After our adventures on the Greek/Macedonian border, we turned our attentions to the Thessaloniki/Drama region, close to Bulgaria. To see the locations of the camps we visited this time, please look at this map.
Diavata (17 April 2016)
Diavata camp is situated in the outskirts of the city of Thessaloniki. It is an old military base on mostly concrete or gravel ground with some large run down concrete buildings. Access was very open, the police at gate only gave our passports a cursory glace before waving us through. The 2,400 Syrian, Iraqi and Afghani people that stay here live in a mixture of canvas military tents and plastic Ikea huts. They have access to chemical toilets, cold showers and phone charging ports. There are six working pay phones but only usable with a visa card. There is a large football pitch. When we were there many of the children we met were suffering from chest infections. Generally the atmosphere was pretty positive and the children had lots of space to play in.
A typical ‘street’ in Diavata camp
There was an incredibly large NGO presence at Diavata and residents seemed well served by various agencies. UNHCR are very active in this camp and were happy to speak and work with us. There is a medical clinic operated by Doctors of the World and WAHA. Food and clothes distribution is done by the army and happily for the residents of Diavata there seemed to be lots of fresh fruit on both of our visits. However, many refugees at Diavata are cooking their own food, which is a bit of a fire risk, especially with so many people living there. Indeed, a few days after our visit, there was a large fire in the camp
– thankfully no one lost their lives.Local volunteers and smaller non-profits are active distributing other items, including many baby things as there are many babies and young children at Diavata.
We are currently in contact with the volunteer coordinator here to get a better idea of needs, warehouse addresses and options for volunteering. After our visit, she sent us the following list of current needs;
- Toilet paper
- Sanitary towels
- Shaving cream
- Hand washing powder
- Baby napkins (No 4,5,6)
- Baby wipes
- Baby food
We don’t currently have a warehouse address for Diavata camp although we are hoping to get one soon. If you are in the area, you can come to the camp to deliver items. But please speak to someone working there to give them to. DO NOT attempt your own distribution as you will cause chaos and potential safety hazards as there are so many people staying at Diavata.
One of the medical centres at Diavata
We are in touch with the volunteer coordinator at Diavata and we got the impression volunteers wouldn’t have too much problem working in the camp as long as they are respectful and willing to work within the systems already established. We were pleasantly surprised to meet an international volunteer working here supporting nappy distribution (volunteers in the military camps we have visited so far have been almost exclusively local). She seemed to have been able to work pretty freely.
If you are a group or individual looking to volunteer at Diavata, please contact us and we can pass on the details of the volunteer coordinator. She has expressed an ongoing need for people who can help out here from this time going into the summer months.
For a video of a brief look at life inside Kavala, please go to this link.
It was nice to be finally granted access to one of the bigger camps and the police and army were very friendly – some were even having a water fight with a couple of kids, which bodes well for the future. Whilst the camp is well served by several large agencies, the sheer amounts of people living here mean that volunteers and donations will be needed on a continuing basis. UNHCR staff were welcoming and open to the idea of organised volunteer groups opening projects here. Diavata has needs, but it is certainly the best of the big camps that we have seen on this trip.
Kavala (18 April 2016)
Kavala camp is set into the rocky hillside on the side of a motorway over looking the city below. When we visited the camp had only been open for a mere five days. We were denied access by the army commander in charge (who said we needed permission from the UN) but we managed to speak to the police officer on duty at the gate and the UNHCR officials coordinating the relief efforts for around an hour. They told us that there are about 500 Syrian, Iraqi, and Palistinian people here, half of them kids. They sleep in canvas army tents. There are chemical toilets, 20 cold showers and 3 hot. There is a Doctors of the World medical team as well as a medical trailer provided by the Greek health service. The army supply three meals a day. Both the UNHCR and local volunteer organisation here are responsible for both Kavala and Drama camps.
UNHCR were incredibly friendly towards us and stressed that they would be open to volunteer groups coming in once the camp had been open a little longer. They are coordinating closely with local volunteers to best address the needs of the residents here and they are sending us a list of current needs and a warehouse address at some point in the next week.
There is a need for wifi and a mosquito and snake problem that needs to be addressed in the near future. We feel there is definitely scope for outside groups to support efforts in Kavala camp but once the camp has been open for a little longer.
Drama (18 April 2016)
This camp is located in a disused tobacco storage warehouse in the suburbs of Drama and has been open for nearly two months. There are about 550 people living here. 70% are Syrian, the rest being a mix of Iraqis, Palestinians and Afghans with around 35% of the population being children. They sleep in just one of the several massive warehouse buildings which is divided into living spaces by blankets strung up to give some semblance of privacy. A TV screen was showing an Arabic news channel. A basic communal kitchen gives access to hot water with a kind of shop/kitchen for basic items, like tea and coffee. There are plumbed in showers, squat toilets and large sinks for drinking water and laundry.
Makeshift private rooms constructed by UN blankets inside Drama camp.
The UNHCR are present and seem to be the overall coordinators of the camp. The army provide food although no military were present when we visited. There is a medical clinic operated by the Hellenic Red Cross. Officials from the European Asylum Support Office are working here on an ad hoc basis processing relocations applications for vulnerable children. The mobilisation of EASO personnel to support the overwhelmed Greek asyslum system was a condition of the recent EU-Turkey deal but they are yet to materialise in significant numbers and this was the first time we saw them operating. They also were unaware of recent British case law and the Safe Passage project
, which can potentially reunite people elsewhere in Europe with close family members in the UK. This is worrying as they are processing many vulnerable cases and unaccompanied minors and really should be aware of this.
Whilst the people were fairly calm when we visited, there was a distinct feeling of tension. There are many people here of differnet cultural backgrounds crammed into a dark warehouse with little privacy or space of their own. The lack of shade outside was also concerning and something that will need to be addressed in the coming weeks as temperatures rise, especially as volunteers here told us there had been many fights between the guests.
The kitchen area inside Drama.
There is a local volunteer organisation working here that supports both Drama and Kavala camps. We spoke with a Greek volunteer teacher who is working on developing children’s activities, schooling and a nutrition program. He was open to the idea of outside help, but wanted this to go through the UNHCR representative we spoke to at Kavala camp. As with Kavala, we are waiting for a list of needs and warehouse addresses for this camp as well.
We feel there is space to donate and volunteer here, but it needs to be coordinated through the proper channels – basically UNHCR. However, their representative in the area is open and friendly and wants to accept help, with the input of local volunteer groups.
So that’s all for now – next time we continue down south and visit some camps in central Greece before continuing onto Athens …