Greek Mainland SOS Trip Report: Larissa, Agias Andreas and Petra

We continue to the last leg of our trip – for now, at least, and head southwards with our map of camps and visit the camps of Larissa, Agias Andreas and Petra.

Larissa – 24 April 2016

This camp is a few kilometres west of the city of Larissa, which is slap bang in the middle of Greece, and almost hidden in a small rocky valley that only suddenly becomes visible as you turn a bend in the road. The site overlooks the surrounding area of what is quite beautiful, flat, green farmland. Our greeting here was exceptional welcoming. The army captain  in charge was keen to speak with us, describing the situation there and giving us his list of needs. He made the point that the Army was carrying out a peacekeeping mission and that peacekeeping should never be confidential. More generally the other soldiers were friendly and cooperative, especially with the refugees, whose welfare they seemed to genuinely care for.
There are 850 people currently at Larissa. 15% are Syrian, 80% are Afghan and 5% are Iraqi. This camp was one of the few official camps where nationalities were so mixed. The people sleep in canvas military tents on the gravel. There are chemical toilets and cold showers. There is a large tent made available for children but it currently lacks any toys or equipment. The kids here seem very bored and unfortunately one source of entertainment for them at Larissa are snakes – the captain told us how he found a group of kids playing with one! Mosquitos are also a problem. Although the atmosphere was calm when we visited we have heard of some tense moments at Larissa. Residents protested with vigour amongst following a visit by UNHCR.
Food is provided by the Air Force through a private catering company (the first time we have seen the Army and Air Force working in the same camp). There is wifi available for the refugees here and some refugees spend all night in sleeping bags hooked up to the charging port where the signal is strongest. Doctors of the World and the Greek health service give medical care to the residents. The local volunteers from Larissa seemed experienced and organised. They operate out of a pre-existing social supermarket that supports local Greek families.

Current Needs:

We were given the following list of current needs:
  • Toys and stationary for kids – ESPECIALLY NOTEBOOKS.
  • Whiteboards
  • Projector, TVs, DVDs
  • Manually charged/windup torches
  • Sun cream
  • Shampoo
  • Condoms and contraceptive pills
  • Solar chargers for phones
  • Sanitary towels
  • Baby wipes
  • Kitchen utensils…(pots, pans, et cetera)
  • Nappies/diapers No 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
  • Face cream
  • Hats
  • Flip flops (summer shoes)
  • Nappy cream
  • Talcum powder
  • Soap
  • Washing detergent
  • Insect repellent
  • Electric kettles (for hot water for the baby milk)
  • Sugar
  • Tea

Please send all supplies to Manolaki 9-11, T.K. 41222 Koinoniko Pantopoleio, Larisas

There are volunteers working here and the camp seemed quite open, so as long as people are respectful, it should be possible to help out here.

Final Thoughts:

Larissa suffers mainly from its geographical position – it’s right in the middle of Greece and far from both Thessaloniki and Athens, which means it’s overlooked by independents, small NGOs and larger organisations. This is a shame as there is a big population of refugees here who need facilities. We were also impressed with the attitude of the army here and it was a prime example of how, in a hierarchical organisation such as the military, it is the commanding officer who sets the tone of the whole camp. In contrast to military camps like Cherso and Nea Kavala, Larissa was very open to the idea of outside help.

Agias Andreas – 25 April 2016

Set a few hundred meters back from a main road in a quite suburb of Athens, this site is almost completely forested and therefore well shaded. The entrance is also difficult to find. The police and army officers here didn’t allow us access to the camp beyond the administration office and they insisted we needed permission from the Ministry of Immigration to go any further. However, they did speak with us for a while and gave some us some basic information.
There are about 200 Syrian and Iraqi people here sleeping in military, canvas tents. They have access to hot showers and wifi. Food is provided by a catering company and paid for by the army. The UN have visited but there were no other NGOs active. There are no organised volunteer organisations serving this camp, but some people have made irregular donations at the gate which the army commander said anyone is welcome to do. The key needs he mentioned were baby strollers, translators and a medical team, although he again stressed the need for permission from the Ministry for personnel to work in this camp.
This camp is quite typical of those in the Athens area – they all need permission from the Ministry to access the site. This creates difficulty as quite often there are needs that are not being met and lengthy bureaucracy means that refugees don’t get what is on offer from volunteers and larger aid agencies alike.

Petra – 24 April 2016

This camp is located in the mountains to the north of the town of Petra in a disused psychiatric hospital with a stunning view of Mount Olympus. When we visited, the camp had only been open for five days so was very new. It was opened by the Greek government in collaboration with an organisation called CYCI and is home to around 1,000 Iraqi Yazidis, most of whom have been recently moved from Idomeni. We were granted entry by the police at the gate but the army commander in charge of the camp was keen to get rid of us and we were not able to stay as long as we would have liked. He told us first of all that we had to speak with volunteers and then when some arrived, he told us we needed permission from the municipality in Katerini.
Facilities here are very basic, supposedly since the camp is so new. The people here sleep in canvas tents on the ground, which is unfortunate since there are many large hospital buildings on the site. Food is provided by the army through a private catering company. There are chemical toilets and cold showers. There is no wifi currently available. There is just one military medic here and we didn’t see any of the big NGOs operating here although the UNHCR had apparently visited. The only organisation we did see was CYCI, a Canadian Jewish/Christian organisation with the stated aim of supporting the Yazidi community. They have been paying for a lot of the transportation of people to this site. Although the people we spoke to from CYCI were friendly, there is quite a lot of controversy attached to this NGO due to its operations in Iraq.
A key concern for this camp is its isolated location. The only access for the people to nearest large town of Katerini is a twice daily bus service. Tickets for which must be paid for out of one’s own pocket. It is vital that services at Petra camp are developed quickly since the people here are pretty dependent on it for all their needs. One medic for 1,000 people is not enough and more medical teams are needed. Wifi is critical for access to the outside world and for making asylum applications.
We contacted CYCI on numerous occasions after our visit for a current list of needs and an address to send items to, but as yet we have heard nothing back from them on this front. This is slightly concerning as they are based in Polykastro (at least when we were there) and there is a big lack of facilities at Petra camp and this scarcity is exacerbated by the fact that Katerini, the nearest big town, is a fair distance away. We hope to go back in the coming weeks to see how the camp and its population of Yazidis are doing and offer further assistance.

