Greece on the Front Line: The Refugees Keep Coming

December 3, 2019

Jane Abbott

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Since 2015, desperate refugees mostly from the Middle East and a few from West Africa, have been flooding the Eastern Greek islands of Kos, Samos, Lesbos, Leros, and Chios. The conditions on these islands, especially on Samos, where six times the number that can be accommodated are living in squalor and dangerous conditions, are bleak.

The EU made an agreement with Turkey in March of 2016, offering to pay Turkey to keep refugees in that country. However, few refugees want or are willing to stay in Turkey. Today, refugees try leaving Turkey multiple times, sailing across a three-mile stretch in precarious dinghies, in the hope that they can reach Greece and therefore apply for asylum. A Doctors without Borders spokesperson calls Greece, particularly the Greek islands, a “dumping ground” that has created a refugee emergency. In addition, the more people who try to cross from Turkey to Greece, the more deaths there are in the process.

Jane Abbott’s talk will center on her personal experience with refugees from the Vial Camp on Chios where she spent five weeks working for the NGO CESRT (the Chios Eastern Shore Response Team) which is allied with the German NGO Open Arms. She will explain how volunteers are used there and why Chios, although crowded with refugees and constantly struggling to help them, uses CESRT as a model for how to help those in need. In the past six months, the numbers at Vial have quadrupled, so caring for refugees becomes more and more challenging.

Jane Abbott earned her bachelor’s degree at the American College in Greece (Deree College) in literature and then a master’s degree at the University of Denver in comparative literature while also earning a teacher’s certificate. After teaching at the United States International University for a year, she joined the US Peace Corps teaching in a remote village in Nepal which could only be reached by several days’ walking. The next year, Abbott taught at the University of Nepal in Kathmandu and assisted with writing the Peace Corps Nepali language manual. Abbott lived with her family in Nepal for seven years, working as a teacher and consultant for Peace Corps and USIS.

For the next two years, Abbott lived in Honiara, the Solomon Islands and consulted in Kiribati. She ran training programs in education and business and evaluated posts in the South Pacific for the Peace Corps.

Returning to the US, Abbott taught literature and integrated humanities at various community colleges in Colorado. Simultaneously, she earned her Ph.D. in community college leadership. Subsequently, she worked as a dean in a community college in Colorado with 18,000 students especially with international students.

Abbott has a particular interest in international micro credit projects for women. She was a consultant through Colorado State University for WID (Women In Development) in Nepal and studied a women’s support NGO while on a Mosal Grant. Her project for a Fulbright-Hays Group Study Abroad grant then addressed this topic in Paraguay. Two subsequent Fulbrights in Thailand and Germany supplemented this specialty.

While working at community colleges throughout her career, Abbott developed study abroad cultural programs for adults. She has taken multiple study groups to Nepal, Turkey, and especially to Greece where she has returned many times.

Abbott has worked as a volunteer on many projects. Recently this has included women from Gaza in occupied Palestine. Because of her special interest and experience in working with women in challenging situations, she chose to go to the island of Chios in the spring of 2019. Her presentation today addresses her personal experience while there and how she used her skills and experience to help men, women, and children at the camp. She is an SFWAF Board Member.