A letter from a volunteer in Lesvos



By Lexine Alpert

I have recently returned from spending 7 weeks working with refugees on Lesvos Island in Greece.  Because of its proximity to Turkey, Lesvos receives more refugees than any other island in Greece, (over 9,000 at last count in Moria camp alone), with boats arriving daily.  People flee the war, torture and horrors they have experienced at home to stay alive.  Most I spoke with do not care where they end up, as long as they can “live” safely and in no daily fear of death. 

They come from Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Congo, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and many other countries.  Or they are Kurds fleeing from a long life of persecution, still experienced in the refugee camps by their fellow refugees.

Most seem to be from Muslim majority countries where they have experienced persecution by Daesh, the Taliban, Isis, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab.  A 14 year old Kurdish girl blinded in both eyes by the Turkish Army, a 15 year old Somali girl, whose right arm was cut off at her shoulder because she was not completely covering her face, a 27 year old Cameroon man whose toenails had been pulled out, a 15 year old Egyptian boy who was arrested and severely beaten in prison after trying to defend his brother.  So many horrific stories.

They come alone or with family, if they still have family.  Many have literally lost family members by death or during their escape from their countries.  One 14-year-old boy from Afghanistan couldn’t get over that “he had lost his younger brother” during their long journey toward freedom.  He cried and cried in despair, worried that his brother was dead or abducted in to slavery.

The school I worked at was for unaccompanied minors, as young as 11 years old.  Many had lost one or both parents, had no one, and nothing but the clothes on their back. I taught English, a language most of the children believe will help them in their futures, wherever they end up, and watched minors from varying countries move toward survival, crossing their cultural/language barriers and connecting as children, often laughing and playing.  Still many are distraught at their past trauma (years of war, watching loved ones killed, being personally tortured) and with their present living conditions at the horrific Moria camp.  Cutting and self-inflicted harm is common, and there are many suicide attempts in the camp from minors as young as 11 years old.

I worked with beautiful and caring people…the teachers and staff at Gekko Kids (Magda, Mersini, Eirini, Elena, Maro, Daniel, Georges, Saam…a refugee who worked as a volunteer and touched me with his beautiful heart and compassion). I also met with many other people on Lesvos, doing incredible humanitarian work…especially Nikos and Katerina, an amazingly beautiful Greek couple who have given their lives to helping and providing for (clothes, food, etc.) refugees daily.

I’ve returned home…it’s important for me to work on America’s current election in hopes of gaining back the Congress and reversing some of the damage of Trump.  But, in the mean time, I find that most of my criteria concerning life is questioned.  Faces I have seen even in passing during my stay in Lesvos, the many refugees I have met (Warios, Reza, Cedric, Ibrahim, Masooma, Iqra, Ruhullah), pay me visits unexpectedly, interrupting my everyday routine, and especially my sleep in dreams. I carry them around everywhere, and yet, I feel that I cannot make the slightest guess for their future. Has God any plan for their next move? Probably, He hasn’t made up His mind what will become of them whatsoever….

I want to thank all of you who offered your support toward making my trip possible…I couldn’t have done it without you.  Know that every penny donated, went toward the refugees as well as a few thousand more of my own.  It was well spent…shoes for refugees, food, bus tickets so refugees could come to town to their doctor’s appts, help with cell phone repairs…their lifeline to their families, their past and future…funding for medical and legal help, clothing, phone calls to family members back home, etc.

Please send your donations via PayPal to: info@syrianunitedrefugeefund.org, or directly to Lexine’s gofundme: https://www.gofundme.com/lexine039s-refugee-assistance

It is not OVER yet at Moria


Moria2.JPGWe all thought that the migrant crisis has gone away, instead, it was hidden away. Many refugees are still pouring into this island, to Moria processing center which was converted into a detention center that is overcrowded with thousands of refugees including elderly and children. This detention center lacks the basic humane conditions, and refugees are desperately trying to survive a day-by-day. With illegal boats still coming, many people are not making it to the shore. I encourage you to watch this short video covered by Sky News. https://www.facebook.com/markstoneskynews/videos/2154634768097563/

Even the mayor of the Greek island has had it with the broken system, and filed a law suit against all responsible parties over the conditions at the Moria refugee and migrant processing center; http://www.ekathimerini.com/224330/article/ekathimerini/news/lesvos-mayor-files-suit-over-conditions-at-moria-migrant-camp

SURF has been working directly with the refugees for the past two years to provide them with the basic food, clothing and shelter with the support of generous donors like you. SURF is not affiliated, nor receives support from any NGO.

