAL INTERNSHIP REPORT
1 From September until December 2022, I worked as an intern in the Laundry Project of A Drop in the Ocean/Drapen i Havet on the island of Lesvos, Greece. This internship is a mandatory part of my master’s degree in International Humanitarian Action. Now that the internship is over, it is time drafting my final report.
Every job and every internship starts and ends with a journey. This internship is no
exception, and I will start my report with the journey to the internship position. This journey was an adventure and a valuable lesson in logistics, because I decided to take my double bass with me. If the person reading this report is not familiar with music instruments suffice to say that a double bass is noticeably big – over two meters in the case of my bass.
Consequently, the most feasible option for me was to travel by bus and ferry. I am sparing the reader here a long and broad account of the 27 hours in the bus to Sofia as well as a detailed description of the hostel in Sofia or Sofia itself. However, the next step, the bus from Sofia to Thessaloniki was for me a remarkably interesting experience. Because Bulgaria is not part of the Schengen zone, there is a border control between Bulgaria and Greece. For me, this border control provided an interesting insight. Why so? In our bus sat a family that clearly had a migration background. Once in the border control they were taken immediately aside and apparently taken to a much more detailed check than the rest of us. While rest of the travel group was long through all border formalities and standing next to the bus this family still was in the hands of the border control officers. They came about five to ten minutes later back to the bus; at a moment I already was asking myself if they were to ever come back or be put immediately in detention. For me as a European who always moved through border controls quite swiftly, especially here in Europe, this was a new experience shedding a new light on how differently our states treat people and how high the distrust is towards all regarded as not being from here.
I am making another jump in time here because I do not believe adding a detailed
description of Thessaloniki or the long waiting hours for the ferry or the beauty of Limnos as seen from the ferry add any value to this report. I rather continue my account with the last two hours on the ferry. The reason is plain simple: When taking the ferry from Thessaloniki to Lesvos the route leads along the island with Turkey being on your left and Lesvos on your right side. It is a strange feeling sitting on this huge ferry that operates according to high safety standards and travelling across that strait so many people tried and try to cross in small, overcrowded, and unsafe boats in a desperate hunt for a better life. Whilst you know exactly that the ferry will bring you most likely safe and sound to the island. And that no border control, no detention, no distrust, no camp no restrictive measures nothing will await you except for the room you secured to yourself prior to departure. And that you never had to risk your life to get to the island.
Now that I arrived on the island it is time describing first my daily routine which I think helps people to understand when I reflect on moments or aspects I witnessed during my
Usually, my day starts at 08:15 entering the public bus that brings me to the camp. I first greet the bus driver who always is the same person, pay my ticket and then greet any international volunteer from Drop provided there is one and he/she uses the bus. The we
2 arrive after a drive of 10 minutes along the beautiful cost of Lesvos at the camp entrance.
Once registered at the camp security I wait until the van with the coordinator(s) from A Drop in the Ocean arrives at the entrance. While they check in, I enter the camp and go to the meeting point. Over the next 20 to 30 minutes the resident volunteers, who are people living in the camp working for A Drop in the Ocean arrive. We together prepare the tickets, labels, and bags that we intend to give out to the camp residents. Then we split into teams. Each team distributes a certain number of tickets together with labels and bags to residents who wish to wash their laundry with us following our spreadsheet list that tells us who is due for a visit today. Other volunteers are busy dropping off the clothes we collected and washed the day before to the residents to whom they belong. This is our first round, the family round. The name tells everything we namely visit only families according to a well thought- through scheme in this round. After the round I enter the van who is now full of bags with dirty clothes and drive it to the laundry station. Here I unload them and give them to the laundry technicians who immediately start filling the machines. While they are busy with this, I reload the van this time with the washed clothes of single people in the camp that we collected the day before. I drive back and we start our second round, the single round. It looks almost the same as the family round with the main difference being that now we serve single people and that the single people need to bring their bags to a collection point. For families, we take over this task. After the single round I usually drive the van loaded with dirty clothes and all washed clothes we could not return that day, all equipment, and the coordinator(s) and/or international volunteers back to station. I further tell the security of the camp upon leaving it that we finished for today in the camp. Upon return in the laundry station, I unload the van, put the technical equipment like mobile routers, tablets and walkie-talkies to their charging stations and start helping in filling the washing machines or transferring washed clothes from the washing machines to the dryers or emptying dryers or folding dry and clean clothes. The reason is that when we return from the camp is usually the time the first round of clothes is ready to be taken out of the dryers, the second round is ready to be put into the dryers and the third round to be loaded into the washing machines.
