A pharmacist’s insight into a refugee camp – our colleague Miguel Zalacain recently helped in the Vial refugee camp in Greece

 In Ashtons News, Mental Health

I spent the two first weeks of October 2018 volunteering with a Basque NGO called Salvamento Marítimo Humanitario (SMH) – a humanitarian rescue association in the Greek island of Chios, near Turkey. SMH is the only medical care provider in Vial and constantly needs healthcare volunteers. Encouraged by a friend, I decided to spend some time using my skills to help others and exploring the current situation of thousands of refugees trying to reach Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.

On this beautiful Greek island with breathtaking sceneries is located the refugee camp of Vial. The camp is designed to host around 900 people but over 2,000 refugees were living there last October sponsored by the EU. The conditions are atrocious and the majority of people sleep on the floor in crowded tents. The tall fences covered by sharp wire, flimsy tents and the strong police presence are very oppressive and definitely do not make the new arrivals feel welcome.

There is a strong smell of dirt, urine and faeces throughout the camp. Hygiene is a big problem in Vial, as well as food and water sometimes. Some people, due to the physical lack of space, need to sleep rough outside.

Our main place of work was SMH’s small clinic on Vial and our team was made up of two physicians, three nurses, two healthcare assistants and a pharmacist. We worked like an A & E unit. Traumatic lesions due to war and torture, amputations, skin problems like scabies, GI and respiratory issues, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted infections and or psychiatric disorders were widespread.

The latter were prevalent amongst the refugees. Many arrived in Europe escaping from a traumatic past, mixed with war, murder, terrorist acts or rape, and they are facing a huge ‘European bureaucracy wall’ to get asylum. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, sleep difficulties, panic attacks or self-harm are common amongst the refugees. Substance abuse is also a problem: alcohol, cannabis, benzodiazepines, opioids or cocaine are used as an emotional crutch by some people, including minors.

Everybody I met in Vial was approachable, friendly, polite and extremely resilient. Refugees just want to travel freely, and work and live in peace, like all of us.

Medical help is continuously needed in Chios and the experience is intense, but extremely rewarding. If you are a healthcare professional who speaks English (French, Arabic or Farsi are also useful) and you would like to volunteer in Vial, please contact SMH by email on: sanitario.smh@gmail.com

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