Your contribution will make a huge impact, whether you donate $5 or $500. Every little bit helps.

Thank you for your support.


Syrian expat in Greece sets up a farm for refugees


A Syrian expatriate in Greece has launched an initiative to help refugees from his war-torn country.

He started a farm so they can grow their own food. Officials are contemplating expanding on the idea.

Al Jazeera’s John Psaropoulos reports from central Greece.



Watch the Aljazeera’s coverage of the Refugee Village for Freedom

Refugee Village for Freedom

Over 70 thousand refugees were stranded in Greece after the EU borders were closed in early 2016, waiting for their destiny to be determined by a painful and failing system. Some will be re-located to countries that its government does not support or want refugees, some will be denied their basic human rights and deported back to their abusive government, some will be united with their families, and some will be forced to stay in Greece permanently despites that their families are not in Greece but in other countries in Europe. While waiting for all this to happen, which might take 18 months to 2 years, many refugees are suffering every day the lack of the basic human rights of shelter, foods, clothing, education, and medicine because there isn’t enough funding and support coming from the EU or the big NGOs. This created a huge burden on the Greek government as well as the Greek people, and those refugees are left without any kind of support. SURF teamed with the Syrian Solidarity House, and collaborated with independent groups and volunteers as well as the local Greek communities to support these abandoned refugees, provided financial aids to establish temporarily shelters, and supplied foods and clothing to over 400 refugees and over 180 children.

Many refugees decided to stay in Greece, or were forced to stay in Greece by the EU, and this called for more permanent resilient living solutions for these refugees. Again, SURF stepped forward and teamed up with the Syrian Solidarity House and created the “Refugees Village for Freedom” as a permanent living solution for the refugees and the families who live in Greece. The project’s goal is to create a self-sustaining ECO village where refugees can live, work, and integrate in the Greek communities. The project includes: Agriculture land, dairy farm, houses, pharmacy, and a clinic which will support the refugees and the local Greek communities.

The project took off last November by securing a land of 257 acres (half is donated and the other half is rented) in the town of Kaparelli, a couple of hours outside Athens. The land is being planted with almond trees, wheat, chickpeas, okra, and vegetables. Also, a big portion of the land will be dedicated to dairy farming once funding is available. The land currently has 2 houses, and more will be built over time to host more families. The Refugees’ skilled labor will be utilized to remodel the town’s houses and restoring them to their original condition for a fee to support the refugees who will be settling in the village. You can follow the work in progress of this project on the following link on Face Book: https://www.facebook.com/Refugee-Village-For-Freedom-1877051302553073/

This project still needs financial support to achieve its goal, some of the immediate needs are:

1- Cows and sheep to generate milk and other dairy products

2- Small Tools to help in the planting process

3- Small tools to help building the houses

4- Machines for the bakery as everything is done by hand right now

5- Funds to establish the clinic and the pharmacy

SURF is honored to work side by side with the Syrian Solidarity House team, the independent volunteers, and the Greek communities to support the vulnerable refugees, and create this noble project. Your generous donations will support hundreds of refugees and provide them with decent and basic living means, as well as a sustainable infrastructure so children can live and grow in a humane environment.

Your SURF team

Stand Up

SURF would like to acknowledge our disappointment and heartbreak at the events that unfolded today. The President signed an executive order to suspend the State Department Refugee Assistance Program and visa entry from Syria and 6 other countries. Refugees are one of the most demonized groups in the US and the world, and we believe this is devastating to the support these men, women, and children deserve and need. SURF is not demotivated by this order. We will continue our work to support refugees. We will stand up for the rights of refugees everywhere. We will do our best to counter the spread of fear and false statements. Now, more than ever, refugees require support. Research local refugee agencies, contact your local IRC office, or reach out to SURF to donate and volunteer your time.

-Your SURF family

Who is Kastro?

Kastro is a human rights activist who has dedicated years of his life supporting the local immigrant community. Born and raised in the beautiful coastal town of Tartous, Syria, Kastro migrated to Greece nearly 30 years ago. It was there that he began fighting for fair wages, free schools, and social welfare for immigrants. In addition to being an human right activist, he is a painter and interior designer. His art can be found in many local restaurants and cafés, as well as on the covers of psycology books used by Panteion and Zografos universities. Kastro’s activities and deep involvement in local affairs has gained him recognition as a community leader in by the locals and government officials alike in Athens.

During the recent economic challenges, Kastro supported the Athens community through various projects and initiatives. For example, he renovated and restructured small, struggling businesses, helping them to achieve a new level of success. Additionally, he assisted young, unemployed locals in creating collective businesses which invested a percentage of their profits back into the community.

