Das Dilemma medizinischer NGOs: ein Bericht aus Thessaloniki

Note: This is the adapted translation of an article which appeared here in English in June 2022.

Aufgrund der zunehmenden Migration nach Europa im Laufe des letzten Jahrzehnts[1] und der weiterhin unzureichenden gesundheitlichen Versorgung von Geflüchteten durch die Mitgliedsstaaten der Europäischen Union (EU) haben zahlreiche Nichtregierungsorganisationen (NGOs) begonnen, medizinische Nothilfe zu leisten. Meine Partnerin und ich haben kürzlich fünf Monate als Ärzt:innen bei einer deutschen Hilfsorganisation in Thessaloniki verbracht, die mittlerweile multidisziplinäre Teams nach Polen, Serbien, Bosnien-Herzegowina und Griechenland versendet. Der Großteil unserer dortigen Arbeit umfasste ärztliche Sprechstunden in einer eigens von der NGO eingerichteten Praxis und dem am Stadtrand gelegenen Flüchtlingslager. Kurz nach unserer Ankunft übernahmen wir zudem die medizinische Koordination des Projekts, sodass wir uns zusätzlich um die Personalplanung, die Abstimmung bei Notfällen und die Kommunikation mit den verschiedenen Akteur:innen des griechischen Gesundheitswesens kümmerten. Darüber hinaus oblag uns die enge Kooperation mit diversen Partner-Organisationen, welche sich beispielsweise mit der Verteilung von Lebensmitteln und ehrenamtlicher Rechtsberatung beschäftigen.

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The long-term benefits of NGO work

As discussed in previous posts on this platform, my partner and I recently spent five months working for a medical non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Thessaloniki, Greece. After an intense last week, during which we handed over the medical coordination, wrapped up unfinished work and said our goodbyes to new friends and colleagues, we travelled to the island of Skopelos. Holidaying between luscious green forests and sun-flooded beaches, the evenings spent among Greeks at their laid-back and hospitable best, it’s been tempting to be lulled into reconciliation with this beautiful continent. Yet while I’ve immersed myself in the pleasures of island life and caught up some sleep, death and torture on the Evros river, the natural border between Greece and Turkey, continue. As do the mistreatment of refugees in detention centers, illegal pushbacks to Turkey and brutal broom operations in Athens and Thessaloniki,[1] all of which are the deliberate consequences of decisions made by our elected representatives in Brussels and Athens.

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The dilemma of medical NGOs

This January, my partner and I started working for a medical NGO in Thessaloniki, Greece (a detailed description of the project can be found here). A month after our arrival, we were asked to take on the medical coordination. This has meant additional responsibilities such as overseeing medical staff, answering emergency calls and communicating with various actors within the Greek healthcare institutions. An interesting part of the role has also been the collaboration with other NGOs. We cooperate with several partners offering services from the distribution of food and non-food-items to legal support and safe spaces for women. Beyond these, we also maintain close relations with other medical organisations in the area.

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First impressions from Thessaloniki

In the wake of increased migration to Europe over the past decade, and due in no small part to substandard healthcare for refugees, a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have started providing emergency medical care. As fourth-year residents in internal medicine, my partner and I had begun to feel confident that we could make a useful contribution. Several colleagues had already volunteered with a German NGO currently operating in Bosnia, Serbia and Greece and recommended them as an experienced set-up with good connections on the ground. After months of planning, we thus arrived in Thessaloniki at the beginning of 2022 in order to work for the local project. I plan to share my experiences through a series of essays on this platform.

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