After our access denied trips to the large army camps in northern Greece, we decided to stay in the area before heading towards the Greek/Bulgarian border. To check out up to date sites for refugees in Greece, please refer to this map.
The Park Hotel
You might wonder why we have included the Park Hotel in Polykastro in our reports. Whilst it isn’t a refugee camp, it’s the hub of all coordination for projects in the Idomeni area. Anything that gets decided about Idomeni and the other unofficial camps in the area, gets decided here. It’s an odd place – the decor and the piano, as well as the varied mix of characters you can encounter here, gives the Park Hotel a somewhat Lynchian feel – one of our team remarked that it was like walking into a refugee crisis episode of Twin Peaks!
The facade of the Park Hotel, Polykastro
The Park Hotel is perfectly positioned – it’s close to all the camps in the area and also near to several storage facilities, like the Czech Team warehouse, that supply aid to camps in the border region and beyond. There are incredible amounts of information available here, from maps to list of contacts for all the organisations operating in Idomeni and the environs. Big decisions and meetings between groups all happen here. If you are new to volunteering and Idomeni, there is a orientation session every day here at 8 pm. Please go to this and make some good links with experienced people so you can make the most of your time and not waste resources.
A helpful map of Idomeni found on the wall of the Park Hotel
Situated behind the Park Hotel is the Idomeni Hot Food kitchen, stop by and say hello as they are lovely; the team are looking for volunteers as they have recently expanded their operations to feed 5,500 people from 4,000 people a day a few weeks ago.
Hara Hotel (14/15 April 2016)
Hara Hotel is another unofficial camp, situated just off the motorway on the way back from Idomeni and the border. It’s a shining example of what could be achieved at the BP Garage to improve living conditions. A few months back Hara was in a similar state to BP; no facilities, no information, no volunteers and little medical help. Thankfully, the fantastic Northern Lights team decided to take on Hara and have done some great work there.
How to find Hara and the other unofficial camps in the border area
On our visit there were around 700 people at the camp from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. There are at least two pregnant women and between 200 to 250 children, many of them very small. The site was relatively clean and the atmosphere was friendly and a little excitable. The refugees living here had a lot of respect for the work Northern Lights were doing and spoke highly of them. There is regular food distribution here from ADM at 11 am and 4 pm and Northern Lights gives out rice pudding at 6.30 pm – which explained the happy ambience when we were there!
Waiting for rice pudding …
MSF are also on site, ensuring medical needs are met. There are 21 toilets on the site and a few showers. Northern Lights takes care of NFI (non-food item) distribution, using a targeted distribution system for clothing and hygiene products. There is limited knowledge about asylum and legal rights on the site and there is no internet available to make the necessary Skype calls to secure appointments with the Greek Asylum Service.
We spoke to the coordinator of Northern Lights and they are well stocked with items from the warehouses around Polykastro. However, they do need the following:
- Rocket stoves
- Pots and pans
This is so that the refugees can start to cook for themselves, as many of the residents at this site have expressed a wish to do so.
Hara Hotel at twilight.
More generally, Northern Lights are in need of financial donations and volunteers. They are a small organisation, who only formed in January 2016, and whilst they are very experienced, they need more support for their operations with refugees in Greece. If you can help with manpower or funds, please find out more by visiting their website and/or Facebook page.
We also observed the need for residents to have accurate information about their rights and what to do next re asylum. It would be great if an information team could get involved here and help people to make good, informed choices about their future.
For a video clip so you can better see conditions at Hotel Hara, please click on this link.
The contrast between BP Garage and Hara Hotel was heartbreaking. It just goes to show what a difference a hard-working experienced team can make to a site in a very short space of time. We worked alongside the founders of Northern Lights in Lesvos and there are some of the most experienced, knowledgeable people working on the mainland in this crisis. If you want to help people at Hara Hotel, then please support Northern Lights – they know what they are doing and a great system set up at Hara.