I met the Mobile Info Team on my first day volunteering in Northern Greece and was instantly impressed. I was helping out with Echo Mobile Library at Diavata refugee camp when a car pulled up and out clambered a team of smiley faces. I guess the smiles help in their work.
The Mobile Info Team
The Mobile Info Team travel to the camps around Northern Greece to help the refugee communities by informing them about asylum, relocation and family reunification processes. And the rest. They help to demystify some pretty mysterious procedures and to support those who need a helping hand.
And there are so many that need a helping hand.
At first, I asked the team if I could tag along on an info session because I wanted to learn more. I didn’t know my Dublin Regulation from my Dubs Amendment. I didn’t understand the full implications of the EU Turkey deal and what it meant for individuals stranded here in Greece, or for their family members still making the treacherous journeys across the Aegean Sea.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to go into detail here. The truth is, I still don’t fully understand how it all operates, but one thing I learned during the time I spent with the Mobile Info Team is that not many people really do. It’s an ever-changing landscape where information is scarce and the thousands of people dependant on the Greek authorities and the EU are often left waiting for long periods of time with no communication and no idea of what might happen next.
The people that come to the Mobile Info Team come to talk about their cases, to find out why it’s taking so long to process applications and to get the information they need to make an informed decision about how to face their futures. Some have family in EU countries that they hope to be reunited with. Some have dreams of living in Germany, or Belgium, or France. Some are too tired to continue travelling. They have been stuck for so long now in Greece that their lives have been completely derailed. They want stability. They’re tired of waiting.
But nothing is certain. As I listened to the Mobile Info Team translator relaying the stories of people who came looking for help, my heart felt heavy. There were wives separated from husbands, whiling away the days until they were reunited. There were mothers terrified that they would be separated from children who had turned 18 on their journey and so may have to fend for themselves, independent of their family. There were elderly people wondering if they would ever see their nearest and dearest again. Mostly, they were all tired of waiting. Greece was wearing them down and there were so many that had been stuck here for well over a year, long before the borders were closed.
What’s Actually Happening with the Refugees in Greece
To put it into perspective, the Greek Ministry of Migration have had about 27,000 applications for relocation alone. That doesn’t cover the people who have applied to be reunited with family. As I understand it, it means that applicants have requested to be moved to another EU state, most of whom have pledged to offer asylum to a specified number of people. The process involves filling in an application form which forms the basis for a file which is sent to a country deemed suitable both by the Greek authorities and the EU agency EASO (European Asylum support Office). Quite often, it can take a long time for files to get sent due to an insufficient number of pledges made by other countries. The receiving country’s authorities then do their due diligence and necessary security checks. Applicants are interviewed, sometimes more than once and they can make requests for which country they wish to move to. Their requests are respected where possible and elements like family members’ residencies and spoken languages are considered. Quite often, though, it doesn’t go their way. When it comes down to it, an applicant could be sent anywhere, alone, with no language skills or support network.
Of course, they can turn down the offer of relocation, as some have done when offered Romania or Bulgaria. The problem then is to restart the procedure and to endure more waiting.
So far, over 11,000 people have been transferred to other countries. It may seem like quite a lot of people, but it’s not even half way there and the entire plan has fallen behind schedule. All applicants were supposed to be relocated by now. Nobody has told them anything, or given them any indication of how long more they will have to stay in the camps. People are panicking that they will be kept waiting another year and more. They’re hearing rumours. They’re giving up on the system and heading back for the borders to try their luck the unofficial way. Worse still is the growing problem of mental illness and psychological difficulties among a community who have already faced the most traumatic conditions.
Why The Mobile Info Team Matters
What I like about the Mobile Info Team is that they are realistic. They don’t give false hope or make empty promises. They just provide facts and impartial information that enables people to better understand their own situations and the possibilities that lie ahead. If someone has a difficult case or their process has been complicated in some way, the team will take on the case to follow up and find the information that will help, to work with lawyers and to give individual support to those most vulnerable. They bring a lot of comfort to people who need it most.
And people love them. Every time I was with them, there were warm welcomes, smiles, hugs, kisses. People gathered for an event. They encouraged each other and supported each other. They showed their unmistakable Syrian hospitality by bringing us tea, coffee, cakes, croissants, oranges, biscuits and anything else they had to show their appreciation.
One of my favourite moments from all of my volunteering adventures over the past four months was with the Mobile Info Team in a camp near the Macedonian border. The team spent a few hours meeting the residents who had queries or worries. One of the women had been terrified that there was a problem because her family reunification application was taking so long. She was so relieved to learn that the delay was not abnormal that, despite our polite refusals, she scarpered off to make us something to eat. We’d almost forgotten about it when the info session had ended and she and her friend reappeared to invite us for a meal in the room she shared with her 6 children.
It was amazing. With no cooking facilities available, she had managed to rustle up a Syrian feast. We sat cross legged around the bedsheet that was now our dining table and we ate salads made from grass she had picked from the ground and rice she had cooked solely from the heat of an electric radiator. Every bit of it was delicious and we sat and chatted and laughed with our host and her friends and children for as long as it took to eat as much as we could get our hands on and to enjoy some great company.
I wondered if I would be as resourceful if I were in her shoes. I think I know the answer and probably don’t like it very much. I was filled with admiration for her and her ability to stay so positive and filled with hope when the odds seemed stacked against her.
I saw it again and again; people relieved, comforted and even empowered by the information and the help they got from the Mobile Info Team. Isn’t there a saying about information being power? Well, for people with very little power even over their own futures, the information they get from the Mobile Info Team is a lifeline.
You Can Help
The entire team is made up of long-term volunteers who dedicate themselves to their work without pay, but of course they have overheads. You can contribute to the ongoing work that they do by making a donation to their current crowdfunding campaign.
Want to volunteer? If you are an Arabic translator and want to get involved, contact the team through their Facebook page.
As always, I love to hear from you and what you thought of this week’s post – especially if I’ve gotten details wrong. Please point it out so I can fix it. Don’t be shy, leave a comment below or get in touch on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org … But don’t be a Troll. Nobody likes a Troll…