29 May

‘This experience will stay in our hearts’

Elisabeth Tobler, Barbara Aulopi & Alexsandra Hitz

Elisabeth Tobler, Barbara Aulopi and Alexsandra Hitz wanted to make the world a little bit better. When they got to know about One Happy Family, they knew this was the right place to volunteer. ‘We feel close to the motto of this community center; not working for, but with the people. As teachers we try to do the same. And we can tell; it works.’

‘We are sad to leave. We’ve met so many smart and good people. They were part of our daily life. It is normal to get a bit attached to them.’

We came to Lesvos, because …
‘Elisabeths son was here a year ago. He organized a fundraising event where he told about his experience in One Happy Family.The same evening we decided to book our tickets and volunteer at this community center. His story just caught us. The fact that we would go together also motivated us. We knew we were with the right people to share such an intense experience with.’

Our experience was …
‘Touching. I think this is difficult to explain to people who haven't been here. It is a feeling. You can see the pain in the eyes of the refugees. This community center really is a happy place. But it is sad at the same time. Because at the end of the day, they will go back to Moria. A place which is too horrible to describe.’

Our most memorable moment was …
‘Teaching English to the helpers. They were so grateful and keen to learn. As teachers, we know that this is not always the case. The courses were sometimes difficult for them. But despite this, they told us they learned something new everyday. It was wonderful that we were able to give them our full attention. They were the most important persons for us while we were teaching. That was heart opening.

What wasn’t a nice experience, but did stuck with us, was the driving to Moria. We had to take the helpers there after they worked in One Happy Family. We could see the fences and the bad condition of the camp. Knowing that we had to leave them there for the night, made us so sad.’

One Happy Family is …
‘Really a family. It is the home for many people in Lesvos. It is a place where the people trust in the abilities and knowledge of others. It shows that, if you just have faith in people, something beautiful like this community center can be the outcome.’

What we would like to tell other people …
‘There is a tragedy going on in Greece. You can’t realize how bad it is, if you haven’t been here. We would like to advice people to visit this place and volunteer. Human work can change something. The fact that you are volunteering, shows that you support the refugees. The warmth you give them, also returns back to you. You will keep this in your heart. Something more beautiful than this doesn’t exist.’

Alexsandra Hitz (left)

Age: 26

Country: Switzerland

Occupation: teacher

Stay: 9 april - 19 april

Elisabeth Tobler (middle)

Age: 52

Country: Switzerland

Occupation: teacher

Stay: 9 april - 19 april

Barbara Aulopi (right)

Age: 36

Country: Switzerland

Occupation: Teacher

Stay: 9 April - 19 April

21 May

‘One Happy Family teaches you how to be kinder’

Giulia Berti

She wanted to go to Lesvos before, but her family told her not to. It was a friend of Giulia Berti (25) who told her about One Happy Family and made her decide to volunteer at the community center. ‘My family thought it would be too dangerous to work here. But when my friend told me about his experience, I just knew had to go.’

‘What I’ve learned here, is that it is so important to create a place where people feel safe. You always think that people who suffer need clothes, money and food. But we forget about the importance of the mental condition. One Happy Family takes care of this. And that is so important.’

This is the reason I came to Lesvos …
‘A friend of mine who volunteered in One Happy Family told me about his experience. He told me about the situation in Moria and how horrifying it was. But he also said that, despite this, he was able to make people smile when he worked in the community center.

I decided to contact the coordination team of One Happy Family to get more information. It felt safe. I trusted my friend and the people who are volunteering in the center. Then I decided I just had to go.’

My tasks at One Happy Family, were …
‘Working in the cafe, boutique and kitchen. At the beginning I found it difficult to tell the people to respect the rules we have here. That they cannot have more food than other persons, for example. But after a while I realized I had to tell them. In Moria they don’t have rules. The people are treated bad over there. It is the responsibility of the volunteers to show them that this is not the case in One Happy Family.’

One of my most memorable moments during my volunteer ship, was when we were serving food. We were all singing and dancing. It wasn’t just about distributing meals. It was about giving them a good time and enjoying the moment. It brought tears to my eyes.’

My experience in One Happy Family was …
Special and emotional. I thought I would come here to help the people. But now I feel my stay here is a gift to me, not to them. The contact I had with the people here is different from the contact I have with the people in Germany. It is more true, more authentic. They are so friendly, even though they are in a situation where other people would go crazy. They are all so strong.

I had the expectation that I would have to do a lot of physical work. But in the end, I wasn’t needed for this. The people from Moria who work here want to do it themselves. And that is amazing. They have a task. This gives them strength and self confidence.’

