Observations on the situation with the refugees in Greece by Frederic Seguin

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:

-          Idomeni

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.

 

ActiveCamps

-          Ritsona

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.

 

-          Oinofyta

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

-          Diavata

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.

-          Cherso

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.

 

-          Oreokastro

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.

-          KaraTepe

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.

-          Money

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.

-          Volunteers

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.

Entre Exil et Stagnation

Ce qui était jadis un difficile périple dans le but d'atteindre une vie meilleure et plus sécuritaire en Europe est aujourd'hui devenu une stagnation dans les limbes politiques. Depuis le traité avec la Turquie le 20 mars 2016, les frontières européennes se sont fermées aux réfugiés et la situation a énormément changé, autant pour ceux qui étaient déjà arrivés en Grèce que pour ceux qui attendaint de traverser la mer Égée.

Cet essai photographique étudie l'évolution de cette crise des réfugiés en Grèce en comparant les contrastes à travers les images prises à l'automne 2015 et celles plus récentes du printemps 2016.

Il est possible d'apercevoir les côtes turques à partir de la plage de Skala Sikamineas sur l'ile de Lesbos, point d'arrivée privilégié des bateaux de réfugiés. Il est maintenant rare d'en voir arriver, à peine un par jour alors qu'auparavant plusieurs dizaines entreprenaient la dangereuse traversée de la mer Égée quotidiennement. Il ne reste plus qu'un bateau vide, prêt à être utilisé par les équipe de sauveteurs.

Ile de Lesbos, Octobre 2015/Juin 2016.

De nombreuses scènes tragiques ont pris place dans le port de Molyvos où les réfugiés arrivaient pendant la nuit après être secourus in extremis par les gardes côtes. Les touristes et pêcheurs du coin ont repris leur place traditionnelle.

Ile de Lesbos, Octobre 2015/Juin 2016.

Ils sont arrivés par dizaines de milliers sur les iles grecques afin de rejoindre l'Europe et de poursuivre leurs rêves d'une nouvelle vie loin de la guerre. Les frontières maintenant fermées, l'Europe est devenue un rêve impossible et hors d'atteinte.

Ile de Lesbos, Octobre 2015/Juin 2016.

Avec les arrivées quotidiennes des bateaux, les plages de Lesbos se sont remplies d'épaves d'embarcations pneumatiques et de gilets de sauvetage. Maintenant nettoyées, les plages sont calmes et tristement vides des touristes habituellement présents.

Ile de Lesbos, Octobre 2015/Juin 2016.

Les magnifiques paysages de l'ile de Lesbos présentaient de forts contrastes avec les événements difficiles s'y déroulant. Les rencontres amoureuses semblent plus habituelles dans de telles circonstances.

Ile de Lesbos, Octobre 2015/Juin 2016.

Maintenant désertes, certaines plages reculées présentent encore les signes d'une intense activité passée.

Ile de Lesbos, Octobre 2015/Juin 2016.

Les amoncellements de gilets de sauvetage et bateaux pneumatiques sur les plages ont été ramassés et entreposés loin des regards dans un dépôtoir improvisé au milieu de l'ile. Les chèvres sont les seuls gardiennes de cette montagne de déchets rapellant les événements passés.

Ile de Lesbos, Octobre 2015/Juin 2016.

Le camp de Moria servait autrefois de point d'enregistrement pour les réfugiés poursuivant leur périple vers l'Europe de l'Ouest. Déjà à l'époque, ils rêvaient d'une plus grande liberté de déplacement. Le rêve a tourné au cauchemar et depuis la fermeture des frontières, le camp de Moria est maintenant un camp de détention.

Ile de Lesbos, Octobre 2015/Juin 2016.

Les immenses bâteaux de croisière faisant la liaison entre le port de Mytilène sur Lesbos et d'Athènes accueillent de nouveau leurs clients habituels; les touristes.

Ile de Lesbos, Octobre 2015/Juin 2016.

Entourés par les immenses paquebots, les migrants ne faisaient que passer par Piraeus, le port d'Athènes sur leur chemin vers le nord du pays. Aujourd'hui, plusieurs milliers ont pris refuge dans des camps improvisés à même le port et vivent au milieu des bateaux par lesquelles ils sont arrivés.

Athènes, Octobre 2015/Mai 2016.

Les nombreux camps parsemant le périple migratoire étaient autrefois des arrêts temporaires de quelques heures jusqu'à une journée ou deux. Avec plus de 40 000 réfugiés pris en Grèce pour une durée encore indéterminée. La vie reprend son cours et la routine quotidienne s'établit dans une tentative de normalité et de permanence.

Gevgelija, Macédoine, Octobre 2015/ Ile de Lesbos,Grèce, Juin 2016.

À la frontière Nord de la Grèce avec la Macédoine, Idomeni fut autrefois un point de transit rapide pour devenir ensuite le plus grand camp de réfugiés en Europe. Plus de 15 000 migrants ont habité le camp dans l'espoir que la frontière allait ré-ouvrir. Espoirs déchus, le camp a été évacué et il ne reste maintenant que des traces du village improvisé.

