What do we do?
There are more than 60,000 refugees in Greece and an overwhelming demand for information to understand what is happening to them.
As an organisation that has been working with information for refugees for the past two years in Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Germany, Holland and the Greek Islands and mainland Greece, we are aware that asylum seekers in Greece are struggling to understand the processes which can result in them often being deported after receiving a negative decision.
Unaccompanied minors in particular are responsible for their own asylum applications and struggle to understand what they need to do access their rights. Refugees in general are struggling to integrate into a destabilised and bureaucratic Greek economy and society. Survival becomes paramount.
That's where we come in.
There is no other organisation with as much material available in as many languages as RefuComm. We work with the UN, Greek Asylum Service and other key actors in the country to help get vital yet lacking information to refugees.
We source information: checking dates, legality and rumour to produce, translate and distribute accurate information for refugees. The information we provide is focused on the bureaucratic processes in Greece - from asylum in Greece to family reunification and relocation, support for unaccompanied minors and vulnerable people to appealing against negative decisions.
We create documents, videos and audio files to get information to refugees in a format that works for them. Many refugees cannot read and this is particularly true of minors. We get into camps, squats and meeting places on the mainland to get information to refugees directly - to give them the best chance of understanding the system and preparing them for the various stages within it
We train volunteers so that they have a rudimentary but accurate understanding of the processes that they can share with refugees.
The Refucomm team spent a lot of time on Chios in June and July 2017, getting under the skin of the problem of information provision and trialing our micro SD card project.
When we arrived in June 2017 there were over a thousand people 'living' in terrible conditions in Souda and the dearth of media attention has highlighted the absolute disgrace of people being left there for so long.
No one should have had to live like this. Not when the EU has provided such huge sums to take care of refugees stuck in Greece. In the winter we watched people freezing in the snow, dying trying to keep warm and now summer is here people are living in blazing heat with no protection from the sun. The water is regularly cut off. It is not a proper shelter, it never was. The long waits while Greece sorts out their procedures led to self immolation. The stain of Chios will live long in history.
But let us not forget that there is a strong sense of community at Souda, the camp is near the town centre and people can escape the mundane long days and months of waiting for the Greek authorities to sort themselves out in friendly community centres and at least distract themselves from the conditions they are living in. The fear is that Vial will eventually become a closed centre again, as it was in the beginning, and people will be isolated in Vial with no witnesses to tell the story of what happens to them from here.
There are only about 300 people living in Souda right now (despite sensationalist posts by volunteers who say otherwise and misrepresent the situation from afar). Last night we got a message from one of our interpreters on Chios that Souda 'camp' will be closed by the end of August. Friends of friends at the municipality confirm that this is the case.
These are people who fled their homes, and now they are living with uncertainty again. Some will be sent to Vial and some to the mainland.
We must not forget them when they are in Vial or wherever else they are sent.
RefuComm has already made careful preparations to track their progress and potential difficulties that might come with isolation, by setting up Whatsapp groups, grouped by language and by gender, with interpreters in each chat, so that we can give legal and emergency assistance and people can tell us what is happening to them.
Next week, thanks to the outstanding success of our micro SD card trial in July, we will be sending 200 micro SD cards into Vial for people who haven't yet had their interviews so that they have access to information about the procedures and interview preparation. The price of the card will be to join our whatsapp groups. Thank you to all those who donated the SD cards to enable this. It really is essential now, more than ever, that people stay connected and we are racing against the clock to get it done.
We have set up a deportation line with our amazing partners at Refugee Infobus so that people can report potential deportation. Deportation advice and numbers for support groups in Turkey are included. We can track what happens to people. If their phones are confiscated by the authorities they still have the SD card which includes support numbers for them and a record of their important documents.
We will not forget them, we have it covered.
In the longer term, we are rethinking our plans for Greece. Micro SD cards are needed for the other Islands. Things are changing becoming more and more uncertain for the refugees with the absence of EU funded NGO's. Chios is an example of how things are changing, The EU is putting more and more pressure on Greece to clear the Islands. It is imperative that we are ready to continue to help people.
We are asking everyone to pull together now and put plans in place to make sure people are assisted in creative ways and we need to move fast.
This is a new reality, and we are agile enough and smart enough to beat the system, aren't we? Isn't that what we are good at?
Please help us to help people to support themselves. We need volunteers to help us to load and distribute SD cards on the Islands and we need funds for SD cards and printing of instruction leaflets
Join us today in solidarity and help us to get information to refugees who we may not have access to for much longer.
To support this project directly please visit our page on Needslist.
A 57-year-old mother of two, Kathleen Conabree has chosen to leave behind the life she's built in order to help those who had no choice but to leave theirs behind.
Having sold nearly everything she owned, she's bought a van and travelled 1500 miles across Europe, navigating mountain roads, brake failures and self-doubt along the way.
Her destination? Greece, a country where 62,000 refugees and migrants remain trapped by EU migration policy and border closures.And now, brakes repaired and doubts in check, her work can truly begin.
"There are loads of physical donations, but too many refugees do not know what the next step is in the processes in Greece," she said. "Information isn't all that sexy or headline- grabbing, so getting sponsors and financial contributions to continue the work can be difficult. But it really is the most vital, and missing, piece of the puzzle for the people stranded here".
Greece, struggling with its own financial crisis, is a country most refugees and migrants hope to move on from - originally envisioned as an entry point into the European Union and no more.
But since the closure of the Balkan route and last year's EU-Turkey deal it has, in the words of the country's own Prime Minister, become a "warehouse of souls".
For those who wish to stick to the increasingly limited legal options, knowing how to engage with the system - preparing for an asylum interview, for example, or appealing a negative decision - can be the difference between a new start or deportation.
With a generous donation from RefuComm, who have been part funded by 'Help Refugees', new equipment to show films and guidance from Sharon, Kathleen intends use her van to take this information to those who need it most, whether that involves using a projector to show movies about the asylum process, handing out leaflets or even organising workshops around key issues like interview preparation, reunification and relocation. Many people in the camps don't read so RefuComm have made films, audios and an animation to make it easier to engage people in the processes in a way that they understand. These will be shown in the camps by Kathleen and translators will be made available for questions and answer sessions.https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCwovROtk5ZCVPZNZoGADC2GzxubpMuOC
We are working with Social Projects to create a platform that disseminates our information in order to provide critical information to refugees via an interactive messaging service called RefuBot (a chatbot that works through SMS and Facebook).
This group of coders, have unique experience in researching, co-creating and testing chatbots with refugees and aid organisations in Europe. Our research shows that this technologz is cutting edge. We have tested the product and it works.
RefuBot allows us to reach thousands of refugees with vital information. It also allows us to edit and maintain information in real time, meaning that the service remains up-to-date and valuable, as policies and information change, which they often do.
We work directly with the Greek Asylum Service and other NGOs n Greece to ensure we are in receipt of any new information and to ensure that we get them to check our information for accuracy.
We have much expertise in how critical and complex asylum information can be efficiently structured and formatted for use within a chatbot. RefuBot will put us in a unique position to enable us to inform refugees to with personalised and clear information...
By the end of January 2017, with your donations, RefuComm will have a live Chatbot on Facebook Messenger as well as Telegram that makes important information available on-demand to all refugee in Greece who have a smartphone
Please help us to provide essential information to refugees.