Hence it is a moment of hectic activity where every hand is needed to keep the machines running and ensure that all clothes are washed that are due for the day. Once the hectic phase is over and after I take my lunch break, it is time to work according to needs at hand.
If needed I for example prepare and create new tickets or labels. Every day I update our master spreadsheet with new data from EuroRelief that is the organization mainly
responsible for running the camp next to UNHCR and the Greek authorities. And I prepare the daily sheets to be ready for the next day. Apart from this I usually help with keeping the flow of clothes up that means assisting in loading or unloading machines or dryers or folding clothes. Once a week, on Fridays I also run an inventory check to ensure all material needed is there in sufficient quantity and to communicate re-stocking needs to the responsible coordinator. Lastly, and again except for Friday I put the leftover drop-off bags from the day at the right place in the van and I load the van with the family bags collected in the morning so that they are altogether ready to be distributed the next day. And I check the van again to ensure all needed materials are in there and ready to be used.
As I already hinted at, are Fridays a bit different. First during both rounds in the morning, we only drop off clothes, but do not collect any clothes. The reason is simple: Over the weekend
3 we do not work, and it would not be a good idea to keep clothes for more than 24 hours if avoidable. However, between the rounds we go the Quarantine area and collect clothes from there. These clothes are washed throughout the first half of the day and delivered back the same day in the afternoon. So, for me Friday morning means drop off the family and single clothes and collect in-between the clothes from the quarantine area and deliver them to the laundry station. Then once we are back in the laundry station, I assist in washing the clothes, prepare the sheets for next weeks and as mentioned above I run an inventory check and ensure the van is ready for Monday.
This is my daily routine. And in this daily route, countless special moments are hidden. There is the sometimes more sometimes less enthusiastic greeting of everybody in the morning.
There is the farewell after the single round. There is the enthusiastic greeting of the laundry technicians with the jokes flying back and forth on why we are late (again) or why they are slow or fast on a specific day. Then there are the many conversations with the resident volunteers I form a team with about their country of origin, about Germany, about their ambitions and dreams and sometimes also with very shocking or unexpected revelations which for the sake of confidentiality I need to keep for myself. Then there are the
conversations with the residents the handling of impatient people that are getting angry once you need to tell them that they are not able to hand in clothes for laundry today. There are the countless moments where again I cannot wonder but being fascinated about the multiplicity of languages existing on this planet. Just to then feel in the next moment a familiar feeling of frustration because of the barriers they raise and the inability of myself to communicate with so many residents. Just to one second later call via walkie-talkie a team member to assist me in translation. There is that moment when I accidently put the scale, we use to ensure no-one hands in more than the maximum allowed kilograms in the bag and tightly sealed it to then under a lot of gestures, word fragments and a lot of laughter ask for a knife from the resident living in the accommodation to reopen the bag and retrieve the scale. And yes, once the resident understood what was going on he started laughing about it as well.
Then there are the things you may not even notice at first sight because they almost drown in the flood of impressions yet the moment you lean back and start reflecting, they all of a sudden seem to stand out very clearly. There is for example the children entertainment programme. This sounds on first sight very useful yet then you realize that it partly takes place during schools’ hours. Hence some children apparently do not go to school which course is very problematic. And I cannot but ask myself if anyone would accept this to happen were they Greek children? It needs to be said though that apparently the Greek government has realized that this is a problematic tendency and consequently forbid organizations to organize children’s activities during school hours. Whether this measure is actually enforced I do not know though.
One other episode happened one morning while I was waiting with one international
volunteer from A Drop in the Ocean at the camp entrance for the van to arrive. It was raining that morning, so we searched cover under a roofed construction that usually was used to screen residents returning from town. Suddenly one of the security guards moves over and tells us to use another roofed area where the security normally sits at pleasant weather days
4 as a shelter. He argues that we need to do so because the place we stand at is not save. Yet just a couple of minutes we see some of the residents being check at exactly the area we were standing just before plus a few residents waiting there for the rain to stop. We both could not but wonder why that place seemingly is save for some and not save for others.
And to realize that apparently the security divides people in two groups, those that live outside the camp and deserve higher security standards and those that live inside the camp and only deserve lower security standards.
