Refugees in Greece get medical equipment from Jewish-funded group

Julie Wiener

Refugees and migrants arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey, Oct. 29, 2015. (Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images)

Refugees and migrants arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey, Oct. 29, 2015. (Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images)

ATHENS, Greece (JTA) — A New York-based humanitarian organization, funded by several Jewish groups, has begun supplying a Greek island with desperately needed medical equipment to help cope with the influx of tens of thousands of refugees.

The Afya Foundation has already dispatched a container full of aid to hospitals and rescue organizations on the island of Lesbos, said the foundation’s executive director, Danielle Butin, who has just returned from a visit to the island to assess the needs.

The situation she found was dire: Hospital wings stand empty for of lack of equipment, doctors lack medicine to treat the ill and Greek Coast Guard boats that are pulling drowning refugees out of the sea, don’t have basic resuscitation equipment like defibrillators.

“The simply don’t have enough medical supplies and equipment,” Butin said.

Over the past year, hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants, most of them from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, have landed on Lesbos in the northern Aegean Sea as they try to reach Europe.

Afya — which means “good health” in Swahili — has in the past sent medical supplies for humanitarian relief to Haiti, Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Malawi and Sierra Leone.

“We decided on this trip that our response is going to be to send as much as possible and we want to support the already existing systems with concrete supplies to benefit the locals and the refugees,” said Butin.

In Lesbos, Butin said she saw a newly renovated hospital standing empty, because local authorities don’t have the equipment to run it, while the existing medical facilities are stretched beyond their abilities.

She returned to New York with dozens of pages of handwritten lists in Greek of the supplies each hospital department was short of.

The first shipment was funded by the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, a coalition of American Jewish groups led by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

The coalition has so far raised more than $1.2 million to fund projects dealing with the Syrian refugees, according to the the JDC, including funding to the Israeli aid agency IsraAid, who have been operating in Greece since September, providing medical and psychological assistance to the refugees.

Israel also donated 1.5 tons of medication to the Greek Ministry of Health.

Butin said she is trying to raise further funds for additional shipments and has already had “extraordinary support from the Jewish community and [New York-area] synagogues.”

“We are trying to raise a couple hundred thousand dollars, the goal is to raise as much money as possible to keep the containers flowing,” she said.

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