Group of healthcare clowns play with refugee kids

Emergency Smile mission to Greece’s largest refugee camp

30.November 2018

More than 2000 beneficiaries were reached during our two weeks mission to the Greek island of Lesbos. Squalid conditions and a gruelling asylum process have led to what aid organisations describe as a mental health crisis  and one of the worst humanitarian disasters they have ever witnessed. This dire situation motivated our international team of healthcare clowns from Croatia, Slovenia and Poland to visit the Moria camp and its surroundings in the hope of giving some much-needed psychosocial support. 

Moria, a former military base on the Greek island of Lesbos, is now the country's largest refugee camp and one of the biggest in the world, housing around 9,000 migrants as they wait, sometimes for years, their asylum claims to be processed. 

The area has the capacity for 3.000 people, which means that the extra inhabitants are crammed in, making living space overcrowded and volatile. Just outside the camp walls, a makeshift extension named the "Olive Grove" has sprung up in a search for more space. 

Mental health problems are extensive— rumours have circulated that a suicide attempt is the only way to be removed from the camp and sent to the mainland, which has increased the attempts in the last months. This specific topic, children trying to commit suicide , is what triggered this Emergency Smile mission to Lesbos. We had to be where we were needed the most.

Our initial plan of doing a Circus Smile, a weeklong circus workshop with kids, was not possible due to the huge quantity of children wanting to participate, and the bad weather conditions, which made outdoor activities nearly impossible. However, through personal clown interventions, shows and parades we found other ways to reach the children and do what we do best, make them smile despite their challenging situation.

Supporting MSF vaccination campaign 

One of our biggest, and unexpected, tasks during the mission in Lesbos was to support “Doctors without Borders (MSF) Greece” during their multi-antigen vaccination campaign  conducted for all migrant children aged under 16 on the island.

More than 2000 refugee children were able to be vaccinated thanks to the common effort of our healthcare clowns and the MSF medical staff.  “I can see that the Red Noses Clowns are working very professionally, bringing a positive feeling to the clinic and working in perfect connection with the medical staff. Thanks to their presence, we had no big dramas in the tents. It was a huge help” - Joyce Bakker, nurse activity manager from MSF Greece.

"The Red Noses clowns worked very attentively and consciously with a very good understanding of the situation and sensitivity towards the children. That was very pleasant and helpful for the work of the doctors." - Cordula Heffner, MSF responsible for all medical programmes on Lesbos.

Due to the terrible living conditions of these refugee camps, including the lack of basic sanitation and extremely limited access to healthcare, migrant children living there were extremely vulnerable to illness. This campaign was particularly important to prevent an even greater healthcare crisis in Moria. It was definitely not an easy mission but we are very proud of our outstanding team composed by Frederick Birnbaum, Lukasz Jedrzejcjzak, Marko Kalc and Ana Lavrinc.  

This Emergency Smile mission to Lesbos took place thanks to the support of Alta Mane foundation.