Another good example is the housing situation which may not seem to be so bad. Yet, then you suddenly you realize a few issues. First there is the fact that single people always live together in groups of up to eight people in one housing unit. Hence, there is no privacy, no space to retreat. A phenomenon that I know from own experience can but does not need to be very stressful. And these people do not have this for just a couple of days or weeks but for months or even years without even knowing when this phase will be over. As for families, the housing units are from the same side. Hence the bigger the family the more crowded it gets which I think forms another problem I do not have in my life. Not to mention that sometimes other people live together with your family or couples that do not have children yet live together. This constellation from my thoughts creates its own problems like creating enough private sphere to exchange intimacies both for childless couples and for parents living together with their children in these better tents or transformed containers called ISO boxes. Not to speak of the fact that there is no washing machine, only improvised cooking facilities – basically what the habitants themselves could organize for themselves and no toilet and tap water at home. So even for basic necessities there is a need to leave the container and go the five to ten minutes to the public toilets which especially for female residents is not without risk. Or you need to leave the house and put yourself in line to be able to get the water to wash your dishes.
Once I walked past the camp returning from a hike and I saw that most of the camp was illuminated by strong lights. I could not help but wonder how residents are able to sleep under these conditions. All these issues made me realize that although on first sight
conditions in the camp are not as bad as maybe imagined, there are still significant shortfalls in living quality that most probably none of us in Europe would accept unless for holidays or for a very limited emergency situation but certainly not for daily life.
This then forms a good transition to talk about expectations versus reality and about first impressions. Whilst preparing for my internship many, many stories and accounts crossed my path about the horrible conditions in the refugee camp of Moria which was also described by very experienced humanitarian professionals as one of the worst places on earth. I could not help but reading these accounts and watch the rare footage I could find, two thoughts repeatedly crossed my mind. The first was that reading all these accounts the fact that Moria burned down apparently also had its good sites. And the other was the anxious question how the conditions are in the camp build after the fire that I was supposed to work in coupled with the slight hope that they are better than in the old Moria camp.
Then I came to the camp and as described above, indeed conditions are still far from perfect, but they were much better than I feared they would be. And again, the question crossed my mind: Why is this possible and why was it necessary for the old camp to burn down to
5 improve conditions of migrants on the island? And why are the conditions in the camp still so far away from what they should be would we Europeans stick to our own values?
Talking about first impressions it is difficult to find adequate words to describe them. I think those coming closet to the reality are surreal, exciting, and fascinating. It is very fascinating and exciting to see a refugee camp that we talked so much about in our lectures in real life.
At the same time, it is also surreal to suddenly standing there in a camp. Seeing the ISO boxes, and tents, seeing the UNHCR coat of arms everywhere on the housings. Seeing all the people from so many different countries, the drainage system, and the roads. And it is extremely hard, close to impossible to somehow realize that this area is the home of people that have either no resources to go to another place or as in most cases are trapped because they are still waiting for the Greek government to decide over their fate.
It is very hard to understand the full implications especially the mental ones for a person whose life is put on hold for months or even years with a high degree of uncertainty what will happen afterwards. Yet ironically enough, Corona helped me to further my
understanding of this point. Just a couple of weeks prior to my departure I woke up feeling sick. The Covid-Test I did was then positive. Suddenly, I was torn out of my daily life routine.
And the only way back to it was a negative Covid-test. Hence, I was fully dependent on the testing station telling me my test was negative and hence give me back my usual life. Until then I had to sit at home, ask other people for help to do for example the groceries. It felt terrible being so dependent on the kindness of other people and on the other side it was great to see that so many people were there to support me. But sitting at home not knowing when I would be able to return to the camp was a terrifying feeling. On the positive side, it gave a me a slight glimpse on what people go through when they arrive in the camp waiting for the Greek authorities to decide about their fate.
Having said this what, I would like to reflect about some stumbling blocks and incongruencies I noticed during my internship.
First, there is the ethical aspect. There are many, many organizations in this world claiming to be humanitarian organizations. They altogether spend a lot of money, some are older some are younger some bigger, some smaller. What they all have in common: they usually work in their own world, and often in fluid, dynamic and fast changing situations. During the internship which as needs to be mentioned took place in a rather stable environment, I could notice that even for an experienced accountant it most probably would be quite a challenge to adequately monitor and track all expenses claimed to be made by an
organization. Not to mention that it is close to impossible, and no one seems to really care to monitor the usefulness of the activities run by some organizations. And sometimes you indeed get the impression that the activities are only carried out to keep an organization alive because those standing behind seem to be unable to think about a life beyond that organization. I could not help but start to ask myself how are organizations held
accountable? Who cares and who is able to adequately monitor that what the organization does is in line with humanitarian principles and actually fulfils not just the purpose of keeping an organization alive?
