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Reflection – Charlie Peschardt

Team Rubicon (TR) is my first ‘proper’ job in the disaster response world. I was attracted to TR by its dual purpose of disaster response and a focus on military veterans, as well as its simple rules of ‘Making bold decisions’, ‘Getting shit done’, and ‘Not being a dick’. Well, I can definitely achieve the first two, and usually manage the third. But hey, I’m only human…

Having joined the operations team two months ago life has been spectacularly busy – organising training and exercises, building relationships, helping to shape the future of our ‘Greyshirt’ family, and planning operations.

This time last week I was able to experience my first international TR deployment – a visit to Operation Hermes, a deployment being led by our brothers and sisters at TR USA, and augmented by UK volunteers, to provide a much-needed medical clinic in a refugee centre in Northern Greece.

Departing our headquarters in Wiltshire at the cheeky time of 1am, I headed to Portsmouth to collect Naomi, our first TR UK medical volunteer for Operation Hermes. From there it was onwards to the airport to jump on a flight to Greece.

I’ve worked in Greece a fair bit whilst seconded to NATO in my previous life, but as I was hit by the intense heat, hovering around the mid-30oC mark, I was immediately reminded of the challenge from fatigue when working in such temperatures. I knew the TR medics would have their work cut out.

Ruben – the TR USA logistics guy – kindly collected myself and Naomi from the airport and, with no time to waste, we headed straight to the refugee centre. The precise location of the centre is secret in order to enable heightened security from protesters and to effectively manage the inflow of refugees into the centre.

I knew that the centre – a converted factory – and the TR clinic within it, had only been open a few weeks, but it was already a hive of activity. Currently housing about 200 refugees mainly from Syria, there is space for up to 800, and these spaces will be filled in the coming weeks. In a brilliant effort to ensure the limited medical support that is available in Greece is provided to those most in need, refugees are referred to the centre from other camps and centres based on medical vulnerability and need.

TR UK Operations Manager Charlie gets an update on Operation Hermes on arrival
TR UK Operations Manager Charlie gets an update on Operation Hermes on arrival

This means that the challenges to Team Rubicon are pretty significant – large numbers of sick and vulnerable refugees are dependent on the skills of the small team of TR medics to provide primary care, before being referred into the Greek healthcare system. And it is busy. In the three days before I arrived, two women had given birth, four new families had arrived, and the day I left a patient suffered a cardiac arrest. And this was on top of the numerous other refugees with ‘standard’ ailments and illnesses who were receiving treatment.

Our TR UK volunteer Naomi was super-keen to get started, and within half an hour of walking through the door of the clinic was treating a small boy brought into the clinic by his mother, giving her an early opportunity to show off her clinical party trick “the mandatory blowing up of balloons and the drawing of smiley faces on clinical gloves.”

I was really impressed by the great job TR is doing on Operation Hermes. In a clinic that is currently little more than a couple of rooms, some well organised shelves serving as the pharmacy, and a computer, the medics are providing vital care to extremely vulnerable people who are constantly coming through the door of the clinic.

No stranger to humanitarian work, Naomi was up to speed very quickly: “The residents here reflect the diversity of demographics, cultural backgrounds and needs shown across those fleeing from conflict found throughout the Mediterranean crisis. As a medic working in the clinic run by Team Rubicon, activities include patient assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and referral to suitable resources, in a demanding but rewarding environment.”

TR UK Volunteer Medic Naomi Morris deals with a particularly troublesome patient
TR UK Volunteer Medic Naomi Morris deals with a particularly troublesome patient

The Radcliffe Foundation which set up the centre helps coordinate other organisations on-site to meet general welfare needs such as food, drink, and stimulating activities such as language lessons. There are also agencies who provide specialist services such as midwives and, critically, mental health services.

Most of the refugees are Syrian, with a few people from Iraq also living there at the time of writing. Unsurprisingly to anyone who keeps their eye on world affairs, there are a lot of people who are now refugees who carry with them the scars of psychological trauma sustained both in their homelands, and on their journeys whilst escaping to what they hope will be a better and safer life in Europe. The mental health support available on-site is essential to help try to mitigate the harrowing effects of these experiences.

I was fortunate enough to be able to meet with some of the Syrians living at the centre, and was impressed with their resilience in the face of frustration, but also hugely frustrated myself at the uncertainty those people face.

The people I spoke to had left Syria up to a year ago and had taken different routes to Greece. The preferred routes were either overland to Turkey or, if they were able to afford it, to Lebanon, and then by plane to Turkey. From Turkey it was onto a boat that we are all familiar with from the news reports, to various Greek islands, before transfer to the mainland. Nearly all the refugees had spent some months in the Idomeni camp until it was closed, and now find themselves in Northern Greece.

All of them are ‘in the system’ and waiting to hear the outcome of applications to be accepted into other European countries. Anecdotes from the refugees suggest that this centre is one of the best – it has good security both inside and out, it has food, water and medical care. They all hope that they can stay here until they have a new country to go to. And they all hope that that will be confirmed in the next 24-48 hours. But they know it’s likely to be much, much longer. In the meantime, they can continue to rely on the hard-working and dedicated TR medics on Operation Hermes to help fight ailments and keep their bodies healthy for the next stage of their journey.

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