Idomeni, Grèce. Octobre 2015/ Mai 2016.

Là où des milliers de personnes ont établit refuge et résidence temporaire, il ne reste plus que des indices de vies passées.

Idomeni, Grèce. Octobre 2015/ Mai 2016.

Du train qui transportait les migrants vers le nord de la Macédoine pour la Serbie, on ne retrouve que les rails et les traces de milliers de personnes y ayant élu domicile. Absents dorénavant sont le train et les réfugiés.

Idomeni, Grèce. Octobre 2015/ Mai 2016.


Pour plus davantage d'informations sur mon travail en 2015 sur le périple des réfugiés du Liban jusqu'en Allemagne:

Exil; un essai photographique

Journey in Stagnation

Journey in Stagnation is a photo essay showing the evolution of the refugee crisis through the contrasts between the situation in Greece before and after the deal between Turkey and European Union.

As the doors to Europe and a new life were closed to the refugees, the now famous points of arrival on the Greek island are now empty and few boats arrive every week. At the same time, more than 40 000 refugees already in Greece are stuck in a political limbo since March, waiting to know what will happen to them. 

It is possible to see the Turkish coast from Skala Sikamineas, the beach on Lesvos where most boats were arriving. There used to be dozens of arrivals each day. Now, only one or two boat comes daily and a dinghy used by lifeguards stands alone.

Lesvos, October 2015/June 2016.

The harbor of Molyvos was once the entry point of refugees being rescued at sea, night and day, often the scene of intense and tragic events. This summer, tourists and fishermen are back.

Lesvos, October 2015/June 2016.

Thousands of refugees were passing through Lesvos to enter Europe every day. Since the deal with Turkey, Europe is now closed.

Lesvos, October 2015/June 2016.

The beach of Skala Sikamineas used to bear the marks of the daily arrivals of boats filled with refugees each wearing a life jacket. With time, the beaches have been cleaned and ready to welcome the tourists that have deserted the island.

Lesvos, October 2015/June 2016.

Beautiful Lesvos presents magnificent landscapes which are now looked at by couples on romantic dates where there were once refugees on their journey to a new life.

Lesvos, October 2015/June 2016.

The most remote beaches are now deserted and only signs of past life and activities remain.

Lesvos, October 2015/June 2016.

Arrivals of boats used to cause huge piles of discarded plastic boats and life jackets on the beaches. Those have now been moved in a landfill inside the island where an enormous mountain is now watched over only by goats. There is no solution at the moment to take care of this issue.

Lesvos, October 2015/June 2016.

The camp of Moria was used as a registration  office for refugees arriving in Europe and leaving to mainland Greece in order to reach Western Europe. It became a detainment camp. The dream of an easier freedom of movement became a nightmare.

Lesvos, October 2015/June 2016.

The gigantic ferries linking Athens to Mytilini harbor on Lesvos are now transporting their initial intended clients; tourists.

Lesvos, October 2015/June 2016.

Piraeus, the port of Athens was but a quick transit point in the refugee journey towards Northern and Western Europe. It became a permanent home for thousand of them since the borders have been closed.

Athens, October 2016/May 2016.

Along the way towards their final destination, refugees had to go through different camps for a couple of hours to a day or two, never settling down. Today, the camps that remain have been housing refugees for months, since the closure of the borders. Daily routine is settling in as these camps become permanent homes.

Gevgelija, Macedonia October 2015/Lesvos Island, June 2016.

The now famous field of Idomeni at the border between Greece and Macedonia went from a tiny transit camp to an improvised village housing 15 000 thousand people to what it is today, an empty field. The thousand of refugees were relocated in Northern Greece and the camp emptied.

Idomeni, Greece, October 2015/May 2016.

Thousand of empty tents filled with personal objects tell the stories of all the refugees who used to live in Idomeni.

Idomeni, Greece, October 2015/May 2016.

The trains used to take refugees from the Southern border of Macedonia to the Northern border with Serbia. The tracks have since been used as camping area and are now deserted of refugees and trains alike.

 Gevgelija, Macedonia, October 2015/Idomeni, Greece,May 2016.


For more information on my work in 2015 on the journey of refugees from Lebanon to Macedonia:

Exile, a photo essay

Journey in Stagnation - Entre exil et stagnation

In October and November 2015, I have covered the refugee crisis from the camps at the Syrian border in Lebanon all the way to Berlin passing by Greek islands and mainland and through Macedonia (FYROM). What was once a dangerous journey towards a new life is now uncertainty and stagnation for thousands of refugees stuck in camps in Greece since the deal with Turkey last March 20th.

Three weeks ago, I’ve arrived once again in Athens to show through my pictures how the situation changed for these people in these time of political uncertainty. A comparison of two different realities showing the transition from the past to the present. A series of diptychs telling two different stories of the same place.