These questions were further nurtured by a rumour I heard about the founders of one of the organizations active in the Mediterranean that sprang into life in the refugee crisis of 2015
6 actually got quite rich by founding this organization. I would not win a Nobel Prize for
correctly guessing where the money comes from. But it would leave me with the question:
How can it happen that bigger sums of money are so easily diverted? Are donors just turning a blind eye? Or is it rather the money spent by private people who do not really have the ability to closely monitor where the money the spent in good faith goes to and how it is used? So, all in all and in a very big nutshell: How can it happen that the humanitarian sector asks for so much money – for this year the UNHCR calculated a need of about 40 billion dollar- and yet on the other hand there is apparent inappropriate deviation and little interest or oversight to check where the money is going. And I keep myself asking – how does that align with the humanitarian principle of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and
independence? How does it align with the responsibility to sensibly and responsibly use the money other people entrusted you with? How does it align with the humanitarian idea of helping others whilst all you do is enriching yourself or artificially keep an organization alive and thereby block money that could be used much more purposefully?
How does it align with the dignity of people when you realize that an organization organizes the food for the residents only because there is a lot of money at play and what refugees get is close to uneatable and of a quality we most probably would never accept for ourselves?
All these thoughts, impressions and questions leave me slightly confused but first and foremost of all they further confirm my first impression of the humanitarian sector. Namely that the field of humanitarian action is actually a world on its own. A closed world that does not want much interference from the outside world except for money flowing in. A world in which apparently everything is theoretically allowed unless you produce a huge outcry. And then I wonder if I would be bold enough and able to make a change in this and may it even a slight one?
But ethics is not only about oversight or about how correctly money is spent or how useful activities run are. Ethics is also about power and responsibly dealing with power and people entrusted to you. Here EuroRelief is at the core of my reflections because it is one of the main actors responsible for running the camp.
First there is again the impression of the humanitarian world as a closed world. The Greek authorities are there, yes, especially the police. But apart form patrolling once in while the camp and apart from processing asylum requests they rather play a side role in the day-to- day operations of the camp. Here humanitarian organizations, in this case UNHCR and
EuroRelief in particular are the main actors. Here the first questions pop up in my brain: Who gave them this enormous power over the people living there? Being able to ask people to move to another location, to inform them when they are going to be transferred, or that they must leave on their own costs because their asylum request has been approved?
Certainly not the people over whom they yield this power. That immediately leads to a follow up question: What does it tell me about the Greek democracy that the government just appoints two organizations and delegate just like that such an enormous responsibility to two organizations? That the government simply like that delegates away from themselves one of the core duties for each state under international human rights and humanitarian law that is to provide shelter to people fleeing violence and the right for each person to claim asylum? And what does it say about Europe that we do not only tolerate but encourage this behaviour?
7 Closely related to this is the discussion that was a bit like a red string throughout my entire internship that is the new camp the Greek government currently constructs somewhere on Lesvos. Overall, what I recall from the conversations I had about these is that most people I spoke with were definitely against the construction of the camp and most were quite gloomy in their judgment of the new camp and the opportunities of their organization to be able to work there yet often coupled with a sense of determination to try their best to be able to gain permission to engage with refugees in the camp. Most also recalled their experience with similar camps like the one build on Samos which is already in use. For me personally the accounts did sound gruesome and more like we were talking about a high security prison and not a refugee camp where people are supposed to temporarily stay:
Double-fence, closed gates, in the middle of nowhere, a high-tech surveillance system steered from a team that sits in Athens including drone overflights, even brighter
illumination over night than in the current camp, all facilities there and no real connection to the rest of the island. Then there are countless rumours and question. Some question the suitability of the place chosen for the camp with regards to the ability to cope with rainfall.
Some ask themselves how to lodge the (security) personnel: Certainly, the villages around offer some options but not for all plus who can be encouraged to serve in the middle of nowhere and to live in the middle of nowhere? Because many of the small villages on Lesvos are just containing the most basic facilities if at all and are not seldom at the brink of literally dying out. Though it is very fascinating as I witnessed myself to walk through a half-
abandoned village, I cannot image living at a place like this to be a lot of fun. Then for those who do not find or do not want to find a place in the nearby villages how do they get there?
Who pays for the 1 to 1 ½ hour long journey from Mytilene, the main town on Lesvos to the camp every day? Then what about the organizations? What work is there to do for them if basically all facilities are already present in the camp? Who will survive in this battle?
In a perfect world those offering superior quality would be the ones able to continue their work. In real live though those with the best contacts to the Greek authorities and the main players, in this case EuroRelief and UNHCR are the ones most likely the ones to be able to continue their work. Again, we see this pattern of a closed world that has its own way of fixing things. A world where first you look for your own survival and then you ensure to keep others alive even artificially. And may it just but to justify the use and demand of greater sums of money then you actually need. With the ultimate result of a sector that is bloated up and more interested in defending the status quo than helping those in need as
organizations have sworn to do. And I am of course asking myself: To what extent is the humanitarian sector just busy with defending the status quo and the interests of those profiting from it which naturally runs at least to a certain extent on a collision course with the core humanitarian principles?