So that’s it for now … there are still more camps to visit and with the new transfer date of 30 May for Idomeni to be emptied by, no doubt more sites will spring up in the coming weeks. We will be back on the mainland in the coming weeks visiting more of the camps around Athens. Until then, please keep supporting Greece and the camps all over the country – both need as much help as possible.


Greek Mainland SOS Trip Report: Diavata, Kavala and Drama

After our adventures on the Greek/Macedonian border, we turned our attentions to the Thessaloniki/Drama region, close to Bulgaria. To see the locations of the camps we visited this time, please look at this map.

Diavata (17 April 2016)

Diavata camp is situated in the outskirts of the city of Thessaloniki. It is an old military base on mostly concrete or gravel ground with some large run down concrete buildings. Access was very open, the police at gate only gave our passports a cursory glace before waving us through. The 2,400 Syrian, Iraqi and Afghani people that stay here live in a mixture of canvas military tents and plastic Ikea huts. They have access to chemical toilets, cold showers and phone charging ports. There are six working pay phones but only usable with a visa card. There is a large football pitch. When we were there many of the children we met were suffering from chest infections. Generally the atmosphere was pretty positive and the children had lots of space to play in.
A typical ‘street’ in Diavata camp
There was an incredibly large NGO presence at Diavata and residents seemed well served by various agencies. UNHCR are very active in this camp and were happy to speak and work with us. There is a medical clinic operated by Doctors of the World and WAHA. Food and clothes distribution is done by the army and happily for the residents of Diavata there seemed to be lots of fresh fruit on both of our visits. However, many refugees at Diavata are cooking their own food, which is a bit of a fire risk, especially with so many people living there. Indeed, a few days after our visit, there was a large fire in the camp – thankfully no one lost their lives.Local volunteers and smaller non-profits are active distributing other items, including many baby things as there are many babies and young children at Diavata.

Current Needs:

We are currently in contact with the volunteer coordinator here to get a better idea of needs, warehouse addresses and options for volunteering. After our visit, she sent us the following list of current needs;

  • Toilet paper
  • Sanitary towels
  • Shampoo
  • Shaving cream
  • Razors
  • Soap
  • Hand washing powder
  • Baby napkins (No 4,5,6)
  • Baby wipes
  • Baby food

We don’t currently have a warehouse address for Diavata camp although we are hoping to get one soon. If you are in the area, you can come to the camp to deliver items. But please speak to someone working there to give them to. DO NOT attempt your own distribution as you will cause chaos and potential safety hazards as there are so many people staying at Diavata.


One of the medical centres at Diavata

We are in touch with the volunteer coordinator at Diavata and we got the impression volunteers wouldn’t have too much problem working in the camp as long as they are respectful and willing to work within the systems already established.  We were pleasantly surprised to meet an international volunteer working here supporting nappy distribution (volunteers in the military camps we have visited so far have been almost exclusively local). She seemed to have been able to work pretty freely.

If you are a group or individual looking to volunteer at Diavata, please contact us and we can pass on the details of the volunteer coordinator. She has expressed an ongoing need for people who can help out here from this time going into the summer months.

For a video of a brief look at life inside Kavala, please go to this link.

Final Observations:

It was nice to be finally granted access to one of the bigger camps and the police and army were very friendly – some were even having a water fight with a couple of kids, which bodes well for the future. Whilst the camp is well served by several large agencies, the sheer amounts of people living here mean that volunteers and donations will be needed on a continuing basis. UNHCR staff were welcoming and open to the idea of organised volunteer groups opening projects here. Diavata has needs, but it is certainly the best of the big camps that we have seen on this trip.

Kavala (18 April 2016)

Kavala camp is set into the rocky hillside on the side of a motorway over looking the city below. When we visited the camp had only been open for a mere five days. We were denied access by the army commander in charge (who said we needed permission from the UN) but we managed to speak to the police officer on duty at the gate and the UNHCR officials coordinating the relief efforts for around an hour. They told us that there are about 500 Syrian, Iraqi, and Palistinian people here, half of them kids. They sleep in canvas army tents. There are chemical toilets, 20 cold showers and 3 hot. There is a Doctors of the World medical team as well as a medical trailer provided by the Greek health service. The army supply three meals a day. Both the UNHCR and local volunteer organisation here are responsible for both Kavala and Drama camps.
UNHCR were incredibly friendly towards us and stressed that they would be open to volunteer groups coming in once the camp had been open a little longer. They are coordinating closely with local volunteers to best address the needs of the residents here and they are sending us a list of current needs and a warehouse address at some point in the next week.
There is a need for wifi and a mosquito and snake problem that needs to be addressed in the near future. We feel there is definitely scope for outside groups to support efforts in Kavala camp but once the camp has been open for a little longer.

