Trip report: Malakasa and Ritsona

With the advent of the new EU deal, tens of thousands of refugees were moved to the Greek mainland into an array of camps from situated from Attica to Drama. Information about who is where, what is needed, access to legal information, medical care, conditions and aid requirements is scarce, so myself and one other long term volunteer decided to hire a car and visit all of the camps on the mainland to see what NGOs, volunteers and individuals could do to help. Tonnes of aid remains in warehouses all over the Greek islands and thousands of highly skilled volunteers are not sure where to go and what to do next. Hopefully this series of reports will go some way to coordinating efforts to help refugees in this next chapter of the crisis.

To see a map of the camps in mainland Greece, please check out this link.

 Malakasa (Wednesday, 7 April 2016)

Malakasa is situated around 40 kilometres north of Athens, just off the E75 motorway. The nearest large town is Oropos which is around 10 minutes drive and there is a village with small minimarkets within walking distance.

The camp is open as the refugees are allowed to leave, but it’s on an army base. When we visited, there was a large army presence but we were lucky enough to catch two volunteers, Nikos and Hilde, who helped us to gain entry to the camp. We had to show photo ID though.

The camp is large, with capacity for 2,500 people, but there are currently 1,300 people there, all Afghan. Around 50 % are children, with the remainder evenly split between men and women. The camp has been open for 25 days now.

The camp is large and dusty with a few green areas. There is very little shade though and the area mainly consists of rows of army issue tents with no flooring, so refugees are sleeping on the ground. There is a warehouse space here, which is small but well organised (around 20 metres x 8 metres). There is also a phone charging station present at the camp.

IMG_0763

Inside the well-organised warehouse at Malakasa

The army is providing the food for the camp, which was described to us average, very small portion sizes and not enough to feed the residents. Because of food shortages, there had been a few fights over distribution of meals, but generally the atmosphere is calm and refugees are self-organising to articulate their needs. They seem calm, but just a little bored. The Spanish organisation, Remar, is helping to fill the gaps with food, but more help is needed. The army are resistant to the idea of a kitchen opening at Malakasa.

The UN have visited Malakasa in recent days, giving legal advice in Farsi. Interestingly, as the residents are all Afghan, refugees have been told they have three legal options; claim asylum in Greece and wait for relocation to other EU countries; claim asylum in Greece and stay there or be relocated back to Turkey or Afghanistan. Initial claims have to be made by Skype interview, which is impossible as the army refuse to have wifi installed at the camp.

The army runs the medical centre here, which is pretty rudimentary and only open from 8 am to 3 pm and then for emergencies to to 11 pm.

Nikos and Hilde were exceptionally helpful and have lots of good ideas to improve the camp and are sensitive to the needs of refugees. Whilst conditions at Malakasa are currently very basic, we feel the refugees are in good hands with the small team of volunteers working at the site.

Golden Dawn are active in the area and have already made threats to Greek volunteers working at the camp, so be aware!

 Current needs:

Nikos and Hilde said they need more volunteers, particularly Farsi speakers and carpenters to help build shelving in the warehouse and potentially flooring in the tents, if the army allows it. More lighting along the rows of tents is needed, so electricians could come in handy, or donations of solar lamps could also help.

They are not currently accepting financial donations.

There is a long list of supplies needed for Malakasa. They require the following items

  • Baby strollers – lots of, all the women are asking for them!
  • Gazebos to create shade
  • Shampoo, soap, washing detergent
  • Bowls to wash clothes in
  • Razors
  • Nappies/diapers
  • Brooms and dust pan and brushes
  • Tinned food – there is such a shortfall of food and people are going hungry
  • Underwear for men, women and children
  • Men and women’s clothing in small/medium sizes
  • Men’s shoes, sizes 39 – 43
  • Women’s shoes, sizes 36 – 40
  • Hats for the sun
  • Sleeping bags
  • Blankets

If you want to send a container (and also for more info about volunteering at Malakasa), then please contact the volunteer team on their Facebook page to ensure they have the space and manpower to receive it. Smaller packages can be sent to the following address:

Solidarity Volunteers for the refugees of Malakasa

Camp of Malakasa

19011-Malakasa

Oropos-Attika

Greece

In Greek:

Ομάδα Αλληλέγγυων εθελοντών για τους πρόσφυγες της Μαλακάσας

Ανοιχτό Κέντρο Φιλοξενίας Προσφύγων Μαλακάσας

19011-Μαλακάσα

Ωρωπός-Αττική

Ελλάδα

Please remember if you are sending large deliveries from outside of Greece to mark deliveries with “Used/Second hand items”, otherwise import tax has to be paid. DO NOT SEND LARGE DELIVERIES TO NAMED INDIVIDUALS!!!! This will result in the individual having to spend hours, if not days, in the police station, drowning in paperwork.