Last but not least regarding this topic there is another issue at hand that is the psychological well-being of refugees. Here the indications are clear that the new camps will definitely have a strong negative impact on the psychological well being because they intend to maximally isolate refugees from the outer world. Again, there are so many questions in my head for this: Why do they then built the camps – with money from the European Union? Why do we not care for the psychological well-being of people that mostly already went through terrible events? Why do we not care for the needs and wishes of the people the camp is destined
8 for? What makes these people so dangerous that we need to treat them the same way we treat our worst criminals like murderers, rapists etc.? My own impression in the camp is:
These are people like you and me. Yes, some are not honest are criminal as the theft of my tablet aptly demonstrates. But most are highly creative optimistic people with dreams, hopes and fears like us. But still, we treat them as if they are something dangerous, something to avoid contact with. This makes me somehow very sad.
Anyway, and in order to keep up my bad habit of springing randomly from one thought to another – I promise though my normal academic papers are much more structured! – I would like to return to EuroRelief. This organization aptly demonstrated for me that there are faith-based organizations and faith-based organizations. In spring 2021 I did an
internship at Cordaid. Cordaid is a Dutch organization and the Dutch branch of the Caritas network that next to Caritas Internationals has national Caritas Organizations in almost every country in the world. Caritas is in a nutshell THE example of a faith-based organization since it is deeply routed in the catholic church – basically and way too much oversimplified it is the humanitarian branch of the catholic church. Yet in their day-to-day working they separate this to a certain extent. To a certain extent because what they do and how they run activities is deeply influenced and guided by catholic values. To give an example: They might be allowed to run activities about contraceptives and family planning, but they would not be allowed to distribute contraceptives. This is just another contradiction by the way that leaves me half-amused half-irritated. Yet regarding the people they work for and work with and regarding their staff members, they do not care at all about their religion not to speak of trying to persuade them from joining the Catholic Church. On the contrary the office of Cordaid in The Hague contains a prayer room that is designed to fit all religions.
And then there is the other type of faith-based organizations like Eurorelief. I very personally already see it critical that they run religious activities like a mass or reading out of the bible. I see it personally highly critical that they run this type of activity in close proximity of the camp. And I do absolutely not understand why they ask camp inhabitants if they wish to join a prayer session and do not get a tick on their fingers for doing it. Do not get me wrong I respect the faith of every single person. But for me this is something private that needs to be strictly separated from my professional activities. I mean what shall a migrant say when the organization that basically runs the camp and from which you are consequently highly dependent as a camp inhabitant asks you to join their prayer? The huge power-inequality between the organization and the inhabitants makes it nearly impossible to say no. I have no doubt quite a few feel forced to join even if they do not really feel well with it out of fear of repercussions. This then again is summarized best in this nitty-itty question: How can an organization show such a deeply unethical behaviour and get away with it? How can it happen that an organization apparently tolerates and even encourages and supports such a behaviour from its staff members? I find these very troubling questions.
Yet they closely align with another experience a friend of mine made.
A Drop in the Ocean is certainly not the prototype of a pitch-perfect humanitarian
organization. But I firmly believe such an organization simply does not exist. But young as it may be (getting 8 years old in 2023) it very professionally organized and has a highly
competent staff and a complex set of rules and guidelines. And, even more importantly, they
9 do not only have this set of guidelines, but they do also not hesitate to enforce them. I could witness it by myself two times and heard from at least one more time. The incident I was told was about a resident volunteer who broke one of the central guidelines and
consequently was asked to leave the team – hence had to bear the full consequences.
Another came when two Norwegians were engaging as volunteers on Lesvos for A Drop of the Ocean. One of them made film interviews with other staff members and volunteers from A Drop in the Ocean – without having a proper agreement and permission of A Drop in the Ocean to do so. Consequently, they were not only asked to terminate their volunteer service earlier but also to hand in the video material which was then deleted. And then lastly it was me hit by the rules.
I might have mentioned it already somewhere in this report but as it turned out during the internship, I apparently have some problems with my temper. Two times during the
internship I was close to completely using control over myself. One time it led to me having almost a full-fledged argument with the boss of my supervisor. And one time I was slamming the doors of the van really hard scaring the resident volunteers around or at least making them feel very insecure. I was lucky the van did not get any damage from it. For me it resulted in a serious and long talk with my supervisor and the issuing of a serious warning which can be seen as me being lucky that I did not have to terminate my internship earlier.