Drama (18 April 2016)

This camp is located in a disused tobacco storage warehouse in the suburbs of Drama and has been open for nearly two months. There are about 550 people living here. 70% are Syrian, the rest being a mix of Iraqis, Palestinians and Afghans with around 35% of the population being children. They sleep in just one of the several massive warehouse buildings which is divided into living spaces by blankets strung up to give some semblance of privacy. A TV screen was showing an Arabic news channel. A basic communal kitchen gives access to hot water with a kind of shop/kitchen for basic items, like tea and coffee. There are plumbed in showers, squat toilets and large sinks for drinking water and laundry.
Makeshift private rooms constructed by UN blankets inside Drama camp.
The UNHCR are present and seem to be the overall coordinators of the camp. The army provide food although no military were present when we visited. There is a medical clinic operated by the Hellenic Red Cross. Officials from the European Asylum Support Office are working here on an ad hoc basis processing relocations applications for vulnerable children. The mobilisation of EASO personnel to support the overwhelmed Greek asyslum system was a condition of the recent EU-Turkey deal but they are yet to materialise in significant numbers and this was the first time we saw them operating. They also were unaware of recent British case law and the Safe Passage project, which can potentially reunite people elsewhere in Europe with close family members in the UK. This is worrying as they are processing many vulnerable cases and unaccompanied minors and really should be aware of this.
Whilst the people were fairly calm when we visited, there was a distinct feeling of tension. There are many people here of differnet cultural backgrounds crammed into a dark warehouse with little privacy or space of their own. The lack of shade outside was also concerning and something that will need to be addressed in the coming weeks as temperatures rise, especially as volunteers here told us there had been many fights between the guests.
The kitchen area inside Drama.
There is a local volunteer organisation working here that supports both Drama and Kavala camps. We spoke with a Greek volunteer teacher who is working on developing children’s activities, schooling and a nutrition program. He was open to the idea of outside help, but wanted this to go through the UNHCR representative we spoke to at Kavala camp. As with Kavala, we are waiting for a list of needs and warehouse addresses for this camp as well.
We feel there is space to donate and volunteer here, but it needs to be coordinated through the proper channels – basically UNHCR. However, their representative in the area is open and friendly and wants to accept help, with the input of local volunteer groups.
So that’s all for now – next time we continue down south and visit some camps in central Greece before continuing onto Athens …



Greek Mainland SOS Trip Report: Park Hotel and Hara Hotel

After our access denied trips to the large army camps in northern Greece, we decided to stay in the area before heading towards the Greek/Bulgarian border. To check out up to date sites for refugees in Greece, please refer to this map.

The Park Hotel

You might wonder why we have included the Park Hotel in Polykastro in our reports. Whilst it isn’t a refugee camp, it’s the hub of all coordination for projects in the Idomeni area. Anything that gets decided about Idomeni and the other unofficial camps in the area, gets decided here. It’s an odd place – the decor and the piano, as well as the varied mix of characters you can encounter here, gives the Park Hotel a somewhat Lynchian feel – one of our team remarked that it was like walking into a refugee crisis episode of Twin Peaks!


The facade of the Park Hotel, Polykastro

The Park Hotel is perfectly positioned – it’s close to all the camps in the area and also near to several storage facilities, like the Czech Team warehouse, that supply aid to camps in the border region and beyond. There are incredible amounts of information available here, from maps to list of contacts for all the organisations operating in Idomeni and the environs. Big decisions and meetings between groups all happen here. If you are new to volunteering and Idomeni, there is a orientation session every day here at 8 pm. Please go to this and make some good links with experienced people so you can make the most of your time and not waste resources.


A helpful map of Idomeni found on the wall of the Park Hotel

Situated behind the Park Hotel is the Idomeni Hot Food kitchen, stop by and say hello as they are lovely; the team are looking for volunteers as they have recently expanded their operations to feed 5,500 people from 4,000 people a day a few weeks ago.

Hara Hotel (14/15 April 2016)

Hara Hotel is another unofficial camp, situated just off the motorway on the way back from Idomeni and the border. It’s a shining example of what could be achieved at the BP Garage to improve living conditions. A few months back Hara was in a similar state to BP; no facilities, no information, no volunteers and little medical help. Thankfully, the fantastic Northern Lights team decided to take on Hara and have done some great work there.


How to find Hara and the other unofficial camps in the border area

On our visit there were around 700 people at the camp from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. There are at least two pregnant women and between 200 to 250 children, many of them very small. The site was relatively clean and the atmosphere was friendly and a little excitable. The refugees living here had a lot of respect for the work Northern Lights were doing and spoke highly of them. There is regular food distribution here from ADM at 11 am and 4 pm and Northern Lights gives out rice pudding at 6.30 pm – which explained the happy ambience when we were there!


Waiting for rice pudding …

MSF are also on site, ensuring medical needs are met. There are 21 toilets on the site and a few showers. Northern Lights takes care of NFI (non-food item) distribution, using a targeted distribution system for clothing and hygiene products. There is limited knowledge about asylum and legal rights on the site and there is no internet available to make the necessary Skype calls to secure appointments with the Greek Asylum Service.

Current Needs:

We spoke to the coordinator of Northern Lights and they are well stocked with items from the warehouses around Polykastro. However, they do need the following:

  • Rocket stoves
  • Pots and pans
  • Food

This is so that the refugees can start to cook for themselves, as many of the residents at this site have expressed a wish to do so.


Hara Hotel at twilight.

More generally, Northern Lights are in need of financial donations and volunteers. They are a small organisation, who only formed in January 2016, and whilst they are very experienced, they need more support for their operations with refugees in Greece. If you can help with manpower or funds, please find out more by visiting their website and/or Facebook page.