Durant les mois d’octobre et novembre 2015, j’ai couvert la crise des réfugiés à partir des camps à la frontière Syrienne au Liban en passant par la Grèce, la Macédoine et finalement jusqu’en Allemagne. Ce qui était jadis un périple ardu vers une vie meilleure est maintenant devenu un état d’insécurité et de stagnation en Grèce depuis la signature de l’accord avec la Turquie le 20 mars dernier.

Une comparaison en images de la réalité passée par rapport aux changements du présent. Des diptyques racontant deux histoires opposées se déroulant dans un même lieu à deux moments différents. La première image de chaque diptyqe fut prise en Octobre 2015 alors que la seconde entre les mois de mai et juin 2016.

 

Arrival of the boats on Lesvos -  L'arrivée des bateaux sur Lesbos.

Molyvos harbor  -  Port de Molyvos

Arrival in Europe  -  Arrivée en Europe

Beaches ofLesvos  -  Les plages de Lesbos

A walk on Lesvos  -  Promenade sur Lesbos

Emptiness onthe beach  -  Absence sur les plages

From a hill to a mountain  -  De colline à montagne sur Lesbos

Freedom of Movement  -  Liberté de déplacement

From refugees to tourists  -  De réfugiés à touriste au port de Molyvos.

The gigantic boats in Piraeus harbor  -  L'immensité des paquebots à Piraeus, port d'Athènes

Life in the refugee camps  -  La vie dans les camps de réfugiés

Emptiness of Idomeni  -  Le vide d'Idomeni

Idomeni

The train towards Macedonia  -  Le train vers la Macédoine

Ce qui reste de l'enjeu des déchêts sur l'ile de Lesvos

Ile de Lesbos, juin 2016

Depuis l’accord passé entre l’Union Européenne et la Turquie et le 20 mars dernier, les bateaux pneumatiques de réfugiés ont cessé de faire la traversée de la mer Égée entre les côtes Turques jusqu’aux plages grecques. L’ile de Lesbos est célèbre comme un point névralgique de la crise des réfugiés avec plusieurs dizaines de milliers y ayant accosté et trop souvent périt dans la dangereuse traversée. La situation maintenant retombée à la presque normalité, un enjeu environnemental demeure. Les milliers de bateaux pneumatiques et gilets de sauvetage jonchant les plages de cette ile très touristique n'ont pas été nettoyés en totalité.

Avec l’aide de nombreuses organisations et volontaires locaux comme internationaux, la situation s’est stabilisée.  Les plages principales ont retrouvé leur éclat et n’attendent que les touristes. Des bénévoles se relaient afin d’atteindre les plages plus difficilement accessibles afin de poursuivre le nettoyage.

Même s’il est bien difficile pour un touriste d’imaginer l’immensité des événements s’étant déroulés sur l’ile vu la propreté omniprésente, un enjeu majeur à long terme est encore en manque de solution; se débarrasser des gilets et bateaux entreposés sur l’ile. À l’abri des regards dans les terres, une immense montagne de déchets rappelle l’immensité des événements passés. À perte de vue, des dizaines de milliers de vestes de flottaison et bateaux pneumatiques s’entassent sans aucun plan concret à long terme pour s’en débarrasser. 

Dans les buissons aux abords d’une plage, les restes d’un Coran abandonné, probablement endommagé dans la traversée.

Chaque objet raconte une histoire passée, les souliers d’une famille, trempés à la sortie du bateau.

Dans les magnifiques paysages typiquement grecs de l’ile, des traces du lourd passé sont encore visibles en s’éloignant des sentiers battus.

Des bénévoles explorent les régions reculées de l’ile afin de nettoyer ce qui reste.

Il est très difficile de retirer les épaves des embarcations de fortune. Les roches et l’eau se déposent sur le solide plastique et obligent les équipes de bénévoles à découper morceaux par morceaux les bateaux.

Certaines plages étant inaccessibles par la route, les équipes de nettoyage préparent les piles de déchets à être récupérées prochainement par voie maritime. 

Une partie des matériaux provenant des bateaux est recyclée et réutilisée comme ici pour isoler un abri extérieur mais il serait irréaliste de penser réutiliser la totalité des bateaux sur l’ile.

À l’abri des regards, un dépotoir improvisé contient la majeure partie des milliers de vestes et bateaux arrivés sur l’ile.

La situation est maintenant stable et le désastre écologique sur l’ile a été évité mais il est capital d’établir un plan pour débarrasser l’ile de cette montagne.

À perte de vue, chaque gilet représente un réfugié arrivé sur l’ile, une personne ayant risqué sa vie dans la dangereuse traversée.

La plage de Skala Sikamimeas, point culminant de la crise et principal lieux d’arrivée des bateaux a maintenant regagné sa condition de paradis terrestre.

Les magnifiques paysages de Lesbos sont de nouveau prêts à recevoir les touristes.