13 Nov TRIP TO GREECE #hayatinetworkrefugee
We chose to go to Athens for several reasons. Firstly , we had already established contacts there and we knew, therefore, that with their experience and help, we would be able to make an extremely effective job during our stay. Athens is furthermore a city that most of the refugees pass. Everyone coming by boat, for example via Turkey, eventually pass Athens to continue their trip by train and bus. In this way we could also follow them a bit.
We arrived in Athens on a Thursday afternoon and started our work directly . The same day , the Greek government decided to move a large part of the refugees who were located in Victoria Square (a large square in the city) , a large sports arena in the city’s outskirts. The arena was built in connection with the 2004 Olympics and has been idle since then.
What we did immediately was to locate where the refugees were, which proved to be almost everywhere. They came with boats in the harbor, some walked around the streets just to continue further with buses. Most aim to get through Macedonia to Germany or further north. We also went and visited several different refugee camps. We realized pretty quickly that we would encounter some resistance. It was not popular that we, who come from outside, would get an insight into their work. To begin with, these camps financed by the Greek Government, which in turn receives grants from the rest of Europe. What the contributions are used for, we honestly do not know.
Because what we saw was far from being funded by the grants. In addition, they were very disorganized. Hayati Network was the only ones in place who were able to visit these places that were not from the Greek authorities or an aid organization. Despite the fact that the refugees are there on a free basis, they are guarded by police officers and shielded from the outside world by means of large gates. We were not allowed to take pictures or talk to the refugees, probably because the Greek authorities did not want to show that they did not have the situation under control. After a lot of ifs and buts and several discussions, we managed to get a permit to continue to visit one of the camps. Others simply refused to let us in.
Where we at last were let inside, it was chaos. If you put 1200 persons in a large gymnasium with access to about 6 toilets and a few showers with ice cold water, you might be able to imagine.
People who have not been able to shower or change clothes for weeks. A strong odor was in the air and it felt like there were hardly any oxygen left in the room. Children wept inconsolably and everyone was laying helter-skelter on the floor or in tents.
Volunteers were working around the clock, but it still was not enough. Our dear Konstantionos Polychronopoulos and his associates from “The Other Human” were those who cooked and served food for all these people. Had they not done that, the refugees would have been without food. There were also voluntary doctors on site who treated those in greatest need.
Based on what we saw, it was basically just volunteers who made the camps go around, or it did not, but they did the best they could. The more days that went by, the more officials arrived to the camps and the monitoring became stricter, but the situation was hardly better . But then it should be added that we were there the first three days. How it looks like today, we cannot comment on. However, the Greek people should get a lot of credit for having opened their hearts. So many people who constantly arrived and left clothes and other necessities, but whether they were distributed to the intended refugees or not, has to be left unsaid .
We charted what the refugees were in most need of, both at the camp and for those who were on the streets. With the help of our interpreter and good friend Ahmad Edris, we visited several wholesalers to purchase necessities such as underwear, T-shirts, socks, soap, etc. (to see exactly what we bought see previous posts).
We chose on the one hand to give to those who found themselves on the street. Everything they owned and had was the backpack that each one carried with them. It also served as a cushion for those trying to get some sleep, on a park bench or directly on the street. At the stadium, they refused at first to let us in and said that we could leave our supplies at the gate, they would take care of it. After long negotiations and sour faces, we were allowed to come in, as the only ones in place that were not from the Greek authorities or the Greek volunteers. It was always important to us that we would distribute the supplies ourselves so that we could ensure that the aid actually reached the intended people. But also to guarantee it to those who helped and supported and contributed from home Sweden. What we carry with us from there are not the things we bought, but all these stories we were told, the wonderful people we got to meet and that we managed to put a smile on many people’s faces. And the real enthusiasts there is, people like Konstantinos or Ahmed and many others who devote their lives to helping others. What we did was just a fraction of what many others do, and should be honored for that! It is in our humanity to care, to love, and above all take care of each other!
Our first charity project is thus completed. We would like to thank everyone who helped and followed this project, supported or contributed in their small way. More projects are in the pipeline, so we say:
See you again!