We also observed the need for residents to have accurate information about their rights and what to do next re asylum. It would be great if an information team could get involved here and help people to make good, informed choices about their future.

For a video clip so you can better see conditions at Hotel Hara, please click on this link.

Final Observations:

The contrast between BP Garage and Hara Hotel was heartbreaking. It just goes to show what a difference a hard-working experienced team can make to a site in a very short space of time. We worked alongside the founders of Northern Lights in Lesvos and there are some of the most experienced, knowledgeable people working on the mainland in this crisis. If you want to help people at Hara Hotel, then please support Northern Lights – they know what they are doing and a great system set up at Hara.

Greek Mainland SOS Trip Report: Cherso and Nea Kavala

Somewhat nervous after our encounters at Giannitsa with very unfriendly army officers, we continued our trip visiting camps across the Greek mainland to check our the large army camps of Nea Kavala and Cherso. We did not take pictures of either of these camps as they are official military bases and it’s against the law to do so. For an updated map of camps, please go to this link.

Cherso (15 April 2016)

Cherso is a camp run by the army about 15km north west of the town of Kilkis.  The area is flat farmland and was quite windy and dusty when were there. The officers we meet were not keen to let us walk around the camp without official permission from the municipality and/or Hellenic Army, but were happy to chat with us about the situation here and ways to improve things.
The army told us there were nearly 4,000 guests at Cherso and about 90% are Syrian and 10% are Iraqi. There were 20-30 pregnant women (which seemed like very low estimate to us) and about 40% of the overall population are children. The people are sleeping in military style canvas tents, most of which actually had timber floors installed by the Green Helmets organisation. Food is distributed by the army but provided through an outside catering company. There are an insufficient number of chemical toilets and showers for the amount of people living there. There is a rudimentary kids tent and a playground (climbing frame/swings etc) was under construction when we visited.  Medical care is provided by a military doctor and the Red Cross. The UNHCR and EASO have both made visits to offer legal advice and process asylum claims. Save the Children were also apparently active.
An experienced team of local volunteers is active in the camp doing targeted distributions to each tent. They have a warehouse in Kilkis which is full and so they are not currently accepting donations. We spoke to a volunteer called Stefanos, who was incredibly helpful and gave us lots of information about the site. Residents seemed to respect him a lot and their conversations with the army were also friendly and calm. The Kilkis volunteers operate through the following two Facebook pages, so please contact them for volunteering opportunities and how you can donate aid in the future to Cherso.

The army officers here were apologetic about not being able to let us in but were very helpful. They told us that we needed to contact the Hellenic Army stating the name of our organisation and what we wished to do in the camp. They were keen to stress that the army was just overseeing the camp and coordinating projects and aid organisations here. We feel that with the proper accreditation there is a lot of scope to run projects inside of Cherso with full support from the army as the attitudes of the commander and other officers was very open and they were keen to hear our ideas on ways to improve the camp.

Nea Kavala (15 April 2016)

Nea Kavala camp is situated an old old airstrip and hosts around 3,500 people. It is located a few kilometres east of the town of Polykastro. The surrounding area is flat, green (almost prairie like) and very windy when we were there – we both thought we might blow away! Although the police and army at the gate were friendly enough, we were not granted access to the camp. We managed to have a quick chat with the police officer here who provided us with the information for this post. He seemed keen to stress to us that Nea Kavala was perfectly run and did not need any help. The attitude of officers here was different than Cherso – where officers seemed keen to support outside efforts, with coordination – and the army seemed to want to control things a lot more at Nea Karvala.

The people here stay in a mixture of army and UN tents with no flooring

They use chemical toilets and cold showers. There have been problems with insects, snakes and scorpions. Food is provided by the army through a private catering company, although for those with cash there is a LIDL supermarket a 15 minute walk away. Current NGOs present include Drop in the Ocean, the German Red Cross, UNHCR and Metadrasi. Some Save the Children staff we met were working on starting a kids and breast feeding programme. When we approached members of several NGOs working here, they told us to speak to volunteers (meaning Drop in the Ocean) for information as they were unsure of current needs. The Drops are a great organisation who we worked alongside in Lesvos and are looking for volunteers. They are a great option to donate or get involved with if you are looking for a small, but respected outfit to join in Greece.

A note on the military …

Throughout this trip we have been granted varying degrees of access to the camps. In some cases we have been allowed to walk around freely and even take photos. Sometimes we couldn’t even get past the gate. The mood of the military and police officers we met has ranged from hospitable and friendly, to indifferent to actively hostile. Some have been very keen to work with us from the outset, others insist we much gain permission from the General staff of the army or the local municipality. Overall, the army have generally been positive and helpful though – they are doing a very tough job and many of the officers told us that they worked for days on end putting up thousands of tents to construct the new camps with only a few hours’ notice.
There does, however, seem to be little rhyme or reason behind how we are greeted other then the mood and working attitude of the commanding officer. We have noticed that in the first days of a camp’s inception the military is generally more hostile to outside volunteers but as the enormity of the task they have been charged with becomes clear, any outside help quickly becomes very welcome. On several occasions, police have recognised us from previous visits to other camps and granted us access on this basis. ID is needed at most camps, though one of our team did manage to access an army camp with no ID whatsoever. But they got lucky. A card from your organisation is also necessary at many places – the army and police, particularly in northern Greece, are very wary of independent volunteers, seeing them as agent provocateurs, rather than agents of aid. The size of the camp seems to make a difference as well – the larger the population, the less likely it is that access will be granted without official permission.
Please be respectful towards the army, even if they are not necessarily behaving respectfully towards you. The actions of a few volunteers and activists in northern Greece has had profoundly negative impact on some officers’ attitudes towards volunteering. This has had the knock on effect of the prohibition of independent volunteers from many camps, which means the refugees’ needs are not being met. Try and look at the bigger, long term picture – having a row with the army may jeopordise future teams’ efforts in improving people’s lives, so choose your words and actions carefully. Of course, if the army behave violently or aggressively, this is another matter and should be reported, but in many cases when entry is denied to volunteers, they are just doing their job.
That’s all for now … more trip reports coming soon! Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about any of the camps we have visited. And please help if you can!

