The People behind the Numbers

ECMU project
December 28, 2017

As it’s the case with most emergency crises nowadays, thanks to the work of institutional stakeholders involved (UN agencies, international donors etc.) humanitarian actors enjoy a good level of reliable and consolidated data. Thus, there is no more “mystification’” of the crisis nature, locations, numbers, expressed needs and existing gaps. We have become much more knowledgeable what’s going on and where. The Greek Refugee and Migrants Crisis is not an exception to this rule.

The coordination mechanism set up in Greece works to the same direction. Through the different working groups and an extensive and structured coordination, we got to know the beneficiaries’ numbers on the islands and in the mainland; the accommodation sites; the provisions and benefits (e.g. cash) they are entitled to and who’s receiving.

For quite some time now and as the crisis recedes, an unspoken debate on the actual number of people stranded in Greece as a result of the 2015 “big march” between the government and other sources has erupted: and while the government puts up the total figure on over 60,000, ground actors claim that the number is much lower than this, closer to 35,000.

Whether 60,000 or 35,000, the number still ranks low for emergency experts. We are used to international crises with hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of victims. Crises where life-saving objectives are more relevant than in Greece. The actual caseload combined with the fact that Greece is a European country, frustrates humanitarian emergency actors. The numerical indicators are low and few to verify a “traditional emergency”.

At the same time however, most of the agencies active during this crisis are overwhelmed by a difficult political terrain; an era when migration and forced displacement is seen rather as a political and not as a humanitarian crisis; we remain overwhelmed by systems not created for or adapted to deal with the needs; by solutions (like the floating hotspots) that are unoriginal instead of innovative and have been tested in the past with no success.

We -still- stand embarrassed after two years and short-sighted to deal with -if not the magnitude- at least the inner seriousness of the crisis. 

We remain overwhelmed by the complex profiles we keep on encountering in our every day’s work: more and more we are coming across difficult, complex, neglected cases. Physical and mental illnesses developed during the harsh travel and further aggravated by the unsuitable living conditions. We stand overwhelmed by the real stories of suffering behind the numbers. The quantity may be moderate; still, the essence reveals a depth of social, physical and eventually mental pathologies that are not usual by far and require a series of relevant interventions until they reach a desirable outcome.

MDM-GR started its European Commission[1]- funded intervention, the Emergency Case Management Unit project (ECMU), practically in August 2017, two years after the skyrocketing of arrivals refugees and migrants in Greece, on their way to northern Europe. Our previous work in Moria’s Reception Identification Center (RIC) as well as the regular flows of people to our polyclinics and shelters had already revealed a complex beneficiary’s profile that could not be efficiently served by services available on the ground. The gravity of these cases had oriented us towards a project that would offer needs-tailored support to the most complex and vulnerable cases among the refugee and migrant population. Following the closure of the western Balkans route as well as the EU – Turkey statement in March 2016, we kept on witnessing a steady increase of people requiring multilevel assistance in order to cope with the new difficulties arising due to the new limitations. Still, we had not been able to totally grasp the extend and the depth of problems faced by these individuals. During the pick of the crisis, we had done our best to respond rapidly and directly, ensuring access to shelter and primary health care for the most vulnerable. As we started working on the ECMU project, we realized that a lot more needed to be done to connect services available to the needs of the stranded. These needs are multiplying and diversifying in an environment that is itself fragile and not designed for the purpose. We once more realize that being able to benefit by standardized, state services in an EU country that is plagued by its own internal socioeconomic crisis is not easy and/or automatically guaranteed for new comers. Our project is reaching its fourth month of implementation. More than 500 unique beneficiaries belonging to extremely vulnerable categories have already benefited by a total of more than 4,000 different services and actions (e.g. consultations, escorted referrals, prescription of medications and diagnostic tests, communication with the beneficiaries) that were required in order to ensure their access to relevant and time-bound treatment. 

Perhaps, we also stand at a crossroads: perhaps we ought to review our tools and methodology as the crisis is not “out there, far away” anymore but on our own doorstep. Maybe it is time to invent new ways of working within the urban space and change our perceptions of aid in order to effectively solve problems that are complex enough to surpass our older recipes. Perhaps, we ought to eventually rework the modalities we ‘ve created to deal with emergencies, taking stock of the different nature and implications of a protracted crisis of “people on the move”.

The new effort of MDM-Greece through the ECMU project is precisely this. Having identified the acute need of the most complex and difficult cases among people stranded in Greece for a holistic health care provision that “walks through” the areas of social and psychosocial support in order to be completed, we were given the opportunity -thanks to the European Commission grant- to tailor an intervention to the needs of this population thus addressing also the issues of empowerment and resilience: we do not only provide direct health aid to beneficiaries risking at increasing their aid dependency at some point, instead, we facilitate their access to the national health system, we teach them how it works and we do the necessary so as for this people to be a part of it. We navigate through this system together, we assess and interact with the country’s realities side by side. We are acting together. Wherever people are…

ECMU: Emergency Case Management Unit Project, funded by the European Commission’s Civil protection and humanitarian aid operations department, ECHO.

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