Return to Lesvos by Kristin MacDougall-Sullivan (F'2G)

by cpinkerton
Apr 09

After spending three months this summer working with Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid on the Greek Island of Lesvos, I returned over the winter to keep working with asylum seekers – albeit in a slightly different role.  This time, I was responsible for coordinating our legal clinic, where our clients and nonclients come for appointments, to ask questions, and to get updated information about their cases.

In December, the island of Lesvos was host to upwards of 20,000 asylum seekers.  Official numbers are typically under-estimated, but about 18,000 of those asylum seekers reside in the Moria camp.  Moria camp was originally built to house 2,500 people and now consists of both an official camp and an unofficial camp that has spilled out into surrounding olive groves.  In returning to Lesvos, the significant increase in numbers at Moria was glaringly obvious.  In areas where a small cantina used to be, tents and sleeping bags house residents who had recently arrived from their countries of origin.  The population in Moria is overwhelmingly Afghan, at about 74 percent.  The next country represented is the Syrian Arab Republic, followed by Palestine, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

When I had left the island in August, the population of Moria was closer to 13,000.  In three months, approximately 6,000 new asylum seekers arrived in Lesvos.  I knew with that increase, coordinating our clinic would certainly be a challenge – but one I was excited to engage.  My work with Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid this past summer was the first time I truly felt I had found my passion.  As a field attorney and protection officer, I was able to provide direct service to my clients in a hectic and incredibly confusing situation.  We provide services that include preparation for asylum interviews, advocacy with camp authorities and various NGOs, legal monitoring of client cases – just to name a few.  At Fenix, we take on the approach of comprehensive case management – we don’t just do the legal part, we do everything from accommodation referrals to medical appointments and psychosocial support.  Furthermore, Fenix emphasizes empowerment of clients over charity.  Clients of Fenix have complete control over their cases, we are there to provide services that clients choose to use.  For interview preparation in particular, I see my role as a field attorney as giving clients the power to advocate for themselves in the best way possible.