Greek Mainland SOS Trip Report: BP Garage and Idomeni

We left the mountains of central Greece behind us and drove north towards the infamous Idomeni, which in recent days has been the recipient of tear gas and rubber bullets from the Macedonian police. But as well as visiting the Greek/Macedonian border, we also wanted to explore the volunteer community here and several informal camps that have sprung up in the border environs. To see how to get to the Idomeni area, please check out the map of camps here.

BP Garage – 14 April 2016

The unofficial camp at the BP Garage is horrifying. It’s by far the worst site we have visited on our trip around Greece. One of our team has spent a lot of time in Sub-Saharan Africa and India and conditions in the slums there are comparable to what we discovered on our visit to the BP Garage.


The entrance to the camp at BP Garage

The camp is situated in a petrol station on the motorway, a few miles away from Idomeni. It’s hard to get accurate information about numbers of people here as there are no volunteers or NGOs operating here on a regular basis. We estimate there are around 500 people here. There are a whole mixture of nationalities; Sudanese, Syrians, Iraqis and lots of Moroccans and Algerians. There is a high proportion of young men but also many children. Many people have been here for three months or longer.


One Iraqi family’s living space at BP Garage.

There are clusters of camping style tents under the shade of the trees and several derelict buildings in a state of squalor which people are pitching tents inside. The atmosphere seemed peaceful, but desperate. Many young men here from Morocco or Algeria believe they have run out of options and are scared of being put in detention. Many Syrian families here cited fear of the violence in Idomeni as a reason for choosing to be at BP Garage. Some young men here have tried to find work but have been ripped off, being as paid as little as 10 euro for 18 hours of work between four men. Several men we saw had broken legs and other were in wheelchairs. There are around 7 pregnant women on site. There are no washing facilities and there are two ‘toilets’, basically just buckets.


The ‘toilets’ on site. Inside were filthy buckets.

We saw one doctor from SCM here and the residents told us that MSF do visit daily. Other than that, aside from occasional food and clothing distribution, maybe a few times a month, people here are left to fend for themselves. There is one tap with running water, but several residents said it had made them ill.

Current Needs:


We are unsure how cooperative the owner of the garage is, but frankly an improvement in conditions is very much in his interests.

There needs to be a regular team here consulting with residents about their needs and working with them to help make things happen. They need food, water, clothing, washing facilities and information to help them make informed decisions about the future. There needs to be some kind of project for the kids here – they are frustrated, bored and playing in dirt.

Please, please, please can an experiencde team take this site on? It’s desperate. People should not be living like this.

Final Observations:

We have experienced many feelings over the course of our trip but at our visit to BP Garage the overwhelming emotion was of anger. It’s an absolute disgrace that this site is in the state that it is. We asked the UN, volunteers and representatives of several NGOs operating in the area why no one is present here and everyone had the same answer “That’s a very good question”. This is in no way good enough. There are thousands of volunteers working in Idomeni, just a few miles down the road, and most of the big aid agencies have large teams there. It’s simply deplorable that not one of them has thought to take responsibility for this site.

For a video clip of BP Garage, please click here.

Some people we spoke to said the site was a hotspot for smugglers and there were safety concerns – but the tear gas and rubber bullets of Idomeni don’t seem to put people off from operating there. Others said that distribution of food and other items was too difficult as people at BP Garage were aggressive – no wonder! People only bother to turn up randomly and residents don’t know the next time they may get a chance to be given supplies! We spent many hours here in the company of young North African men and did not feel threatened – quite the opposite; we were touched by their hospitality in the such dreadful conditions. An experienced distribution team who took some time to speak to some of the young men here about setting something up would have no issues.

A small group of around 10 experienced people could work wonders here. These people have been completely forgotten and this situation is totally inexcusable, particularly when you take into account the well-funded, over-resourced site of Idomeni a mere handful of miles of way. With the amount of money, aid and people who want to help floating around Greece, there is no need for people to live in sites like BP Garage. Please, just come and sort it out.

Idomeni (14 April 2016)

So much has already been written about Idomeni that we don’t really feel we can usefully add that much to the information that is already available online. For those who don’t know, Idomeni is an unofficial camp that sprung into being after Macedonia closed its borders to refugees. It currently houses around 11,000 people, of varying nationalities, including thousands of children. There are lots of aid agencies and volunteers present, some of whom are more useful than others. Facilities here are good, but living conditions are not so fantastic as most people are housed in camping tents and the Macedonian police have become increasingly violent towards refugees. The Greek police have begun cracking down on volunteers, arresting many people for the most spurious of reasons.

For more information about Idomeni, we suggest you keep yourselves updated with these two Facebook pages.

Forgotten in Idomeni

Information Point for Idomeni Volunteers

The issues at Idomeni are so vast, all we can encourage people to do is to do their research and go there with a plan. There are too many volunteers just milling around achieving not very much when there are other camps that are desperately in need of manpower and have far less than Idomeni where such people could be more constructive. Having said that, there is a great need for skilled volunteers at the border. Here are a few projects that we really like that could do with some support, both with money and volunteers.


