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Refugee mothers without enough milk and diapers

A newborn and a mother alone

Photo copyright: Salinia Stroux

Dramatic shortages in both mainland and Greek islands force organizations and solidarity groups to search for individual donations in order to fill the gaps in the care and protection of refugees, even for extremely vulnerable cases, while at the same time Greece has received from the EU more than 1.3 billion euros for the management of the refugee crisis.

Indicative is the case of an HIV-positive mother who has been granted refugee status in Greece and has been unable to get milk and diapers for her baby despite addressing several organizations in Athens. Due to her illness she is not allowed to breastfeed her child. A small NGO in Athens finally secured through a private individual donation baby milk to feed her child for about a month.  Currently Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) in cooperation with Lesvos Solidarity try to address the urgent needs of the mother and her baby, while at the same time students and parents in a school in Piraeus are collecting items for this purpose.

Yet, for other mothers who are considered to be in a less vulnerable position, access to these vital items is even more difficult. Social workers stress that donations do not suffice.  Some bigger NGO’s may provide limited of these items otherwise mothers have to buy them themselves using their little monthly credit of their cash cards, which they receive as financial aid (150 or 90 Euros per person according to their place of stay and if they get catering or not), but in many cases this amount is not enough to cover their monthly needs. Even in the ‘social pharmacies’[1] in Athens to which some of the mothers resorted, the deficiencies in nutritional supplements for babies are enormous. The supply depends on the number of donations. Shortages are also observed in Northern Greece with large organizations not being able to meet the needs.

Similar is the situation on the Aegean Islands. For example in October in the hotspot of Kos, which has an increasing number of refugees families residing,  refugees reported huge deficiencies in infant milk, diapers and baby items such as soap and baby bottles.  Flying Help, a small German organization, secured a specific quantity to cover the needs. Previous week, Agkalia from Kalloni, Lesbos, in collaboration with the German organization and members of the local solidarity group, were mobilized to secure milk and diapers for over 20 infants in hotspot for 15 days. “The mothers at the hotspot tell us that the amount of food for the babies we give them is not enough. The babies remain hungry”, says a member of the local solidarity group in Kos.

Significant shortcomings also occur in the provisions for families living in the overcrowded hotspot in Samos. Members of local solidarity groups stressed that since the summer, when large organizations left the hotspot and the number of the refugees arriving from the Turkish coast increased, the problem has been exacerbated. It is no longer clear who is undertaking the distribution of infant milk that the large NGOs did before.

It’s important to note that the number of children in the hotspots of the Aegean Islands is now quite high compared to the rest of the population. According to media reports, among the refugee population in the hotspot of Moria 40% are children (UNHCR estimates them to be at 20%) in the hotspot in Vathi, Samos, the percentage of children is 30%. Based on data from UNHCR, 36.8% of the 27,245 new arrivals in Greece this year were children.

Overall, the European Union has mobilised over 1.3 billion euros  of support (until 2020) to Greece to help manage migration and the external borders through various kinds of funding, as highlighted in a European Commission press release at the end of July. Despite this fact, mothers and even the ones with great vulnerability, remain without the necessary support to meet vital needs for their infants from both the state and large NGOs that have received significant EU funding.

[1]Social clinics and pharmacies have emerged as a response to the economical crisis in Greece.Their function is supported exclusively by the volunteer work and donations


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