Having spent a month in a refugee camp in northern Greece, Gwen Wilson is now preparing to say goodbye.  

Some of her refugee volunteers have decided to apply for asylum in Greece. Others are still hoping the borders will open.

Writing to you for the final time, retired nurse Gwen gives her impressions on life on the front line of Europe’s refugee crisis.  

I will be leaving on Sunday, so this will be my last letter.

Early in the week there were lots of rumours that everyone was being urged to go to the border.

Major problems started with the army and police using tear gas and rubber bullets.

Many people were reported to be injured, and property and cars have been damaged. It is still said to be a volatile situation up there.

Today I went to a meeting in Cherso refugee camp. Half way through a middle aged woman burst in shouting and crying. She said she had already lost her husband and two sons.

Now another of her children was sick in the camp and she was afraid that she would lose another child.

It was really distressing to witness.

girl hides in jumper

Goodbye to new friends

Yesterday one of our Arabic interpreters, Samar, left the camp. She has worked in the clinic for the last month and we are all very fond of her.

She had made contact with a Syrian friend living in Thessaloniki and has decided to apply for asylum here in Greece.

Before we walked down to the camp gates to wave her goodbye she ran back to collect her belongings. Everything she had fitted into a small child’s backpack.

Our new interpreter, Mohammed was an English literature student in Syria. He has also decided he will apply for asylum in Greece. He will go and see a lawyer next week.

His intention is to work with the military as an interpreter and then continue his studies. But for most people their only hope is that the border will open.

Around 400 people were moved into one of the local camps on Sunday.  They all had to be registered and UNHCR were still putting tents up to accommodate them at midnight.

One stroke of good luck though, about the dentists. Three people walked into the camp a week ago and introduced themselves as from the Ministry of Health in Athens.

They were very receptive about bringing in dentists and gave me details of who to approach to start working in the camp.

children outside tents

A little gaggle of children

I have a little gaggle of children now who do the rounds with me in the mornings. I clean and chlorinate the taps, replace plastic sacks at the water points, clear up bits of rubbish etc.

I could ask one of the volunteers to do it but it is a good excuse to be out and about to find out how things are in the camp.

Finally, work has started on upgrading the toilets and showers. I know that people don’t want to be here. But while they are it will make life so much easier having the proper facilities.

It wasn’t easy saying goodbye and walking out of the camp.

Best wishes,


The British Red Cross continues to send personnel to support hygiene promotion in Cherso and Nea Kavala refugee camps.

Images © Maria Santto, Mirva Helenius and the Finnish Red Cross.