Final observations:

Malakasa really needs help, especially with aid. Nikos and Hilde were exceptionally helpful and seemed very clued up and dedicated to the cause, so we feel sure that anything sent will be put to good use and not wasted. The army have a very large presence here and it’s incredibly important to maintain good relations with them. This is not a festival style camp that you find on the islands. Progress can be made, but only if volunteers are sensitive and respectful. Basically if you are hotheaded and egotistical, please stay away as you will do more harm than good. If you are diplomatic, patient and practical, Malakasa needs you!!!!!

Ritsona (Wednesday, 7 April 2016)

The camp is situated in a shady wooded area and is completely open and when we were there, there was no army and/or police presence. Again, residents are staying in rows army issue tents with no flooring. There is one large tent for activities. Refugees here seemed in high spirits with lots of children running around having fun. The nearest big town is Chalkida.

Several organisations are present at Ritsona; Ecco, I AM YOU and Lighthouse Relief, with several groups of independent volunteers. Theodora was the camp manager during our visit, but no one group seemed to be in overall control. We were told during our time at Ritsona that wifi was going to be installed in the coming days.

There are currently 900 residents at Ritsona and the camp has reached capacity. The population is roughly two thirds Syrian, with the remaining third made up of Kurds, Iraqis and Afghans. There are 400 children and 20 pregnant women. There have been no reported tensions so far and the atmosphere seems generally happy.

The Air Force is in charge of food and the quality was generally described as adequate. However, due to the relaxed nature of the camp, there is definitely space for an outside kitchen to come in and feed residents and/or cooking facilities for refugees.

There are lots of chemical toilets but only 9 showers, three of which are hot, for 900 people.

The Red Cross has a small medical centre here which is only open from 9 am to 6.30 pm with no overnight medical coverage.

There is warehouse space here but it currently is not being used for distribution and there is no postage address at the present time.image1(1)

A pop up English and alphabet class for adults inside the big tent at Ritsona

Generally, the camp had the festival type atmosphere common to many of the camps on the islands, with lots of emphasis on kids’ activities. There was a class in English and the alphabet going on in the big tent during our time there and also an ad hoc woodworking workshop to make benches.

Current needs:

We didn’t get a chance to speak to the camp manager, but had a chat with some members of I AM YOU and Ecco, who told us Ritsona is in need of the following;

  • Translators – Arabic and Farsi
  • Carpenters/plumbers/drainage specialists to develop the camp
  • Hand sanitisers (preferably on stands)
  • Beds/mattresses

Final observations:

Although the atmosphere in the camp (at least when we were there) was relatively tranquil and friendly, the management was quite chaotic, especially considering the amount of volunteers present on site. There did not seem to be a team with overall responsibility for the camp and we struggled to find someone knowledgeable to speak with about needs and potential projects. However one potential project that screamed out to us was the development of storage space. About 50 metres from the camp there is a concrete warehouse approximately 36 metres x 16 metres. When we had a look inside we found a group of refugees rummaging through a heap of clothes on the ground, dirty and clean alike. There was no organisational system, no shelves, no boxes and no one could give us and address to arrange deliveries to.

IMG_0772

Inside the large, but disorganised warehouse at Ritsona

We offered to take a car load of dirty clothes to Athens to wash, dry and return to Ritsona, but no one took us up on our offer. We feel a team of carpenters and warehouse volunteers could work wonders here by developing a system for receiving, sorting and distributing aid. This should be a priority and forms the backbone of any effective relief effort. Any large aid deliveries should hold off until there is the warehouse capability to store and distribute it properly which ensures aid is not wasted.

There is also definitely scope for an experienced kitchen team to set up here as there aren’t the restrictions you find on other sites.

We were told that a postage address for supplies will be sorted out in the coming days. Keep updated on this and also details about volunteering on the Ritsona Facebook page.

If anyone has any more specific questions about how to help, please don’t hesitate to ask. Let’s get this volunteer effort moving!

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