thursday: Elliniko

Today I met with another organization working with refugees in Greece. Faros was started by a couple Danes, but is strongly linked with several Greek churches and has been working, focused mainly on unaccompanied refugee minors since 2013. They run activities in a camp I visited today (more on that later) for children, a shelter with space for unaccompanied minors to stay and 2 centers for women and children only that provide showers, children’s activities, snacks and tea, etc. They take shorter term volunteers in the centers and I’m planning on volunteering there a couple days a week when the other center is really slow. They’re a UNICEF blue dot facility and I was impressed in their orientation and materials and am excited to learn more and participate a little next week. The husband will even help a little, but in the kitchen preparing and serving. By not allowing men at all (other than in the kitchen) it creates a culturally appropriate gender appropriate safe space for women and children.

Following the meeting with their volunteer coordinator we sprinted (or rather rode the metro) across town back to the other center. Another couple who have been volunteering for the past several weeks in the center and goes home this weekend, had voiced interest in visiting one of the camps that the guests at the center come from before they leave. Today one of the Iranian guys (early 20s I think?) that volunteers/translates at the center and just moved out of one of the camps offered to take them for a couple hours today. We tagged along to Elliniko, which is really three semi separate camps grouped together on the grounds of the old airport that was closed when the new/current one was opened in preparation for the Olympics in 2004. Greece then built a handful of Olympic Stadiums on the grounds (baseball, soccer, etc.) that are now unused. One of the camps is in the arrival hall of the abandoned airport, the other two are each in vacant stadiums, with a few larger platform tents outside. It’s a pretty otherworldly site – the abandoned airport complete with jet ways, departure/arrival signs, runways, etc. The stadiums with concession booths and signs, bleachers in various states of decay and then the reality of the refugee camps in rows of tents, clothes hung to dry, food smells and piles of children everywhere. If you’re interested, googling “Elliniko refugee camp” and looking at the images shows you a few. I didn’t take any (they’re not allowed of course) and have mixed thoughts about posting them here so am going to refrain.

From what I can tell, it’s still an ‘unofficial’ camp, but that’s just my best understanding. We ran into few people seeming to be official, staff or really even volunteers. Faros runs a children’s organization and there was a locked classroom (we were there earlier then they are today) with children’s art in the windows and there was a mobile medical vehicle each from both MSF and Doctors of the World. MSF has a team of midwives, a primary care physician and psychologists that provide care on site at certain times and Doctors of the World has I believe a physician, psychologists and a dentist providing care on site. I believe at least one of them has a couple volunteers in off hours for emergency purposes as well. Other than these two organizations we didn’t come across anything in the way of services in our time there. However, we were only in one of the three parts of the camp. Additionally, it looked like the camp had just received a food delivery of some sort, several people had boxes with yogurt, prepared food and water and we saw a truck that was labeled as Halal.

Still processing the visit, my thoughts on it are percolating still. I’ve written a bit more about interacting with people there, but it’s fairly raw still so will wait as I process and mull it over before I share more here.

Thank you to the couple of you that have posted, proving at least a few people are reading this. 🙂

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