Clonakilty teacher Carmel Nic Airt has returned to Greece to assist the refugee crisis for the second time this year.
Inspired by the refugee children she met at her school’s partner school in Germany and by the heartbreaking images in the media of children washing up on Greek beaches, Carmel fundraised €20,000 and spent a month volunteering on the Greek island of Leros earlier in 2016.
The West Cork Principal, currently on leave from Gaelscoil Mhichíl Uí Choileáin, then returned home and whipped up a phenomenal amount of support from all over the country, in particular West Cork, gathering donations of much-needed goods — from baby items to wheelchairs to clothing — enough to fill the two trucks (provided courtesy of Caulfield Transport) making the run to Greece. Carmel is particularly appreciative of the support she received from parents and former parents of Gaelscoil Mhichíl Uí Choileáin.
Carmel arrived in Greece on Sunday, April 24, ahead of the truckloads of donated supplies travelling from West Cork, which are due to reach Idomeni at the Greek-Macedonian border this week.
Arriving into Athens, Carmel went directly to the port of Pireaus, where she says she was met with an air of hopelessness and despondency. “The last time, even though conditions were terrible and there was huge overcrowding, they were still upbeat and had some hope. Now, this has been replaced by despair and depression.” There are a number of cruise ships now moored in the harbour and a visible reduction in the number of tents and refugees. “Clearly there is a ‘Clear the Port’ policy in force. This had been predicted and it certainly is happening. I would estimate that there are at least half the numbers there that would have been there in early April.”
From there, Carmel travelled to Leros, where she was based earlier this year. She has described the situation there as “chaotic to the point of being dangerous due to lack of volunteers, as there are no NGOs present on Leros.”
“Unlike the day when I left at the end of March when only the unaccompanied minors were at PIKPA, the house is again busy with families.
“There are men, women and many children including babies, one only three-months-old. That baby’s mother told me that two months ago, her family home was bombed and half her entire family are now dead, the rest are in Europe. She and her own family, totalling 12 in number including nine children, fled to be with the remaining members of her family before they too are killed.”
Carmel travels to Idomeni this week, to help offload the trucks and distribute the much-needed supplies from West Cork.
Under an agreement between the European Union and Turkey, migrants who have entered Greece after midnight March 20 at midnight will be deported back to Turkey.
Thousands of people are stuck at the Idomeni refugee camp at the Greek-Macedonian border due to the border closing.
“What about little Achmed, who arrived in Greece, 14-years-old, travelling with his only surviving brother and a cousin, their entire family having been killed in a bomb?” says Carmel.
“Achmed lost three of his fingers and both he and his brother suffered such damage to their eyes that his brother will — according to our doctor volunteer — soon lose his eyesight completely, and Achmed will also lose his in time.
Will they go blind in Europe or in Turkey?”
Conditions at Idomeni are supposed to be terrible with heavy storms and a lack of volunteers contributing to the plight of refugees there.
The 16-year-old boy who carried his father on his back from Syria to Leros; the family lying on the side of the road with their sick underweight baby; the little girl who still smiles from her neck and head brace after being hit by a taxi in front of her family’s tent; the grandmother who cries because of the small kindness shown her for the first time in many months; a five-year-old girl wearing shoes eight sizes too big for her; the many children with autism. Just some of the heartbreaking stories of people Carmel has met on her journey; people who have had everything taken from them: their homes, their families, their communities, their future, their dignity, their humanity.
All donations to Island to Island should be made out to ‘West Cork Humanitarian Aid’, AIB Clonakilty, sort code 93 60 57, A/C 12738016, IBAN IE 74 AIBK93605712738016, BIC AIBKIE2D.
‘Carmel Nic Airt Island To Island’ on facebook for further updates.
A facebook page ‘Irish Volunteers for Refugees’ to coordinate Irish volunteers has been set up by Drimoleague resident Paul O’Brien, after he spent time volunteering on Lesbos.
“I want to lobby the Irish government to take what we’ve pledged already and pledge to do more. I’d also like to advocate support for those refugees when they actually arrive here,” says Paul.