Yet I also got a firm response to my improper behaviour, and it was crystal-clear to me that one more time and I will be told to leave. One might be a bit annoyed of all the rules and guidelines and I admit once in while I indeed was. But then I had a talk with a fellow volunteer who after completing her internship with A Drop in the Ocean did another
internship on Lesvos for another organization who did not have any guidelines at all. During this internship she witnessed how one of the main staff members behaved completely inappropriately towards a resident of the camp – without any consequences for this person.
This was for me a wake-up moment. Before I had a certain level of understanding that the rules make sense and are not there to just annoy me. But it was a vague understanding born out of the lessons drilled into me during countless university lectures and an intuitive
clinging to rules drilled into me by the way I have been raised up. But the recount of this fellow volunteer made it for me much clearer and more concrete why these rules are vital for a professional functioning of an organization. And it helped me a lot to explain why A Drop in the Ocean has such a good reputation in the camp. And they definitely made me look with much more appreciation and respect at A Drop in the Ocean. And they raised in myself the question how an organization that shows such a negligence of basic professional behaviour can still exist and be a bit actor in the camp?
And then there is the question so closely related to it: How can an organization maintain a high level of professionalism that relies mostly on volunteers who stay seldom longer than a month maybe two? How can they enforce guidelines and a professional behaviour on people that see this a volunteer engagement as doing something good for others, as a holiday activity? I ask these questions here because most of the organizations in the camp, including A Drop in the Ocean and EuroRelief heavily rely on volunteers from abroad usually
comprising a good part if not most staff members which has both its strong and its weak sides.
10 Altogether I got a bit the impression that to a certain extent the humanitarian world is a law- free rom where you can get away with impunity for almost everything. And this is a very worrying thought at least for me.
A little bit connected to this yet also quite independent of it is for me the question of agency.
During the lectures of the NOHA Master we students get hammered in again and again and again to not underestimate the agency of people and more than that to use this agency, to take it into account, to welcome it to achieve optimal participation of the people we serve and to ensure that the project has a meaningful impact. But also, and most importantly to avoid creating huge dependencies by taking over everything for migrants treating them basically like babies or small children.
Now I come to this refugee camp in Lesvos and what do I see? First almost everything is taken care of. People are told when they got a ticket, when they have to report for something at the EuroRelief Desk, and people get the food cooked and delivered though most albeit not all have to pick it up at pre-defined points. And although A Drop in the Ocean definitely deserve a positive mentioning here because it tries to avoid dependencies and taking over everything, they are far from perfect. For example, for Single Persons yes, we give out the tickets and everything, but they are self-responsible for filling the bags with their laundry and for bringing them on time to a pre-defined pick-up point where we then seal the bag and load it into the van. This is indeed a very positive development. Yet for families all they need to do is fill the bag and put it in front of the house we will do everything else. I admit for single-Parent families so for families where there is only one parent with children and for people with special needs for example a missing leg, this arrangement makes a lot of sense because they are restricted in their movement. But for regular families where both parents are present, this makes only limitedly sense because for sure one of them could go and give us the bag at a pre-defined pick-up point. Yet if this happens – and yes it does happen – we are told to discourage this self-initiative which I find a bit astonishing.
Another point of critique one could make is that people are not allowed to come by
themselves to our van and hand in the laundry whenever they have the need for but need to wait until they are due on our list. But here, definitely it needs to be said that this makes to a certain extent sense. The laundry station A Drop in the Ocean runs only has a limited
capacity. This capacity is definitely not enough to serve all 1000 to 1500 residents whenever they have the need nor to then not set any limit on the quantity. Hence working along a list and setting a limit on the quantity that can be handed in makes sense.
Yet on the other side there are so many signs of agency people show. They offer us a coffee.
They argue and complain about the time passing between each time we offer them to wash their clothes, or the quantity (in kilos) imposed. They come by themselves to our Van to give us the bag with the laundry or to ask for a ticket. They go from own initiative to the desk or EuroRelief to check if there is any progress in their asylum process. They actively approach us not even at our pick-up points but often also when we are passing through the camp. And in most cases self-agency is discouraged like A Drop in the Ocean does with those families who bring their laundry to the van.