This is a tent that has a simple purpose; to serve tea to the masses. The SolidariTea team has travelled across Europe with their project and served tea to hundreds of thousands of people travelling to find a peaceful life. They are a lovely bunch and have filled a need – tea is a cultural mainstay of most refugees and is refreshing and comforting. They have refugee helpers and distribute large amounts of joy and hope with their cups of tea. Several of the founding members have returned to their home countries in the recent weeks after months of hard work so they are really need in hardworking, kind, reliable volunteers so they can keep serving the residents of Idomeni and Polykastro. For more information about how to get involved, please go their Facebook page.

Information Tent


One of the biggest gaps in this whole refugee crisis is information. It may not be as immediately sexy as dropping off a van load of sandwiches or painting with kids, but information about asylum and more practical information about other camps is so vital. During our road trip, we have both been struck by how little most refugees know about what their legal options are going forward. The Information Tent tries to fill the gaps of knowledge so that people can make informed decisions about their future, whether it’s about moving to a different camp or about how to apply for relocation. They need volunteers (especially ones with legal knowledge) and funding. Please help out – everyone seems to want to fund and/or volunteer with organisations primarily involved with distribution but honestly, information projects are the most need going forward in this crisis. Get involved by contacting the team on

Hot Food Idomeni

These are a great team of people who are currently making food for 4,000 people a day. They serve something called shorpa, which is a delicious, but nutritious concoction of lentils, vegetables and beans. They also have eggs every other day. As well as distributing shorpa to people in area A of Idomeni, they also supply 200 meals for the new Idomeni school and often cook extra for vulnerable residents of the camp.

Hot Food Idomeni is about to step up production of shorpa to 5,500 portions a day. They really need volunteers and funds to cover this. Please donate and get involved. The food is great, they are a tight team who work hard and do a vital job. Check out their Facebook page for more info about volunteering and how to donate.

So that’s it until tomorrow. More trip reports coming soon … if you need any more information about anything we have written about, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Goodnight from Athens!


Greek Mainland SOS Trip Report: Giannitsa, Eko Petrol Station and Czech Team Warehouse

Northern Greece, close to the Macedonian border, became a bit of a Bermuda triangle for us – even though we had our trusty map of camps with us, we drove around in circles over several days. The lack of roundabouts in Greece is very confusing! Anyway, here are our reports on Giannitsa, Eko Petrol Station and the Czech Team warehouse.

Giannitsa (11 April 2016)

Although both of us would probably describe ourselves as pretty anti-authoritarian and with a healthy distrust of institutions, we have been really impressed with the Greek army and Air Force and the competent way they are handling these new camps and their compassion towards refugees. None of this professionalism was on display at Giannitsa, sadly. It looked unremittingly grim from the outside, probably the worst site we had encountered so far. We showed our passports to the police and were ushered over to the gate, which was manned by army officers. The initial soldier we spoke to was polite, but then his commanding officer rocked up and began an ill-tempered monologue about how we were not allowed on site. When we spoke up and explained that we were just looking for information about how to support the army’s efforts in Giannitsa, the portly officer began a diatribe, beginning with the words “Listen, lady” and then dismissed us. He was quite possibly the rudest man I’ve met in a long time and the state of what we could see of the camp, plus his dreadful attitude, does not bode well for the fate of the refugees inside of Giannitsa.

Anyway, apparently we have to speak to a gentleman named on this card at the Minister of the Interior office in Thessaloniki.


Can anyone read the handwritten name? The card belongs to a lovely non-profit in Lesvos who everyone should support.

The next day we spoke to someone who had managed to get inside – his military background had clearly swayed the rudest man alive. Many soldiers we spoke to at other camps knew this officer and no one had a good word to say about him. Hopefully, his attitude mellows with time. Or he gets replaced with someone less ogre-like. Either way, we will get the permission or get in somehow and report back when we do.

Eko Petrol Station (11 April 2016)

This site has to be the most peculiarly situated of all the places we visited on our trip. It’s an unofficial camp that has sprung up in a disused petrol station on the side of the motorway! Driving past and seeing this vast expanse of tents next to fuel pumps is incredibly surreal.


Home for the residents of Eko Petrol Station on a very windy day

As you can see, all of 2,500 approx refugees here are in basic camping tents, which aren’t great for withstanding the elements; prone to soaking through in rain, oven-like in the heat and several nearly blew away during our visit. Refugees mainly Syrian, although there are some Iraqis and a large Afghan family and most have been on site for around 50 days. There are toilets here, but not enough, and people can pay 2 euro to use the hot water showers. The petrol station does not sell fuel, but the shop is open for business and residents of Eko can buy goods from the shop here. The residents are well fed – Save the Children do breakfast for kids, a collective of German anarchists provide lunch and MSF take care of the evening meal.

Lighthouse are the main organisation on the site who do most of the non-food related work here. They are in charge of distribution of clothing, baby milk, wipes, etc, basically all non-food items. As well as distributing from caravans, there is also a targeted distribution system at Eko as well to ensure that people’s needs are met.

There is some provision of basic education here with a school with Syrian teachers every day at 10 am. There is also art therapy in the afternoon.

The UN occasionally turn up here to move people to other camps but otherwise have a very limited presence here.

MSF had a clinic here which was taken over by SCM and independent doctors. Unfortunately, the police in their infinite wisdom decided to close it down as they didn’t have the right paperwork. Now SCM do impromptu clinics out of the back of their van.

The site is chaotic but there is a nice atmosphere. The atmosphere was cheerful and a little festival like when we visited. There has been some fighting here and a few protests – the most recent was when the police shut down the medical clinic – but generally people are in good spirits, in spite of their living conditions.

