“These are proud people who want to help contribute to the livability of their environment” – Movement On The Ground

It started in 2015 with three vans full of basic necessities for the people arriving in boats on Lesbos. Movement On The Ground has since become an established name in the Greek camps. Since this summer, the organization has also been operating in the Netherlands. “We want to make sure that the people who have come from Ter Apel are taken care of in a humane environment.”

Not people to be pitied

“Forty volunteers, all residents from the camp on Lesbos, were ready to set up a solar panel system. We explained everything that needed to be done, until a resident interrupted us. He was an engineer and he thought he had ideas on how to do it even better. That is fantastic, as in the end he saved us a lot of money as well as time!” Co-founder Adil Izemrane does not have to think long about what characterizes the approach of Movement On The Ground (MOTG). There are plenty of examples such as that time with the engineer. Even in chaotic and degrading circumstances, it is important to recognize and utilize people’s potential. “Even in the early days of MOTG, we quickly came to realize: these are not needy people to be pitied and who are to be left waiting in a tent until their number for the asylum procedure comes up. These are proud people who want to help contribute to the livability of their environment.”

A coffee and tea shop, set up by camp residents.

An ecosystem

Lesbos is where MOTG started in 2015 and where the organization wants to show that things can be done differently and better. The original camp Kara Tepe, transformed into ‘CampUs’ by MOTG together with residents, has now been dismantled. Adil: “In the new camp on Lesbos, 130 MOTG volunteers have started working and about 15 percent of the residents is doing something for their environment.” This ranges from building playgrounds, organizing sports and games, setting up a coffee shop and computer lab to distributing food and managing sanitation. They work together according to MOTG’s philosophy of bringing about a change ‘From Camp to CampUs’. Adil: “Together we co-create an ecosystem, not just with the residents but especially with other NGOs, UN organizations and camp management.”

Adil (left) at work in the camp on Lesbos.

Double fences and barbed wire

The camp on Samos is situated in a barren plain, set up with lots of money from the European Commission. Adil: “It’s a closed control facility with double fences and barbed wire, in a remote area. This is very different from what we believe is humane treatment. Initially, we were also afraid that people would be imprisoned here, but that turned out not to be the case. September marks another year of this camp being in operation. Of the 1,000 residents, more than 40 work as our volunteers. Even here, in a semi-closed reception center, it turns out to be possible to co-create a CampUs environment. Although the Greeks have a strict asylum policy, MOTG is given the space to carry out our programs and activities.” Materials are sourced locally, Greek contractors are from the area and even locals can use the community center. Adil emphasizes: “We are here not just for the refugees, we are here for the entire island, including the local Greek population and their needs.”

One of the MOTG volunteers working in the kitchen in azc Cranendonck.

Need to anticipate

The situation in the camps on Lesbos, Samos and Chios, where MOTG operates, is significantly different than it was seven years ago. For example, the camp on Lesbos now accommodates around 1,500 people instead of 25,000, at the peak of the refugee influx. Adil: “Lesbos will always be a point of entry for people seeking safety. We must permanently be prepared for this by creating a fair and humane asylum system. We therefore also advocate for a better system at the European level by bringing what we have achieved on the ground in recent years to the attention of policy makers in Brussels. MOTG accomplishes so much with so few resources, but with a humane mindset.”

CampUs to the Netherlands

MOTG wants to share the CampUs approach with countries other than Greece, such as Poland, but also the Netherlands. “In early July, we started working out of asylum center Cranendonck, located next to the village of Budel. This asylum center is a so-called ‘overflow center’ of application center Ter Apel. People can also register as asylum seekers there. We want to make sure that the people who have come from Ter Apel are taken care of in a humane environment.” MOTG has reached agreement with the asylum center’s management (COA, ed.) about launching a pilot program. “After that, we talked to residents and held meetings to hear about their needs and concerns. This is how we always work – take stock of the greatest needs first. In this case, the lack of hygiene and options to prepare meals were the main concerns. The kitchens could not be kept clean due to lack of capacity. Together with the COA management, we provided all the resources to keep the area clean: trash bags, grabbers, gloves, cleaning supplies. We started on our own, with a small group of volunteers. This motivated residents of the center to roll up their sleeves as well. Just a few weeks later, more than 50 volunteers were walking around wearing MOTG and COA T-shirts.”

MOTG volunteers working in asylum center Cranendonck.

Not rocket science

A clothing store had been set up at the asylum center, but lacked staff. “Since many people reported to have fled with only a few pieces of clothing, we thought it would be a good idea to sort and distribute the clothes. Six women from Syria immediately said: ‘We used to work with textiles, leave it to us!’ COA staff are up to their ears in work and don’t always get around to doing these kinds of activities because they have to deal with the day-to-day issues. Our approach is not rocket science, it is all about the mindset and the positive and pragmatic attitude of our staff and residents. We are not promising the moon but we do say: if we do it together, we can make it.”

Adessium & MOTG

Adessium Foundation supports MOTG in its provision of direct aid to refugees and active advocacy for addressing structural problems, such as the meager reception facilities in the Netherlands with limited opportunities for residents to develop. MOTG has an innovative way of working with newcomers playing an important role.

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