Volunteers help refugees survive while Europe’s leaders still search for solutions

Amnesty International — From Greece to Germany, volunteers are joining forces to help newly-arrived refugees and migrants get food, clothes and medical attention – plugging glaring gaps in the EU’s broken asylum system while Europe’s leaders still grapple for a common solution to the growing crisis.

“There was this Syrian family: a father with a small girl. She tried to open the door of my car. I thought she must be after the food, so I asked her father what they need. ‘You have the same car as us,’ he responded, ‘but ours exploded back in Syria. Her mother died in it.’

“And then I understood what the little girl was looking for.”

Konstantinos, a volunteer, looks away as he shares this story with me. Locals on the Greek island of Kos call him ‘The Hardcore One’, because he juggles two jobs with daily deliveries of food, supplies and support for refugees.

Treating refugees as people

More than 318,000 mainly refugees, and some who are migrants, have risked their lives to reach the Greek islands so far in 2015. They face hellish conditions as the local authorities are either unwilling or incapable of providing basics like food, water, toilets or housing.

Locals and tourists have stepped in to plug the gap: “It simply is an overwhelming task,” says Giorgos, a teacher who helps prepare and distribute more than 1,000 portions of food daily.

“It’s not just feeding people,” says Dionysia, another activist and local theatre director. “It’s treating them as people.”

Biljiana, aged 36 and originally from Belgrade, Serbia, volunteers with her partner: “We also experienced famine and bombings back home,” she explains, “We can’t just sit back when this is happening in front of us.”

Tourists have joined forces with locals, including Dr Greta Tullman, a German academic. She shows me a hand-written list of supplies to buy when she goes home – she’s already brought several boxes.

By the late afternoon, the food is ready and an elaborate distribution, also of clothes, nappies, and other essentials takes place across the island, in the absence of a central reception centre.

“If we weren’t here, four or five people I’ve met personally would have died.” said Björn Freter a volunteer from Berlin.