In our second week in Athens, we responded to a Facebook request asking for someone with a car to help deliver supplies to a camp called Skaramangas. What we thought would be a quick job, turned out to be a long but rewarding afternoon and evening. Because of this trip, we met some amazing volunteers and refugees. (N.B. Another blog to follow with a much, much longer story about one particular family that we met.)
Skaramangas is one of the better official camps in Greece, although it is not without its problems. Situated near a foul-smelling industrial zone, 8 miles outside of Athens, its residents sleep in air-conditioned cabins and its facilities are of a higher standard than most.1
However, outside the walls is a small unofficial camp with around 60 tents. The people in these tents hoped that by setting up outside the official camp, they would eventually be allowed in. Rumour has it that they might have been let in this morning (fingers crossed the rumours are true!), but when we were there these people were in a desperate situation: living in a hot and dusty corner right next to huge road, without running water, toilets or regular access to food. It was to this unofficial camp that we had agreed to help deliver and give out supplies.
The delivery had been arranged by Cecilia, Zeynep and Leslie: three friends who had travelled from Istanbul, Barcelona and Boston to volunteer in Athens. They were supported by Percin, an entrepreneur, also from Istanbul who was visiting Greece and had connected with them through Facebook. They are veterans of the crisis and knew what they were doing, so we followed their lead. We met at their rental apartment in central Athens to load the cars before making the 30 minute trip to the camp.
To help give out the supplies, which consisted of vital baby food, nappies and hygiene products, we were assisted by a wonderful group of young men living in the main, official camp: a mixture of Syrian and Kurdish refugees – a warm, friendly and helpful bunch. ‘Crowd control’ is a factor when working with tired and hungry people, so our young men helped manage the queues and translated for us as we distributed supplies.
We spent several hours at the camp without too much trouble, until one angry man accused Faye of being from the Greek Government (why, we do not know). Needless to say he was not a big fan of the Greek Government, and therefore not too keen on Faye. At this point, we had given out most of the supplies and decided it would be safer to call it a day.
To say thank you to our young friends, we took them out for some food at a nearby roadside cafe. To hear their stories is upsetting and shocking, but their spirit and attitude is inspiring. We saw photos of the aftermath of bombings in their home towns (images too shocking to appear in the British media), found out about the journeys they’d taken and the family members they’d left behind, and heard about the problems in the official Skaramangas camp (a small group of trouble-makers stealing, threatening and committing acts of violence against other residents with the Greek police refusing to do anything about it). As the sun set, we took our friends back to the camp and then headed home.