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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

EVERYTHING!!!!

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.

SolidariTea
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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

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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 crossingbordersgreece@riseup.net.

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!

 

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