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.
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
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.
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.
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:
– Summer caps/hats
– Hijabs (summer)
– Underwear for men, women and children
For more information about volunteering, deliveries and forklifts, please contact them through their Facebook page. You can also contact Petra, their volunteer coordinator, on email@example.com.
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.