One Happy Family is …
‘A place to have a break from the cruel reality. A place where you can meet your friends and have a good talk. In here, the people are not alone. It’s really a community. It also prepares you for the normal life, how it should be. Unlike Moria, were the people are treated like animals.’

This is what I would like to tell other people …
‘I would recommend everybody to come to One Happy Family. Not only to help the refugees, but also for themselves. We should be kinder to each other. That is what you can learn in this place. It was the best decision I’ve made this year to visit this place. The connection you make with the people is real. I will come back for sure.’

Age: 25

Country: Germany

Occupation: studying

Stay: 24 March - 6 April


16 May

‘One Happy Family: a home for the people who need it’

Sam Salih

Sam Salih fled his country from war five years ago. He stayed for two months in Greece, travelled to Italy and eventually was able to get to Germany. Now he finally is in safety, he decided to commit his life to helping others who are stuck in Greece. This is his fourth time to volunteer at One Happy Family.

‘More than 9000 refugees are stuck on Lesvos. I know their suffering. It would be easier for me to forget what I've been through. But I don’t want to banish my past from my thoughts. It gives me the power to help others that are in the same situation I was.’

I decided to come to Lesvos, because …
‘Life is not fair. A lot of people don’t care about the people who are in need. The ones who suffer don’t have any power or rights. They need people to fight for them.

You get further in life, because other people decide to help you. The same goes for me. I have a stable life now. And I own it to the people who chose to lend me a helping hand.’

I keep coming back, because …
‘I was not born to just live for myself. I could use my free time to have fun. But I already have everything that makes me happy. I have a job, I have an apartment and I earn enough money. My life is stable. Why shouldn’t I try to accomplish the same for others? When I’m older, and I won’t be able to volunteer anymore, I will be happy that I’ve used my time helping others.’

One Happy Family is …
‘A home for the people who need it. This organization provides a daily program for more than five hundred people everyday. People can enjoy their time and use the qualities they have. This is good, because it means they are busy with something positive.

The visitors can go to school, get a haircut or talk with their friends while they are enjoying a cup of tea. The support they get here gives them hope. What is going on in this island is horrible. For this, life in One Happy Family is not the reality. But it is a reality that can make the people stable for now.’

You always have small goals and big dreams in life. Refugees are able to achieve their small goals here, while they are waiting for their big dream to come true. Which is to go of this island and be free.’

My message to refugees…
Visit one One Happy Family. This place gives you the opportunity to use your qualities or to practice your hobbies. It keeps you busy. It will free your mind for a while. When I arrived in Germany, I did not know anyone. A football club then welcomed me in their team. I went there several times a week and it made me forget about my problems. One Happy Family works exactly like this. They support you and keep you positive. It is a big family who’s door is open for everyone.

Age: 30

Country: Germany

Occupation: security

Stay: 1 March - 1 April

10 May

‘Sometimes a Mandala can save a life’

Dilan Siper

I came to Lesvos, because …
‘A feeling of powerlessness overwhelmed me. I am active in a left-wing student group, but because of my study I didn’t have a lot of time to focus on it. Added to this, political work is very frustrating. You put so much effort in it, but you barely see any results. I was at a point that I wanted to work somewhere where I could see the effects of the work I do. I contacted a German organization and they connected me to One Happy Family.’

My tasks in One Happy Family were …
‘Working at the boutique, giving out drachma’s at the bank and organizing the art table and other activities. The visitors really need to be occupied. Especially the art table was surprisingly succesful. Many adults - which were also men -  enjoyed it.

I learned here that, when you are in so much pain, a simple Mandala can bring you so much. The visitors might not like to draw one if they had a normal, stable life. But in this situation they are looking for distraction. They want to be focussed on something else, rather than thinking about the situation they are in. I never realized as much as here, that the little things are the most important. Sometimes a Mandela can safe a life.

My experience in the community center was …
‘Intense.This community center is a happy bubble. At the beginning this felt wrong, because it is not the reality. I sometimes asked myself what I was doing here. I wasn’t changing anything about the situation. But I came back from this. I realized that these people need a place to forget the reality. And if that is just for six hours, than thats’ ok. Changing the little moments, are as important as changing the big situation.

All of my friends have asked me about my experience here. It is hard to answer their question, because it’s a feeling and not something rational. I knew about the situation before I came here. But it feels different now. It is like reading the newspaper. You know what has happened to someone, but you don’t know the person.  Now I know these people, with their personality and the look in their eyes. They are human beings now. Not just names.’

