Greek Mainland SOS Trip Report: Thermopylae and Orfeas Hotel

The road trip continues … after our visits to the camps of Ritsona and Malakasa, which you can read about here, we continued northwards into the mountainous region of Central Greece, armed with nothing but our trusty map of camps on the mainland.

Thermopylae (Thursday, 8 April 2016)

Our next stop was Thermopylae, a place that has been famous since antiquity for its hot springs and the legendary battle of Thermopylae, where a mere 300 Spartan soldiers fought to hold the pass against the thousands strong Persian army. We’re happy to say that aside from the strong smell of sulphur, this site for refugees is an altogether most pleasant place.

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The front of the hotel in Thermopylae

The ‘camp’ is actually a rather nice hotel which hosts around 300 people, around 60 %  Syrian and 40 % Syrian Kurds. There are around 100 children and 10 pregnant women staying here. There is lots of shade and outside space for people to socialise and children to play in.

We were met by a gentleman called Aris Sochos, who is in charge of the hotel while the refugees are staying here. He works for the Periferia Lamias, which got a bit lost in translation, but is something like the municipality. This region is fairly poor by Greek standards and yet the local government decided to use the money saved up in the earthquake fund to meet the needs of the refugees. This generosity has ensured that refugees staying here get their own rooms and beds to sleep in, with each room containing a hot water shower. The Periferia Lamias is thus making decisions about how the needs of their new guests are best met. Another hotel in the area, which can house 400 people, will be opening soon.

The camp is open and the only responsibility of the army is to provide food for 120 people. The shortfall is made up by outside caterers. The Periferia Lamias don’t want a kitchen inside the grounds as they are worried about fires as the area is wooded and dry, especially in the summer months.

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The small medical room at Thermopylae

The hotel also has a plumber, an electrician, security and a small medical room where a nurse attends to patients. They also have a good sized storage space to receive and store goods. There is also decent wifi in the hotel. There are no NGOs present at this site and local volunteers are caring for the refugees.

Happily for the residents of Thermopylae, there is little Golden Dawn activity in the area and it’s planned that they will be receiving guests for at least a year. The team here do not accept financial donations, but have a list of supplies that are required on an ongoing basis.

Current needs:

In terms of volunteers, they are happy for people to stop by and help out, but the biggest need is for translators. Arabic speaking doctors who can come on a regular basis would be a great help to the resident nurse.

Although the living space here for refugees is very comfortable, there is a list of supplies requested;

  • Mosquito repellent and nets for the windows (we can’t stress how important this is – it’s mozzy central here and we got eaten alive during the time we were there. PRIORITY NEED.
  • Shampoo, soap, washing detergent
  • Sleeping bags
  • Towels and sheets
  • Baby clothes
  • Kettles – apparently the residents are tea crazy and it would be great if each group had one each.
  • Children’s toys
  • Juice
  • Tea
  • Sugar
  • All kinds of basic medication, such as antibiotics
  • Medical gloves
  • Children’s toys
  • Wifi in the cabin outside where the volunteer group from the municipality work.

To send small packages of the above items, use the following postal address; Ypsilanti, 1, Periferia Stereas Elladas, Lamia, T.K. 35131, Greece

Final observations:

We were deeply moved by the people that we met volunteering and working on this site; once again, the hospitality of the Greeks knows no bounds. The superior living conditions for refugees here are totally dependent on the generosity of the local government, who have given their own money in times of harsh austerity to help refugees. This area of Greece is not rich and whilst it’s fantastic that desperate people are staying in rooms rather than tents, this doesn’t mean that they don’t still need help. It would be really great if people could donate items, especially mosquito repellent and tea, etc, on an ongoing basis, to take off some of the stress on local people. Such generosity deserves to be responded to with generosity in kind.

Orfeas Hotel

We got a little bit lost on the way to this particular site and ended up on a sandy beach, looking out onto the Aegean Sea. Happily for the refugees, they too can also enjoy this view, as this ‘camp’ is situated a few kilometres from where we were in the Orfeas Hotel. It’s owned by a local businessman, who very generously gave over a beautiful hotel to house around 150 refugees for as long as is necessary.

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The front of the friendly Orfeas Hotel

We were greeted by an imposing but friendly security guard named Thanassis, who is volunteering his time and skills here and was happy to help us. The camp is open and there is no army present. The refugees here are a mixture of Iraqi and Syrian and are all on the relocation program so it’s unlikely this site will be active for years. Around a third of the population here are children and there are 8 pregnant women.

The site is pretty luxurious and refugees get their own rooms with showers. An onsite chef does all the cooking. There is good outside space with shade and a play area for children.

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The beautiful dining and reception area of Orfeas Hotel

Praksis are present on site with medical care and social workers in their team. The UN have also visited a few times and provide the residents with good access to information and legal advice. There is wifi but it’s very bad, apparently due to antiquated cables.

Current needs:

The team here are well covered with volunteers but expressed a need for doctors, especially Arabic speaking ones. They do not accept financial donations, but you can donate to Praksis if you wish to support their efforts with refugees in Greece generally. In terms of aid, the team here expressed a wish for small amounts of the following items, bearing in mind there are currently only 150 residents;

  • Medicine for headlice
  • Depon or similar for adults and children
  • Basic antibiotics for adults and children
  • Baby wipes
  • Nappies/diapers
  • Shampoo and soap
  • Shoes for adults
  • Summer clothes for men, women and children
  • Hats for summer

Please send the above items to: Orfeas Hotel, Skotina, Pierias, Greece.

Remember, do not send to named individuals as you will give them huge amounts of paperwork and if posting goods from outside of the EU, remember to put “Used/Second hand goods” clearly marked on the outside of the parcel to avoid paying import tax.

For more info about volunteering or needs, please contact Thanassis who is volunteering there on thantop@yahoo.com

Final observations:

Again, we were both touched by the generosity of the Greek people and the care they took in looking after complete strangers. The atmosphere in the ‘camp’ was very tranquil and the team was exceptionally friendly and good humoured. The main needs seem to be medical and can easily be met if a few people sent a few small parcels. It’s not so much effort and would make a huge difference to the lives of residents here and also the team who work round the clock to support them.

 

 

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