There is minimal permanent NGO presence here aside from Lighthouse and a great organisation called Nurture Project International which provides a safe space for breastfeeding mothers, with nutrition advice and a baby bathing facility. Projects like this can make all the difference in such basic conditions.


Nurture Project International giving mothers and babies some respite from harsh conditions

There is little to no provision of information at Eko Petrol Station and residents seem very confused as to what is actually happening generally or with regards to their legal rights.

Current needs:

There is a big call out for skilled long term volunteers, rather than just people who pass through for a half a day on their way to Idomeni. Lighthouse would be the crew to join here or independent volunteers with experience could also do good work here.

A short video clip to give a taste of what life at Eko is like

Medical teams to support SCM in their efforts would help residents.

Arabic and Kurdish translators would be welcomed with open arms.

In terms of supplies, teams here are supplied by the Czech warehouse and small deliveries. However, please do not drop off big loads here. It causes chaos and is potentially dangerous. Eko is need of the following

  • 70 baby strollers – many women have just had C-sections and are having to carry their children
  • Pots for cooking
  • Children’s toys, especially balls
  • Hats for the sun
  • T-shirts
  • Sunscreen

An information team with some kind of legal knowledge could also work wonders here as with the exception of Idomeni, all the unofficial camps in the north are poorly served by the UN and other big NGOs.

Final Observations:

Eko really needs your help – not so much with donations, but with manpower, information and medical teams. We suspect that if it wasn’t so close to Idomeni, much more help would be forthcoming. There is a lot of space and flexibility here for independent projects as there is no army or air force involvement. Please come here with a particular project in mind though – one common complaint is that there are far too many random volunteers wandering around not doing too much concrete stuff. So don’t be like that 🙂

Czech Team Warehouse (11/12 April 2016)

It may seem a little odd to include a warehouse in our list of camps around Greece, but warehouses are the backbone of any effective humanitarian effort and as the Czech Team warehouse is intending to supply most of the camps in northern Greece, including Idomeni, we thought it warranted its own entry.

The Czech Team warehouse is a huge storage space just outside of Polykastro, near to the Park Hotel which is a hub for volunteer efforts in the area. They supply three types of distribution; firstly, independent volunteers who turn up looking for five pairs of trousers or such like; larger independent volunteer groups who might drive away with a few car loads and NGOs like a Drop in the Ocean who rely on the Czech Team warehouse for the majority of their supplies for their distribution operations in the north.

About three quarters of the amount of space available at the fantastic Czech Team warehouse

When we visited, the warehouse had been open for about three or four days and there was a team hard at working making shelving, tables and sorting and organising the storage space.

They are currently looking for volunteers to help in their efforts and please give them a shout if you are a carpenter as they have several projects they need help with to better equip their space.

They are currently collecting the following items, although this will change once the warehouse has been organised and more containers have been received in the coming week:

– Torches/flashlights

– Summer caps/hats

– Hijabs (summer)

– Underwear for men, women and children

– Leggings


For more information about volunteering, deliveries and forklifts, please contact them through their Facebook page. You can also contact Petra, their volunteer coordinator, on

We were really impressed with the team here – they are very knowledgable and really get things done. Please help these guys out! Warehouse teams are the unsung heroes of the refugee crisis and aid efforts would totally collapse without them!

So that’s all for now … coming up next are the huge army camps of Nea Karvala, Cherso and the open and friendly Diavata camp. Goodnight from Thessaloniki and please don’t hesitate to contact us if you need any more information about the camps we have visited.





Greek Mainland SOS Trip Report: Veria and Alexandreia

After checking out the small camps in Central Greece (see previous blog posts for needs and volunteering), we began to drive north in the mountains, the temperature plummeting as we did so. In spite of our handy map of camps, we managed to get lost on the country roads more than a few times. We came across two very different camps, both of which had only been open a few weeks and both with very different needs …

Veria (10 April 2016)

The first thing you can say about Veria is, wow, what a location! It’s set in spectacular almost Alpine scenery next to a stunning freshwater lake. This also means that the climate is colder and wetter and we had to wrap up warm to take a tour of the camp. When we arrived, the army were at the gate and were very friendly with us. They just asked us a few questions, we showed our photo ID and we were allowed in.


One of the accommodation block at Veria

People here are staying in sturdy buildings with one family to a room with bunk beds in each. The conditions are basic and people are overcrowded, but much better than staying in tents like so many of the camps we have seen. We were invited into one room by a Syrian family who were frustrated at the lack of wifi. To claim asylum in Greece, people have to start the process by making a skype call to the asylum centre, which is impossible without internet connection. The family had relatives in Germany and wanted more information about the reunification process. They had come from Idomeni and liked Veria, but they weren’t too keen on the army food, which is supplied three times a day. They were particularly grateful for the large amounts of outside space for children to play in, far away from traffic.


Sam sitting inside one of the rooms at Veria currently housing a friendly Syrian family

After saying our goodbyes to the friendly Syrian family, we went to find the volunteer group that the residents had told us about. We were introduced to the incredibly cheery Vicky who gave us more information about the site. It has now been open for around 12 days and there are no NGOs on site, just a hardworking group of local Greek volunteers from surrounding villages. There are currently around 400 people in Veria, all Syrian aside from one Iraqi family. 160 of the residents are aged 15 or under. The mood was described as cheerful and calm and indeed, despite the grim weather on the day that we visited, people seemed friendly, curious and generally upbeat. The volunteers had already set up a distribution system, which is targeted, aimed at meeting each family’s needs. There is a doctor on site from 7 am until 2 pm. We were shown lots of outbuildings which could easily be used for storage space for needed items. There were many chemical toilets and shower facilities as well.