This struck me the most …
All of the stories I heard were horrible. But what struck me the most, was when someone was thinking about their future. The past is also hard, but it has ended. Their future still has to come and it is already terrible. You can’t tell them everything will be fine, because you don’t know this. Everything is uncertain and that is awful.

What I would like to tell to other people …
I would like to tell  people that they should try to do something about the refugee crises in their own country. Because that is were you can make the biggest change. If you have the ability to visit this island, you should. The feeling that this experience gives you is so important. It makes the difference.’

Age: 23

Country: Germany

Occupation: psychology student

Stay: 21 march - 30 april


02 May

‘Volunteering in One Happy Family has become an addiction’

Fanny from Switzerland

One Happy Family still had to be built, when Fanny Oppler came here for the first time.This was more than a year ago. In March this year, she visited the center for the third time. ‘When I arrived here one year ago, I did a lot of construction work. I painted the walls and shoveled the ground. The center opened two days after I left. In September I came back to see the result. Volunteering in One Happy Family has become an addiction since then.’

My task at One Happy Family was …
‘To work at the bank. The system they have invented for this is great. The visitors get two ‘drachma’ everyday. They can get several things with this. A cup of tea, a haircut, or clothes at the boutique. They chose however they want to spent the drachma. I like the idea of a basic income. The fact that they are responsible for their expenses is also a good thing. It gives them a feeling of independency again.

The atmosphere at One Happy Family is good. But we do need some extra support when the bank opens. Some people are not willing to stand in line or they argue with you because they need more drachma. This may sound absurd, but imagine how desperate these people are to fight over a ticket. Luckily, this doesn’t happen a lot. The people are managing. They are so strong.’

I keep coming back, because …
‘The persons i've met here are amazing. Especially the people from Moria who work in the community center. They work so hard. It’s them that keeps this place running. One Happy Family is their place. The volunteers just support them.

The team working in the kitchen illustrates how much they love the community center. They are cooking for more than six hundred people in just two pots on the ground. It is amazing. Just like them, many people in this place are so talented. It is such a shame that they are stuck on this island.’

What struck me the most, was …
The system of the asylum seekers. It is so random. Some people from Syria get the blue stamp, while others from this country get rejected. There is just no logic. And they decide over human lives with this randomness. It is awful.’

My wish for refugees is …
‘That the war stops so they can go back to their country. Because that is what most of them want. They don’t want to stay in Europe. I hope the madness of this island will stop soon. And that the situation in Moria will change. So many boats are arriving in Lesvos. I can’t imagine how all these people will live there. It is going to be a war zone. Politicians all over Europe should act. They have to do something about it.’

Fanny Oppler

Age: 27

Country: Switzerland

Occupation: graphic designer

Stay: 1 march - 1 april

01 May

Pressemitteilung: Organisierte Gewalt gegen Geflüchtete auf Lesbos

„Eine Sonntagnacht im Frühling auf Lesbos, die Angst macht. Angst, dass Angriffe auf Menschen, die ihr Grundrecht auf Asyl in Anspruch nehmen, zur Normalität werden könnten.“

Die Situation auf Lesbos und den anderen griechischen Inseln ist seit dem 20. März 2016, mit dem Inkrafttreten des EU-Türkei-Abkommens, eine Ausnahmesituation.
Menschen, die Asyl beantragen wollen, werden in ihrem Grundrecht der Bewegungsfreiheit eingeschränkt. Am 17. April 2018 wurde dies vom höchsten griechischen Verfassungsgericht als verfassungswidrig einstuft.1 Dieser Entscheid wurde kurz darauf von einer anderen Instanz wieder außer Kraft gesetzt, sodass die neu ankommenden Geflüchteten weiterhin keine Möglichkeit haben die Insel zu verlassen.

Aktuell leben über 6’700 Menschen im Hotspot Moria, gebaut für 1’800 Personen. Weitere über 1’200 Menschen, vor allem Familien, leben im zweiten öffentlichen Camp, Kara Tepe. Um die 600 Personen wohnen zudem in anderen Unterkünften, wie zum Beispiel dem nicht offiziellen Camp Pikpa. Im Zeitraum von Januar bis zum 24. April 2018 sind 4’289 Menschen auf der Insel Lesbos angekommen.