11 To close of this rather gloomy part of my report tow of the excursions I did are worth
recounting. One was a drive alongside a dirt road in the north of Lesvos. Alongside this coastal strip most of the migrants arrive because here Turkey is closest. Suddenly, in the middle of nowhere there was a camp of first reception. Heavily guarded half hidden in the mountainous landscape and completely cut of the world it lay there looking depressing and threatening at the same time. It became (again) clear) how much distrust and unwillingness to welcome migrants there is. It is a sad feeling. We also saw a patrol boat in the sea and a watch post of Frontex/the Greek coastguard. They were just waiting for migrants to try the passage. And again, I could not stop but thinking a bit of a hunting scene asking myself: What is so terrifying about these people coming to us? What terrible things have they done to us that we react in such a way and that we treat them in the way we do?
Next to this the accounts of a fellow volunteer who already was here in the peak of the refugee crisis and at its beginning were very impressive. The accounts of the beaches
flooded with boats, life-vests, and people all over. The account of migrants all over Mytilene where, as of today, there are only few who mingle with the masses.
Another excursion I made was to the former camp of Moria with the aforementioned volunteer. There is little left of the old Moria camp. Occasionally you will find a rusty spoon or something similar on the ground. The entrance building is still standing. Some more buildings are still standing in a slight state of decay. The specially isolated area for vulnerable people is still fully intact. The fundaments of some containers are still visible. Still, you can get a good impression how it must have looked. Combined with the accounts of the
volunteer who worked there it became somehow again alive and I could almost see the rows of tents stretching through the olive plantations next to the core camp. For me, this
excursion left me deeply impressed and thoughtful as to why a place with such a terrifying reputation first needed to burn down to be replaced by a more adequate structure and how the accounts of the camp align with the beautiful harmonious landscape. Yet the emotions I felt, the wondering, the non-understanding, the sadness, and angriness I felt to the
treatment of migrants are all reflected in the larger picture. Migrants are a hotly debated and very emotionally debated topic in Europe with often strongly polarised opinions. Where this may lead to is aptly demonstrated by an account of my supervisor. One day, we came back from refuelling the van and we passed through Moria – the small village right next to the old Moria camp. He showed me the place where the social centre of A Drop in the Ocean was until 2020 and he told me that back then the atmosphere in Moria was very explosive and hostile towards NGOs and migrants. He continued his account telling how fascist and Neo-Nazis not only from Greece but from all over Europe flocked to Moria and effectively barred the access to the village. Only people they recognised could get in, migrants and NGO workers would get beaten up – and all this under the eyes of the police who did nothing to intervene. It left me shocked and speechless to hear this and to hear that because of this A Drop in the Ocean had to evacuate its staff and suspend its operations on Lesvos. How can it happen that a small but loud minority dictates how we treat people? It is for me an alarming sign for our democracy if we give such small radical forces so much space and power.
Now I have written so many cases that left me with troubling questions and that might look gloomy. And the reason is simple. It is always easier to point to the contradictions, to the
12 things that are not working as intended, to the points that need change or deserve criticism.
Hopeless optimist that I am I firmly believe though that it is also worth looking at the positive sides, to value the bright things and to give them the room they deserve. And I firmly believe they form a much better closing part for any report than all the accounts of migrants being treated as second-class humans, about families being stuffed into isoboxes, about discrimination, exclusion and mal-treatment - just to name one last impression: At one of my last days I saw an ambulance leaving the camp with the blue flashlights on so at least it seemed to be an emergency otherwise they would not put it on. But in complete ignorance of this the security stopped the ambulance and started screening the inside to make sure only the patient and the crew are leaving the camp. My supervisor and I were left
speechless, we looked at each other and then my supervisor spoke out what we both thought: Are they serious????
Anyways there is also a lot of facets I take with me that leave me glad and thankful. First there are these countless conversations with the resident volunteers, international
volunteers, and the coordinators. There are the team-events and enthusiastic greetings of each other in the morning that made me feel as a valued member of a team and deeply thankful to have the opportunity to work with such amazing people and in such an amazing team. Then there are all the wonderful little moments of jokes and funny mistakes in the daily work routine as described at the beginning of the report.
And I learned and grew personally and professionally during my time on Lesvos.
I got much mor familiar with both Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel which I used on an almost daily base.
There is a lot I learned about communication. I realized that with regards to communication I have a few issues to work on. First, I tend to talk too much. Then I have a nasty tendency to talk whenever a thought shoots through my mind. In both cases I first need to better think and reflect if what I say first really needs to be said and secondly when a good moment would be to say what I wish to say. Then I often speak to fast or unclear. Speaking louder and more slowly would help in this. Then I tend to communicate in a way that furthers misunderstandings. Here again I can and need to work on the clarity of the messages I send.
All this combines to the fact that although I am not a full-fledged catastrophe I still need to improve upon my communication. And I am glad for the internship that I could learn there to improve upon it.
