Dr. Anna Sotiropoulou spots a couple with two little children and a tiny blanket-bundled infant slowly making their way to a detention center where refugees must spend their first night on the east Aegean island of Leros and get registered. She rushes over to check on them, as the mom, clutching her baby, looks as if she might collapse at any moment.
The family is among 110 refugees who just arrived on Leros—taken there by port authority boats from the nearby island of Farmakonisi. Unscrupulous traffickers route refugees to Farmakonisi, an island not far from the coast of Turkey, even though the refugees pay for the longer trip to Leros. Only Farmakonisi is a restricted and uninhabited military island, so there is no humanitarian aid services for refugees who disembark there from their unsafe rickety rafts — dehydrated, hungry, wet, cold, and often sick and injured. There is no shelter there, food, or even drinking water.
Yesterday, the sea was choppy so all port authority and military boats from Farmakonisi to Leros were canceled, which meant that nearly 700 refugees who had made it to the inhospitable island were stuck there for two days — with no assistance whatsoever. Dr. Sotiopoulou, part of a medical team operated by International Medical Corps and its Greek partner Praksis, anticipated that these latest arrivals from Farmakonisi would be in especially bad shape. And they were right. Refugees inched toward the detention center, some limping from injuries or shoeless, with visibly cut up feet. There were many families with young children in the group, and they all looked weak and weary.
The doctor asks the approaching mom if she’s okay, and she responds that she is exhausted and thirsty and worried about her little ones. Her infant, Dr. Sotiopoulou learned, is about two weeks old. In spite of the dangers around them, the Syrian family waited to begin this journey until the baby was born. But wasting no time to bring their growing family to safety, they hit the road two days after the birth and have been traveling ever since.
As the family is ushered into the detention center by port police, the mom promises Dr. Sotiopoulou that she will return for a check up with her baby as soon as she can.