Seventh-day Adventist volunteers will oversee all medical services at a new refugee camp near Athens after Greece’s military handed over the keys to the camp this week.
Adventist Help, a bus-based medical clinic operated by ASI Europe, an Adventist supporting ministry, will be responsible for caring for up to 2,000 refugees at the Oinofyta camp, which will open its doors in the upcoming days.
“This is a brand-new camp set up on the premises of an abandoned factory, designed to host tents for 2,000 refugees,” said Michael-John Von Hörsten, a South African physician who will volunteer at the camp.
He also has been working as a liaison between the volunteers, the Greek government, and a nonprofit charity called Do Your Part.
The Adventist Help bus first surfaced last fall on the Greek island of Lesbos, providing immediate practical assistance to some of the more than 500,000 people who made the treacherous boat trip across the Aegean Sea from Turkey. Von Hörsten volunteered with Adventist Help on Lesbos as well.
The decision to move to the refugee camp from Lesbos comes after Turkey and the European Union recently reached an agreement to tackle the continent’s refugee crisis. Many refugees are now stuck in Greece after the two of their favored migration routes — across the Aegean Sea or through the Balkans — were effectively closed.
ASI Europe vice president Claus Nybo signed a memorandum of understanding with Claudio Gulyas, president of the Adventist Church’s Greek Mission, on Thursday, paving the way for the Greek air force, which runs the Oinofyta camp, to give ASI the keys for the camp gate and main building.
The memorandum of understanding runs through the end of 2016 and can be renewed annually.
Adventist Help volunteers will have access to not only the bus but also a nearby medical facility with space for 38 doctors, said Markus Alt, a Swiss national and the coordinator for the Adventist Help project. He is already at the camp, located an hour’s drive north of Athens.
“There is a full-size lab, an X-ray department, eye, ear, heart, dental, gynecology, and many more services there, ready to use," Alt said.
The government-run medical facility currently employs only two physicians and a dentist.
In addition to providing medical care, Adventist Help hopes to offer health awareness programs, an effort that may involve local Adventist church members. The Greek Mission has agreed to encourage church members to volunteer at the camp as well as to oversee the hiring of any needed local staff.
Adventist Help’s immediate need is for volunteers ahead of the arrival of the first refugees, Alt said.
About 100 Adventist and non-Adventist volunteers worked with Adventist Help on Lesbos, and a similar mix is signing up now.
But a hallmark of Adventist Help is its core group of Adventist volunteers, Nybo said.
These are “Adventists who keep their corporate and individual identity while mingling with other volunteers, the local community and displaced persons as ones who desire their good, meeting their needs, embracing and sharing God´s love in practical tangible ways through genuine, self-sacrificing friendship as well as high-quality health services and other acts of genuine care,” he said.
To volunteer or otherwise assist Adventist Help, visit the organization’s website, adventisthelp.org/contact.