Then I learned over the internship that psychological well-being and inner balance are important but often more fragile than one might think. I experienced it very clearly when my tablet got stolen. I made huge reproaches to myself for not having protected it better and it felt not good, almost scared when I returned first to the camp after it got stolen because it was stolen in the camp and I knew that somewhere in the camp, someone now had my tablet. This did not feel good for and took me longer than I expected to find back my inner calm and balance. What greatly helped me was my proprietor and the friends of here I met. I am incredibly grateful for these persons having stepped into my life.
One more thing that I got decisively better in during my internship is my flexibility and my ability to accept sudden changes in plans and that not everything goes as I would like it to go. And, in connection to all of it I decisively got better in controlling my temper. All of this
13 accompanies me already my entire life. And yes, there are quite a few moments where I lost my temper and always, I regretted what happened then. Or I just made things a lot more complicated than they were because I could not accept changes or that things were not going as I planned. And the fluid, constant changing environment I was thrown in with this internship were particularly challenging for me. But both the incidents and the ensuing formal warning helped me a lot in improving upon these points.
What really helped me in all of this was my supervisor. He took himself a lot of time to explain me why the incidents need to be considered serious and what I need to change. And he took himself the time to draw a nuanced picture and to reflect together with me which incidents are falling under the issue of my temper and how I can improve on this. He most of the time had the extra minute to explain me why we need to do something a certain way.
And my supervisor definitely is very adept in working for and working with people. I learned a lot from him and his calm and friendly temper on how to effectively lead a team and work with people. I am very grateful for these lessons and that he always had time for me and my questions.
As I said, starting in a new position or an internship starts and ends with a journey. This internship is no exception. The journey back I spare the trip with the ferry, the comments about my bass, the sightseeing stay in Athens and most of the many hours I spent in a bus.
But two events are worth mentioning. On the bus journey from Athens to Sofia, there was a tourist from Indonesia. Rationally seen, he was a specially educated person that might have ease finding a job in Europe because he is an interior designer for hospitals. And yes, he asked me about prospects to migrate to Europe. I felt ashamed as a European that I could not really give a too optimistic prospect. Next to it he was as mentioned before as a tourist in Europe. When we came to the Greek-Bulgarian border all except him were only briefly checked and moved very swiftly through the passport control. For him he needed to show everything: Passport, all bookings for hotels on his journey, all tickets for his journeys within Europe and his flight tickets. It took him twice to three times longer to get through the passport control. To a certain extent this is understandable because he is not from the European Union. On the other side, the aggressiveness and rude treatment of him was justified in no way as well as the excessive check of his travel plans next to the valid visa he had. Then lastly, on the Serbian-Hungarian border I experienced on my own how humiliating and degrading racial profiling feels. In this case the Serbian border post picked me and another passenger because we were of German nationality and our destination was
Germany. So, he suspected us to smuggle drugs from Bulgaria to Germany because they are cheaper in Bulgaria than in Germany. As a result, I had to take out my bass and have him search the case. Then I was together with the other German guy separated from the travel group. He was even taken to another room to make a full body examination including taking off his clothes as he told me later. I was a bit luckier I just had to open my backpack and the border post checked it very thoroughly. It felt strange, embarrassing, and unused for me to be singled out and made the target for me just because of my nationality and my
However, I do not want this amazing experience that the internship was for me end with such a depressing outlook. If I look at the overall picture, I am firmly convinced that the
14 internship itself was a very positive experience for me. I learned a lot about myself, and I was able to significantly progress in my personal and my professional development. I met a lot of wonderful people and had many wonderful moments I take with me home. And I got a first impression how the humanitarian world looks outside the lecture halls of a university. And what I see is sometimes troubling: There seems to be a sphere of impunity in the
humanitarian world. There are ethical issues at play at least in the refugee camp I was at.
There is also a lot of self-interest as a driving force within the humanitarian sector. The treatment of refugees by Greece and the European Union is worrying to say it the least negative. In real live it is not always easy to fully encourage and make use of the agency of people. Reality can be very messy constantly changing and challenging to bear.
With all these negative facts a few things need not to be overlooked. I learned to truly understand the value of rules and guidelines. There is the passion of those working in the field. Their determination to make the world to a little better place. There is the joy and willingness to work hard to make a decent job. There is the high sense of professionalism which I felt especially at A Drop in the Ocean. There is this invisible bond that somehow connects all humanitarian workers almost instantly no matter what organization they work for. There is the encounter with people from all over the globe with all their fascinating stories and views on the world.
Hence, my summary is: Yes, it is challenging to be a humanitarian and yes, many things are not going the right way. But still, it is worth working as a professional in the field of