Things are changing on a daily basis in Greece and as it is difficult to keep a precise database of every single camp, I have decided to present an overview of my observations on the general situation according to what I have witnessed.
Since my first visit in 2015, things changed a lot due to the border being closed after the deal with Turkey in May. The state of transition and journey of the past is now a stagnation in the country where refugees don't know how long they will stay. Gradually, a lot of improvised camps appeared in the country with no official management or support where conditions changed dramatically from one another. When I arrived in Greece, government barely started to set up official camps managed by the army or large NGOs such as UNHCR. Gradually, all the camps have now been reestablished and relocated in official camps.
This situation will remain as long as the borders are close, which can be short or long term. As negotiations seem to fail with Turkey, borders might open anytime soon, or not...
Improvised Camps – Before the resettlement
Before the recent waves of resettlements and re-organization in Greece, most camps were improvised in random places depending on circumstances. The conditions varied a lot between all the camps depending on the place, the resources, the outside help, the security, number of refugees, etc.
Overview of the camps that have now been relocated:
Once the biggest improvised camp in Greece, housing more than 15 000 people, Idomeni was a small village with a whole society of NGOs, volunteers, smugglers, commerce, prostitution, black market.
Conditions varied from tents to tents but even if things were improving, the situation was very unstable and security a big issue. Riots and protests occurred more and more frequently as refugees were tired of waiting for a border that would not open.
Everyone was eventually relocated without giving any choice. The relocation was closed from the media and volunteers and NGOs but things went relatively smoothly without any violence. In 3 days, Idomeni was completely empty and people relocated to official camps. On the long term, it is a better solution for refugees but on the short term, many felt betrayed as some brand new camps were not fully ready yet.
Nationalities: all who arrived after March 20th and Syrians and Afghans that were being refused to cross the border at first.
- Hara Hotel
Walkable distance from Idomeni itself where most Afghans went to wait when the border was closed. Tents in the backyard and parking lot of a hotel/gas station. No government support and only some small NGOs support. Really dangerous place with terrible conditions where refugees had to pay a rent to the owner for every tent. Was relocated shortly after Idomeni in the new camps around the region.
- EKO Station
Locatedin the area around Idomeni and near Polykastro, EKO was a camp set up in a petrol station on the side of the main highway of the region. Around two thousands, mainly Syrians were living in some of the best conditions of the region. Easy access for all organizations and volunteers, there was a real sense of community there and it was not a pressing matter to relocate refugees but it was a logical step to make all camps in Greece official.
No force for relocation but people were not happy to leave, once again, unannounced and closed to media.
- Athens – Port of Piraeus
Two different camps directly in the port, Syrian and Afghan part. Conditions were relatively stable but everyone has been relocated in the past few days due the port being sold to a Chinese company who wanted full productivity and use of the area.
Unofficial camp near the city of Chalkida. Supported by different NGOs and volunteers. Established in the forest, difficult conditions, mud, snakes, rain, insects and lack of proper cooking facilities. Relatively safe and isolated though but tents close to each other and fire being used for cooking makes it a big risk.
Unfit tents. Child friendly area by LightHouse Relief. Red Cross is present but not doing much.
In need of better tents, cooking facilities, school for children.
Official camp for Afghans. Support by big NGOs and medium ones well established in the camp. Very good healthcare as well as big, clean and brand new tents for every family. Still room available in the camp. People seemed relax and happy. Tons of supplies and clothes.
Not much need from outside except maybe once more for teachers and school programs.
Northern part, around Thessaloniki, where most refugees from Idomeni where relocated
Army camp. Mainly Afghans, was established long before relocations from Idomeni. Really difficult conditions, tents are in an open area where it gets extremely hot, unbearable inside. Toilets near the tents create bad smells.
Not long enough in the camp to know NGO involvement as it was closes to media.
Official army camp near Kilkis, very organised but no access to media. The organisation The Housing Project (http://www.thehousingproject.gr/) has been working in the camp for a long time and are now trying to relocate vulnerable families in homes and apartments around the region. They are doinga wonderful work of direct help as well as long term integration. An example to be repeated elsewhere.
One of the new official army camps set up for the refugees being relocated from Idomeni. In a huge warehouse, all the tents are lined up inside protecting them from the rain and the sun. Soldiers are outside and nowadays prevent anyone from entering without official permission as a NGO worker, no media allowed anymore. At the time I visited, some showers and toilets but not enough yet but these were the first days of the camp, it should have improved.
Overall, conditions are better than Idomeni and refugees are more satisfied, it should improve overtime. Once again, lack of anything to do during the day and of school for children.
One of the few official camps remaining on Lesvos Island. Around one thousand refugees from all different countries, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran. Mainly families.
Very organised camp and clean, many showers and toilets, well run management with NGOs and important organisations. Called the best camp in Europe, refugees seemed happy enough.
Once again, there is a need of teachers and school for children most of all.
GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ON DEMOGRAPHICS
As camps and situation changed too much and too often in Greece, it is hard to tell observations on one single place. It is also difficult as a photographer to keep precise statistics and I think it’s best to tell my general observations.
- Most refugees arrived in March, either after or just before the deal with Turkey on March 20th. They have been waiting in Greece since then.
- As before, a majority of Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans with maybe a slight majority of Syrians. Also an important proportion of Iranians and some Lebanese, Moroccans, Algerians, Pakistanis, Sudanese.
- In proportion, more families but almost as many refugees being single men.
- Most of the time, families and single refugees are looking to join members of their families elsewhere.
- Some single men or child are sent by family back home who can’t afford to go all together.
- A lot of single men are educated (mainly Syrians) or wish to complete their studies abroad.
- Average age of single men; less than 30.
- MOST OF THEM WANT TO GO BACK TO THEIR HOME WHEN WAR IS OVER.
- They all flee war and danger, whoever sends the bombs, they don’t care, they just want safety.
- Mostly Muslims, some Christians as well.
General Observations on needs and humanitarian support
As the situation changed and most camps are now official and army managed, it is more difficult to evaluate the needs and help as independent volunteer. Nowadays, it is even more important to collaborate with an existing organisation that will have access to the new official camps before even thinking of helping.
What is still most needed:
- Teachers, school, education.
Children might stay a long time in the camp and they already have been away from school for too long. It is crucial for them to have some education. If not, the delay and waste of time could be a real issue later in life. They also have nothing to do during the day and are very bored.
Organisations need money for their running operations, supplies, etc. They know best what is needed and how to use it. At the moment, there are a lot of clothes and books but need for teachers and more food which can’t be shipped from abroad.
Help from skilled volunteers on a long term basis is still much needed.
- Legal counseling
For asylum seekers, legal help for bureaucratic procedures is really important and in big demand.