I am pleased to welcome my friend and teammate Kate DiMarco Ruck to tigerbug for a special guest post about the situation in Athens. The honestly crafted text below was originally a simple post she put on Facebook to try to explain just a fraction of what we've been seeing here.
This is a dire situation. The Prime Minister of Greece toured one of the camps last week and called it the worst camp situation since the Holocaust. Our friends here at the port are only slightly in a better situation. Primarily, everyone is in a tent (some are pup tents, I've seen one or two play tents, some are fairly decent camping tents), on the open concrete parking lot, next to a port where it can be very cold and windy. There are so many children here. Some young, single men don't have tents at all, just blankets in the open air. The refugees are squatting on private land. The tents surround small terminals where ferry passengers are usually sent to wait for their boats to island holidays. Everyone who lives and works here (including us), is breaking the law. The water or electricity could be turned off at any point. Some refugees are situated inside the terminal. The benefit of this is that it is warm and protected from the rain. Yesterday it hailed and was so cold. I thought about all the children I saw without socks. Or hats. Or coats. Life inside the terminal, while protected from weather, is loud, bright, smokey, crowded and public. Blankets are laid out on the floor to designate space. There is no protection of personal belongings. There is no shelter from harmful people. I worry about Human Trafficers and the young girls housed here. Fighting at night is very commonplace. It used to be that Syrians, Afghanis and Kurds were separated in different camps to prevent conflict. That is no longer possible as there are over 4000 souls placed at the ports. The cultural mixing leads to clashes and fights. It is impossible to sleep, to feel secure to breathe and relax. Everyone is on high alert. No one knows what will happen tomorrow, where they should go- are they safer here or should they move to another camp, will they be forgotten there? There are rumors about the other camps- it is wet, muddy, remote- food is scarce. There are rumors about different ways to get passage to the rest of Europe.
This morning there was no breakfast for our friends. The Red Cross decided that they would only bring breakfast every other day. There was no warning and no contingency plan. Tonight, the dinner at one camp was spoiled. So all our friends had was lunch. The children got their milk and there was one tea time, but today, some people just had lunch. There is a stadium full of supply donations from all over the world, and yet it seems like only our friend Fadi with his commercial van is the one transporting the donations to the camps. A drop in the bucket.
While there are many well intentioned volunteers, it is said that no one is truly in charge. One hand doesn't know what the other hand is doing. Everyone is doing their best just to get by. A group came in today and their mission was to just wash the babies. Not all the children, just the babies. Mothers were given numbers and waited in line.
Most of the refugees haven't showered in over two weeks. Today there was a small shower available at one camp, and while its presence was celebrated, I don't know how many were able to benefit. I'll never forget the group of pubescent girls who begged me yesterday to tell them where they could take a shower.
We have separated the aid donations from our carriers. As we travel through the camps, we try to find very inconspicuous ways of handing this out. Last night we walked through the camps and it was so upsetting to see so many children without outerwear, especially as it had just hailed and was freezing. . I now stuff all my pockets with socks, hats and gloves. I scan crowds for bare feet, cold hands, and uncovered tiny heads. When fitting a mom with a carrier, I try to outfit her whole family. A hat for the baby, socks for little brother, gloves for the older sister, an emergency blanket, multiple protein bars and packets of vitamin C. Thank you all for your wonderful donations of this aid. Our distribution almost has to be done in stealth, because we can be soon overwhelmed by children and parents, curious and sometimes demanding about what we have to offer. Several times today I had to chase young boys who snatched our carriers and ran. I tell them I'm happy to fit their younger sibling, but they need to bring the baby to us. It hurts my heart to scold anyone in such a situation.
Tonight we fit numerous carriers and the parents were very receptive. I made the contact I needed to be able to help in the medical camper with breastfeeding moms. I also promised the doctor I would provide them with carriers and train them how to fit their patients. We met a young nursing mom and her 3 month old baby this morning and I reassured her that she is doing what is normal and best for her baby. Nawara and I visited her family later to check on them and we were able to do an assessment. She and her husband were so young and so beautiful, the injustice of their lives being what seems like forever paused in this place is unbearable. The husband doesn't sleep because of the fights that happen at night, people entering their blanket space and taking their belongings, he is in constant alert to protect his wife and child. He told us that if things don't change, he will bring his small family back to Syria because at least if they are faced with such terrible things, they will be in the comfort of their home. It is worse in the camps.
I didn't know what detention camps really were before this. I always considered them to be for criminals who needed to be separate from the public. But these are detention camps. People are held with no information, no options, no opportunities, miles away from the city and any services they could hope to use. They depend on food deliveries that are not dependable. There is a limited capacity to sanitation and no showers. The aid workers rarely speak their language and it is exhausting to explain what you mean, over and over again. There is nothing to do. It is cold and can be wet. They sit and wait and wait. Paralyzed by fear of making the wrong choice of going somewhere else and ending up in a worse situation. Families are torn a part. Now that the Euro borders are closed, people who have loved ones in Germany and other stable countries, have no idea if they will ever be reunited. We have met countless single mothers with multiple children whose husbands are in places like Germany and they don't know if they will ever be reunited. They are stuck, their children growing up without their father, not knowing the benefit of a secure relationship.
I don't know how to wrap up this update. I thank you all for your wonderful words of love and support. They have really gotten all of us through this. We are not heroes, we are witnesses, helpers and now friends. The work is so invigorating and rewarding to us all. We all want to be here and want to help the families we meet.
I ask you my friends, how can we help these people? What will it take for the US to wake up and realize what is going on? How can we demand the EU to figure out the border issue and open the borders to allow these human beings access to safety and stability we all take for granted. ? Where is the justice and equity in this world when these people cannot control their own fate, cannot secure a life out of limbo for their children, do not share the essential human right of life and freedom that we all have the advantage of living every day? When will these children go to school? Be lifted up off the ground in sleep? Enjoy the simple pleasure of playing at a playground free from fear and danger that so many of us cavort in every day?
The situation is dire. This is an emergency. The relative peace at these camps will only last for so long.