This is the second of five articles in the series “Athens: The Crisis Within the Crisis” (click here) INSERT LINK: http://www.europeanaffairs.media/2016/05/28/athens-crisis-within-cris
In the middle of an industrial area is Eleonas Hospitality Camp for Refugees. Friendly men in worn working clothes happily indicate the way, along a very dusty road, where one has to dodge rattling cars, and watch out for steel trash on the ground. Suddenly, through an opening in a wall, appears a village of simple barracks. The lazy police dog lets me through, and while the camp workers check my permission, I have a look around.
Within the walls
The area is covered with asphalt. The barracks are standardized, industrially produced, mounted on concrete bollards, with roofs made from tin plates. They look old and worn out, grass and flowers growing around the bollards. This is the old part of the camp, which was build about a year ago. Many children are playing around, and there are more women than men, most of them with headscarf. Some are queuing in front of one barrack called AΠOΘHKH (“apothiki”), where something is distributed. The people in the queue wear cheap clothes, a random mix. But there are also some more elegantly dressed “middle class refugees”. Some are coming and going through the gate, apparently registering at an office barrack. Most of the people look like Syrians, some like Afghans. In-between the other tasks, one office worker makes several phone calls to the ministry, while I also call my contact in the state administration. Eventually, one camp worker brings me for a tour.
A guided tour
The oldest part of the camp was made at the beginning of the refugee crisis. Here is one part for families, another for singles. Next to the family barracks is one barrack for the Red Cross / Red Crescent, another one for the interpreter’s association and the SOS Children Villages. Some young men are playing football in the sunshine. Besides the barracks for singles, we find the improvised office of the UNHCR, and a barrack for food distribution. The food is delivered from a large kitchen that belongs to the navy. A few people are standing in line to pick up their lunch packages. At dinnertime, there is much more activity, my guide tells me. Next to the main camp is a new one. It was made to accommodate refugees who lived in tents at Pireus Port. The army has installed the barracks, with water and wastewater system. The new camp is divided by country of origin: one part for persons from Syria, another for persons from Afghanistan, and a small part for persons from Iraq. It is easy for people to interact with someone from the same place as themselves. My guide leaves, and I head for the Syrian section.
The “Syrian quarter”
Between the barracks are narrow paths. Under the laundry, a small boy is playing. He points a plastic machine gun at me. The “Syrian quarter” of the camp is overcrowded. Only the very basic infrastructure is in place. The wastewater system is solid enough for disease control, but each toilet has to be shared by several families. I meet two young men who look after their daughters and nieces. They tell that they get food every day, but they are worried about the nutritional value of eating mostly pasta. The meat comes from donations. My guide had told me that all food donations have to be delivered in the original packages from the supermarket, for food safety reasons. The refugees show me vacuum packed chicken with mould inside. The fresh food had become uneatable before arriving to them. Local people donate clothes, shoes, and products of personal hygiene. There are plenty of clothes, and it is a logistic task to put winter clothes on storage and getting the summer clothes out. One father had brought his sick daughter to the Red Cross barrack, but they advised him to go to the Ambolokipi Hospital. This treats poor Greeks and asylum seekers, but is hard to find for a foreigner. With many technical worries, there is a need for practical and mental relief. Eight youngsters arrive with drums and other instruments, led by girl and a boy who are somewhat older. The boy wears a black t-shirt with a red star. The young people start to play with the children in the camp.
The camp is run by the Ministry of Immigration, under the Syriza government. It provides the most vital services, but not much more. This is achieved with very little funding, by mobilizing the kitchen from the navy, plumbers from the army, social services from the United Nations, health services from Non-Governmental Organizations, and cultural activities from volunteers. Old resources are combined in innovative ways, to provide vital services.
An old woman comes up to my guide, complaining about the lack of electrical power. “Ma fi kahraba” she says in Arabic, pointing to the cables. The worker explains in simple English that she does not know when it would be fixed. The electric power comes from the municipality. After the new part of the camp was build, the municipality ha s failed to upgrade the capacity of the electric power supply, resulting in constant power breaks. We look around: The camp is located in the middle of an industrial area. The weak power supply cannot be due to bad capacity, but must be a result of absent coordination.
As I leave the camp, it appears that a third section is being constructed. People with vehicles from the fire brigade are involved in setting up new barracks. Behind them are some men with military vehicles, busily installing new water and wastewater tubes.
Photo: From the “Syrian quarter” within Eleonas refugee camp (by Helge Hiram Jensen)