Large play area and toilets next to the beautiful lake – although everything looks gloomy in this weather!

Current needs:

Even though Veria has only been open for refugees for just shy of two weeks, the local volunteers already have a Facebook page. It’s in Greek, but you can translate it and there are English speaking locals who can answer any queries. For updated list of needs going forward, please refer to the Facebook page.

Here is a list of what Veria currently needs in terms of supplies:

  • Salt
  • Tea
  • Sugar
  • Cooking pots
  • Frying pans
  • Shoes for men, women and children, especially for the summer
  • Baby strollers/prams
  • Shampoo and combs against lice
  • Sheets
  • Pillow cases
  • Pillows
  • Plastic tubs to wash clothes
  • Clothes pegs
  • Cotton buds
  • 1 small refrigerator and a bigger one for medicines

If you can help with any of the above supplies, please send them to:

Stratopedo Armatolou Kokkinou

59132 Agia Varvara, Veria

Local volunteers here were open to the idea of volunteers coming here to help but stressed that they don’t want the following (we quote) “To get involved with political parties, organisations or individuals who want to profit from the situation of the refugees or who want to use them for their own goals.”

Everyone else is welcome, but please contact People of Veria in Solidarity through their Facebook page.

Tech specialists! Please come and sort the wifi out ! The residents cannot access asylum services without it!

We both felt that the camp might benefit from a permanent medical team based here, so if that’s something groups can supply, then please contact the team. The volunteers here were also talking about opening kitchens here so residents could cook for themselves. If this is something you have expertise in/could donate equipment for, then please contact them!

There is also a young baby at the camp in need of open heart surgery. If anyone knows of a Greek heart surgeon who would be willing to operate on the baby, please contact us and let’s get things moving.

Final Observations:

We were both really impressed by the site itself and the local volunteer group, who in spite of the camp only having been open for under a fortnight have some really nice ideas and are pressing for lots of support at local government level and also in the local community. Medical teams, skilled volunteers and people with expertise in kitchens could especially do lots of good work here. Veria isn’t so close to any big population centres as other camps, so we are worried it might get a little overlooked which would be a shame as there is great potential here, especially for volunteers to come and support a really great team of local people who have the refugees’ best interests at heart. It’s also a really beautiful place to work 🙂

Alexandreia (10/11 April 2016)

Alexandreia is a new camp which has been open for less than a fortnight, pretty close to Thessaloniki. The army are present here but are incredibly friendly and seem to really support the refugees and the camp in general. We had no problems getting inside and we did not have to show our passports. As the army were here, we did not take pictures as we didn’t want to jeopordise a good relationship between volunteers and the military.

The camp is situated on a main road and is large with many large semi-derelict buildings inside which could easily be renovated into some great facilities. It looks a little rough and ready at the moment but there is a lot of outside space for play/socialising and has a lot of potential to be a really pleasant place to be for refugees and their families.

We were quickly introduced to the marvellous John Sloan, who has previously worked for the UNHCR and was with Care for Calais for six months and is overseeing the camp currently. He has a lot of experience and also a lot of plans for Alexandreia.

John told us that the camp has a capacity of 800 and when we visited there were 620 residents, 54 % of whom were children, many of whom are very young. All residents are Syrian. All residents are currently staying in canvas tents. Some of the tents have flooring but not all, which needs to be fixed as there is a bit of a snake problem. There are 30 chemical toilets which are being cleaned twice a day and washing facilities – currently cold water only but hot water should be being put in within the next week.

The food is provided by the army three times a day and includes fresh fruit.

There is no shade in the camp which will begin to be a problem in the coming months as the weather gets warmer, but the team are waiting for permission from the army to put up some structures to create shade.

John has lots of plans for Alexandreia – they want to clean up one of the buildings to use as a warehouse and want to renovate another to turn into a school and kitchen/restaurant area. They had opened a ‘shop’ on the day of our visit and there was a long line of people asking for items from footballs to nappies.

The army currently provide medics but no doctors, so volunteers are having to pay for taxi rides for sick people to the nearest hospital which is 35 kilometres away. There are also several cases of measles here and MSF are hopefully going to provide a vaccination program soon.

Current needs:

John stressed that as the camp has only been open for around 11 days it’s not possible at this time to give a list of needed items until the site is a little more organised. Please go to the Alexandreia Facebook page to keep updated on current supply needs.

The camp needs wifi, although permission may be needed from the army as Alexandreia is an old military site.

One definite need is a dedicated, long term medical team here, including a paediatric doctor. Paying for cabs for sick people is not sustainable.

John and the team will also need volunteers in the coming weeks and months. They would like it if people could commit for at least two weeks. As they will be doing renovation and building work, carpenters would be particularly useful. They would also like volunteers to entertain children and teachers to educate as well. People with experience of working with children with special needs would be particularly welcomed.

One of the biggest things that Alexandria needs right now is money to get all these exciting projects rolling. John has set up a crowdfunder so please donate generously here.

Final Observations:

Alexandreia camp is in good, experienced hands with John and the team. The army are also being incredibly helpful. One officer we met who took us on a tour of the camp was very kind and genuinely cared about the welfare of the residents. We both thought that Alexandreia has the potential to be one of the best camps in Greece, based on what we have seen so far. Please support the crowdfunder as your donations will not be wasted when such an experienced team in charge. Skilled volunteers will also be able to get a lto done here as it’s very organised. Please be aware that to operate here you will need to have good relations with the army – please stay away if that’s something difficult for you as John and his team have worked incredibly hard to set up a good relationship and a lot of damage will be done if that is jeopordised.