Greek Mainland SOS Trip Report: Nea Chrani, Camping Nireas and Irakli

Our road trip around continues into the Greek heartland … we have been really struck by how different each of the sites are that house refugees. Each place has different needs and some bear no resemblance to the other. We visited three camps this time; Nea Chrani, Camping Nireas and Irakli. You can read our other reports on previous posts on this site and look at the map of camps here. The nearest town to the next three sites is Katerini. We are also being supported by the fabulous Help Refugees team who are ensuring our trip can be better and longer and our information put to good use. So anyway, here goes …

Nea Chrani (9/10 April 2016)

The first thing I can say about Nea Chrani is … MOSQUITOES!!! The air was literally thick with them when we entered the camp, after showing our ID to the police outside. Within minutes of sitting down, we had been bitten several times through our clothes. We could only wonder how the refugees were coping sleeping in army issue tents and no real protection from this infestation …IMG_0879

Nea Chrani camp – it looks a little gloomy in this photo but it’s actually full of life and good cheer

The camp is situated in central/north-eastern Greece (nearest town, Katerini) an old sports ground and is managed by the Greek Air Force, who seemed pretty friendly when we were there. There are around 300 people there currently, a mixture of Syrians and Iraqis and the camp is not yet at capacity, but is getting there. Over a third of the residents are children, mostly young ones. There are rows of tents and very little shade aside from that.

Shortly after our arrival, we were directed to speak to a man called Ilias, who was in charge of the volunteer efforts. He was in the middle of distribution of clothing to refugees, which was carried out in a very orderly manner. We exchanged contacts and agreed to meet the next morning. When we arrived home that evening, we had both been bitten over 30 times and were itching like mad. We can only imagine what it must be like to be there all the time, constantly being eaten by mosquitos.

When we returned the next day, Ilias explained that he is part of an organisation called Otoposmou, which originally began as a psycho-social organisation looking after 500 local Greek families in need in the Katerini area. When they heard that refugees would move to the region as well, they expanded their operations to include the new arrivals. Otoposmou also serves Orfeas Hotel, Irakli and Camping Nireas, but their main operation is at Nea Chrani. Their base is in Katerini where they have an amazing space with a huge pharmacy, food store and lots of warehouse rooms.

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The children’s pharmacy room at Otoposmou HQ in Katerini

The Air Force supplies the food here and Ilias and his team comes three times a day to distribute food as well as clothing in the evenings. There are adequate toilets and showers at Nea Chrani. Otoposmou have just bought washing machines for the camp to help residents clean clothes and also the reduce the amount of mosquitoes which are attracted by handwashing clothes.

Generally the atmosphere was happy in the camp, the children in particular were very affectionate and happy to see us. Residents offered us coffee and tea on several occasions. The main complaint was the mosquitoes – otherwise, several refugees were full of praise for the Greek volunteers who were working there.

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The amazing space at Otoposmou HQ in Katerini – the team have big plans here!

Current needs:

  • Otoposmou have a core group of about 20 – 25 volunteers and can draw on around 2,500 others on a more casual basis. They are enthusiastic about volunteers joining their operations and have big plans for the coming months. They would like to house six or seven refugee families in the grounds of their space in Katerini as they fully believe in integration of refugees into the local community. If you want more information about volunteering with them, their website is www.otoposmou.gr and you can email them on info@otoposmou.gr
  • Otoposmou have an incredibly impressive pharmacy system that serves thousands of people in need. If you go this website, you can see the top 100 medicines they are short of and hopefully help to supply them. We were especially asked for scabies medication as over 20 people at Nea Chrani have this.
  • You can send donations to: Fleming 8 (Kapnikos Stathmos), 60100 Katerini, Greece.
  • Otoposmou do not take financial donations but are currently looking for 3,000 euro worth of funding to convert a warehouse into a medical store. If anyone would like to buy the materials needed to do this (work will be done by Otoposmou), then please contact them on the email address already provided.
  • Nea Chrani has enough clothes, etc, for now but please send MOSQUITO REPELLENT! Babies are being hospitalised the bites are so bad and it’s driving the residents crazy with the itching.
  • Shampoo and soap is also needed
  • The residents would love to have several of those big tea boilers.

Final Observations:

Aside from the mosquitos, we really liked Nea Chrani and were incredibly impressed with Otoposmou and Ilias. They have an incredible organisation and structure already that serves the needs of refugees well. They are very quick to mobilise and have the best interests of the refugees at heart. We also like the idea of supporting an organisation that not only supports refugees but the needs of Greek families in need as well. We would urge people to donate medication and volunteer with Otoposmou and we look forward to seeing their fantastic plans come into fruition.

Camping Nireas (9 April 2016)

Camping Nireas is situated in a back road in Central/North-eastern Greece. The army are renting the site from a local man named George. We had to present our passports and then were told to come back later after the army had asked for permission from George to let us speak to him. When we returned several hours later, George was there and told us the following; refugees are housed in army issue tents with no flooring and there are currently around 350 people in the camp of mixed nationalities, but around 50 % were children and almost all came through Lesvos. There are toilets and hot water showers on the site.

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The view of the entrance of Camping Nireas

Current needs:

George told us that the site is fine for clothes, etc, but they need the following items:

  • Mosquito oil for kids and adult
  • Fruit
  • Juice
  • Nappies
  • Baby things (NOT CLOTHES); nappies, baby wipes, cream, etc
  • Shampoo and soap

All items can be sent to:

Camping Nireas
Variko
6200
Greece

George is open to having volunteers come and work on the site, but they would need to speak to him first. Translators especially would be welcomed.

Final Observations:

It was difficult to get an overall feel for Camping Nireas as we were not invited in by George – although to be fair to him, we didn’t try and push this. From what we could see people looked happy (there were lots of children running around and playing) and the site was nice with lots of shade. It will be interesting to hear back from any volunteers who work here so we can get a fuller report on the situation.

Irakli (9 April 2016)

Irakli is located in a taverna/lodge in lush green valley with spectacular scenery and lots of cows (with large bells) to the west of Katerini and currently hosts 190 Syrian and Iraqi people including 2 pregnant women. The Greek Air Force is present here and arrange food provided by an outside catering company. The officer in charge was accommodating and happy to answer our questions and show us around although he did ask us not to take any pictures inside the facility. There is a lovely outside space here with swings and a play area for kids and everyone was noisily having fun. There is a clinic run by the Red Cross and a volunteer doctor. The commanding officer told us the camp was serviced by a group of local volunteers although they were none present on either of our two visits. We have left our details and are hoping to hear back from them.
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Irakli, from the side. You can see the children’s play area with slide just by the entrance.
The people sleep in army tents on the floor. There are hot showers, chemical toilets for men and inside toilets for women.  Unfortunately the site is quite isolated but there is a local bus service that the refugees use to travel into town. We were told there have been no notable tensions and people seem to calm and happy enough. There is warehouse space here, but without having contact with the volunteer group operating here, we do not know current needs.
We would like to go back and get more information from this camp as it’s frustrating not to know more and the Air Force officer we spoke to was unsure of what was needed and if volunteers were welcome here. Watch this space …
So that’s all for now – we have visited Veria, Alexandria, Giannitsa, Polykastro gas station  and the Czech Team warehouse already, so these reports will be online in the coming days with more to follow …
Kallenichta from Thessaloniki!

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