Emergency Smile missions to Greece’s largest refugee camp

27.June 2022

Our international team from Croatia, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Palestine and Slovenia completed two consecutive missions in Mavrovouni camp in the Greek Island of Lesvos earlier this year. In closed cooperation with Eurorelief, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Crisis Management Association (CMA) and Iliaktida, for over six weeks, they brought psychosocial support to the camp and its surroundings.

The situation on the Island of Lesvos is in continuous evolution. At the beginning of 2022, the total population of Mavrovouni Camp (Moria 2.0) was of 1.922 people including 484 children. If the number of residents in the camp is relatively low compared to the past, when 20.000 people were estimated living in Moria camp, and the basic living conditions have been improved thanks to the work done by many aid organisations, the situation for people on the island remains dramatic. Even though the camp is not currently overcrowded, two families are still sharing an 18 square meter isobox. There are no shared cooking facilities – pre-prepared food is distributed every day and the residents need to ask for an official permission to leave the camp, making their freedom of movement limited.

In these circumstances, our healthcare clowns create an enabling and supportive environment that encourages and promotes the children’s active participation. By turning the performances into restorative experiences, and not merely recreational moments, we seek to attenuate the tension and vulnerability to which these children are exposed every day.

 

Medical area in the camp

The team visited the medical area inside the camp where the clowns would interact with the people waiting to be seen by medical professionals, either as a group or sometimes in pairs. The quantity of people in the waiting area depended on many factors such as the weather or the hour of the day. These interactions were especially important because with them the team managed to reach not only children, but also parents, medical staff and aid workers alike.

The feedback we got from other aid organisations was amazing:

“Usually, this area is very silent and stressful. Today it’s been full of music, laughter and stress free. I have had patients come into an appointment and greet me with a smile. This never happens. So, thank you. Today the clowns have made my day and everyone else´s easier.”  - Doctor from camp medical waiting area, Lesvos

 

Working with unaccompanied Minors (UAMs)

The team held Circus Smile workshops with Unaccompanied Minors (UAMs) in Iliaktida and IOM houses. Unaccompanied and/or separated migrant children are especially vulnerable and require specific support and care. In view of mental health, major psychological vulnerabilities accompany the experience of the unaccompanied migrant children, including lack of parental care, substance abuse and symptoms of depression.

The critical period of identity formation of any unaccompanied migrant children may be threatened by the transitional nature of their experience, caused by frequent uprooting, a lack of stability, the need of coping with life-endangering situations, the absence of positive role models and a lack of feelings of acceptance and inclusion in the new host societies. Unaccompanied minors, the most vulnerable of all refugee groups, are often victims of violence. They are unprotected and exposed to health hazards, harassment, and violence.

Throughout the years, our Emergency Smile teams have gained a lot of experience on how to work with this special target group and this kind of work definitely comes with many challenges, but by including the aid workers, we have managed to create supportive and magical moments together with these young human beings.

Maria, a social worker from the unaccompanied minors house said this after our visit:

“The Sunday that you came to us, we were all happy. The children enjoyed it, interacted with you and learned various tricks! Despite the fact that the boys at the beginning weren't so active when we started the games, at the end most of the minors came and joined in. We thank you for the pleasant day you gave on Sunday to the unaccompanied minor refugees and to all of us! Happiness, hope and optimism filled our hearts again! Thanks for everything!”

 

Humour relief workshops

During an Emergency Smile Mission, we offer Humour Relief Workshops for aid workers, medical staff and volunteers working in crisis settings. These workshops demonstrate how humour can create a powerful emotional connection between people, enhance and stimulate social interactions, reduce stress and anxiety, and foster a better professional environment.

Since being in Lesvos we have done these with multiple organisations, such as MSF, Eurorelief and our most recent one with Fenix. They provide asylum seekers and refugees on Lesvos with a holistic service that includes legal aid and representation, as well as protection and case management, and mental health support.

“RED NOSES Clowns have brought so much joy and laughter into the camp the past seven weeks. During Circus Smile I saw kids gain confidence and feel empowered through the skills they were learning. I got to see kids that have been robbed of their childhood have a chance to just be kids again--they could let go of their worries and fears and just play. The clowns have made a lasting impact on the children of Mavrovouni Camp.” - Laura Rensberger, Education and activities coordinator, Eurorelief