Aufgrund dieser unhaltbaren Zustände und dem vermeidbaren Tod eines Mitgliedes der afghanischen Gemeinschaft in der letzten Woche, begonnen die Mitglieder dieser Gruppe am Dienstag, den 17. April einen friedlichen Protest auf Mytilinis Hauptplatz.
Bei der sonntäglichen Militärparade am 22. April kamen lokale Bewohnerinnen und Bewohner aus Mytilini in Solidarität mit zwei vom türkischen Militär inhaftierten griechischen Soldaten zur Prozession. Nach der Parade bewegte sich ein Teil der Gruppe in Richtung der protestierenden Geflüchteten, wo sich ihnen Dutzende weiterer Menschen anschlossen. Die Polizei formte sofort zwei Linien zwischen den Geflüchteten und den Menschen auf der anderen Seite des Platzes.

Was dann passierte ist in unseren Augen eine Schande und deutlich zu verurteilen:
Die, zumeist wohl Mitglieder von einer extrem-rechts orientierten Gruppierung3 und Hooligans,4 fingen an, die friedlich demonstrierenden Asylsuchenden zu attackieren.
Diese formten rasch einen Kreis, um in dessen Mitte Frauen und Kinder mit aufgespannten Decken zu schützen.

Die Attacke zeigte sich folgendermaßen:

  • Es wurden über Stunden hinweg Leuchtfeuer, Flaschen und Steine auf die Geflüchteten geworfen.
  • Flaschen wurden mit Benzin gefüllt, halb verschlossen und in die Menge der Geflüchteten geworfen, gefolgt von Feuerwerkskörpern.
  • Es wurde lauthals „Verbrennt sie lebendig“ gerufen.Große Müllcontainer wurden in Flammen gesetzt und in Richtung der Geflüchteten gestoßen.
  • In halb-verschlossene Flaschen gefülltes Tränengas wurde auf die Geflüchteten und die Mitarbeitenden von internationalen Organisationen geworfen.
  • Menschen, die den Platz verlassen wollten, da sie medizinische Hilfe benötigten, wurden weiterhin attackiert.
  • Afghanische Familien und Kinder verließen den Platz, um sich in Sicherheit zu bringen. Sie mussten sich stundenlang an verschiedenen Orten verstecken, teilweise mit ausgeschaltetem Licht, da die Rechtsradikalen durch die Straßen patrouillierten.

Die Polizei versuchte die Angreifenden auf Distanz zu halten, war dabei jedoch zu zögerlich und ließ zu, dass mehrere Angreifer die vermeintlich schützende Polizeireihe durchbrechen und die friedlichen Demonstranten attackieren konnten. Auch wurden die Angreifer nicht außerhalb der Wurfdistanz zurückgedrängt, wodurch dutzende Geflüchtete kleine bis schwere Verletzungen erlitten. Es schien, als ob sie schlussendlich einen Deal mit den Attackierenden ausgehandelt hatten: Nachdem die Polizei mit den Angreifern sprach, warteten diese ruhig am Ende des Platzes, während die Polizei um ca. 5:30 morgens die Geflüchteten mit Gewalt in einen Bus führte und unter Arrest setzte. Zumindest ein Teil der Attackierenden war organisiert. So heißt es, dass 50 von ihnen aus Athen angereist waren, mit dem Ziel die Geflüchteten anzugreifen. Auch eine Facebook-Gruppe mit dem Namen „Mytilene Patriotic Movement II“ und eine Website riefen zur Unterstützung auf.

Somit kann man von zum Teil organisierter Gewalt gegenüber Geflüchteten ausgehen, welche über die Stunden der Attacken hinweg keine Gegenangriffe zeigten. Selbst als weitere Geflüchtete anderer Gemeinschaften zur Unterstützung kamen, wurden sie vom Leiter des friedlichen Protests darum gebeten keine Gewalt anzuwenden.
Weitere Details von Menschen vor Ort: Chronicles of the night.

Dies ist nicht das erste Mal, dass Gewalt gegenüber Geflüchteten auf der Insel Lesbos ausgeübt wurde. Dennoch ist es das erste Mal, dass mehrere Hundert Menschen über Stunden hinweg Geflüchtete attackierten – all das ohne deutliche Reaktionen oder Maßnahmen von Seiten der Polizei. Die Geflüchteten (120 Personen) sowie zwei Personen einer lokalen Solidaritäts-Gruppe wurden verhaftet und angeklagt. Der Gerichtstermin wurde für den 9. Mai 2019 (!) festgelegt.

Inzwischen wurden 17 der Angreifer von der Polizei identifiziert, 5 von ihnen stammen aus Lesbos und haben mit ernsthaften Konsequenzen zu rechnen. Die Menschen, die auf Lesbos festsitzen und diese Nacht erleben mussten, bedanken sich bei Ihnen für Ihre Berichterstattung.

Im Namen des Teams
Henrike Bittermann und Fabian Bracher

Pressemitteilung als PDF

Bild: Ekathimerini