Kastro’s compassion and dedication to humanitarianism is truly astonishing. The sheer amount of time and effort he dedicates to his causes seem beyond the capacity of a normal human being. And yet his countless hours of leadership and project management are always delivered with a warm smile. Quite simply, his kindness, sympathy, and open heart have changed the lives of numerous people in Athens. Wherever he goes, he is greeted warmly by the locals. He is their mentor, friend, hero, and a main line of support. His stamina and ability to multitask is astonishing – he seamlessly answers multiple phone calls, responds to countless questions, listens to a seemingly endless list of complaints, and solves a variety of problems without missing a beat. His tireless efforts sometimes cause him to go days without sleep.

Kastro’s attention to everyone who approaches him is sincere, but especially when approached by children. He often drops everything, no matter how important, to answer each child’s request with a sweet and fatherly smile. One night I asked Kastro about his work with children; his response was “a child’s request or question must be answered in a timely fashion, and with honesty and kindness. Children observe and understand everything, and ignoring their questions or not telling them the truth will have a negative impact on their childhood as well as adulthood.”

Kastro’s role supporting the refugee crisis:

After the Syrian war broke out in early 2011 and the resulting flood of refugees started their long journey crossing the Turkish water to Greece, Kastro moved his community operations to the island of Lesvos, a main entry point for refugees seeking asylum. The island received a few thousand refugees every day — mostly from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Those who were officially registered as refugees seeking asylum could leave the island and head towards their final destination in Europe. The registration process often took longer than expected, however, and many refugees did not have the financial support to continue their journey. For example there were more than 10,000 refugees stranded on the island’s capital of Mitilini, where both shelter and food were not always available. During this time, Kastro took over an abandoned government building to shelter over 500 refugees. Along with a team of volunteers, he utilized local resources to clean up the building, install showers and a kitchen, and provide daily meals for hundreds of refugees. It was here that his first refugee squat was established.

But in typical Kastro fashion, that was not his only humanitarian project during this time period. In addition to setting up the refugee shelter, he also established the Syrian Solidarity House in Mitilini. He reserved this space to care for the most vulnerable refugees: the elderly, families, and people with special medical needs.

In early 2016, over 70,000 refugees were stranded in Greece after the EU borders were closed in accordance with the new EU agreement. Reacting to this crisis, Kastro moved back to Athens where he occupied an abandoned school to further support the people as they waited to process their asylum applications. Today, his school hosts over 400 refugees and over 180 children. Vulnerable refugees are hosted in private community places or apartments, with the rent paid by private donors. The school’s classrooms were converted to shelters, so that each room could be shared by multiple families. He improved the sewage system, installed bathrooms and showers, and established a community kitchen which provides two hot meals a day. Locals continue to support his squats and cook meals on the weekends. The rest of the meals are prepared by the refugees themselves. As part of this project, a supply warehouse was established to provide the basics, such as clothing, cleaning supplies, snacks, and bread. The school has a laundry room, and a small clinic with 24/7 access to a local volunteer nurse. Additionally, other volunteer nurses and doctors visit the school twice a week. Kastro developed a roof top green house for fresh vegetables, and a chicken coup for fresh eggs. Foods, clothing, medicine, and other supplies are funded through local community members and private donors. There is also a floor dedicated to hosting refugees from Afghanistan. All refugees, regardless of where they are from, are treated equally and have access to whatever resources are available. There is no support from the Greek government or NGOs, and therefore, resources are not always plentiful.

After the success of these first projects, Kastro established five other squats that collectively host and have serves thousands of refugees. All of these squats have a similar structure and setup, and they are all managed by their own residents. Due to the lack of funding, not all squats have adequate kitchens, clinic, or food. The squats are in constant need of resources such as bread, milk, and other basic necessities.

We are honored to know this selfless and noble man, and to have worked side by side with him. We have witnessed the impact of his work on everyone around him. SURF has been supporting Kastro since early 2016. Your generous donations will support hundreds of refugees and provide them with food, supplies, and infrastructure. Please visit our donation page to find out how you can help.

Your Donations at Work

With your generous donations, SURF was able to pay for bread, milk, rice, fruits, and other food items. These items will feed hundreds of refugees and their children. These people have had little or no bread or milk in the past week, and they are very grateful and appreciative to receive such a generous donation. They ask me to send special thank you, hugs and kisses to every donor and person participated in this noble mission.

Please continue your support of the SURF mission, you are all making a huge difference in the refugees’ life, their struggle is less painful because of you.

Visit our donation page today to find out how you can support SURF.