“We have been working with the refugees for almost a month. Unfortunately, I can say that the problem is becoming more complicated. The number of refugees arriving is increasing by the day. Around 2,000 arrive in Athens daily from the Greek islands. Most of them are staying in Athens from a few hours to a few days. Greece is not their final destination and most want to go to Germany, Austria or Sweden. However, a number of them are trapped in Athens because they lack money to continue their journey.
At the centre of Athens in an area called Pedion Areos, near our centre, they have set up a camp where they pitched their tents to find shelter from the hot weather and some safety. The number of tents increases every week as the number of people arriving also increases. We estimate that during the last week the number of people staying in the camp has gone up from 250 to 450.”
Until recently the people had water from a single tap running water 24 hours a day and 2 portable toilets. Two days ago the number of toilets increased to 8. The conditions in the camp are appalling. At the end of last week the health authorities visited the camp to assess the health conditions. Also, doctors visited the tents to find children sick with temperature; 10 were taken to local hospitals.
On the other hand, we have seen that the help arriving from NGOs and local residents is increasing by the day. They provide water, soap, food, nappies, formula milk and clothing.
As The Salvation Army we were at the camp from the first days it was set up giving out food and milk for the children and clothing. Every day at 7.30 in the morning, we visit the camp and a local square and distribute food.”
He goes on to tell us how moves to alleviate the situation are fraught with difficulties:
“The Greek government is trying to set up a camp in another area of Athens with containers where people can be transferred. I am not sure if the camp will bring more organised help or will only move the problem out of the centre of Athens.”
Greece is one stop on a journey, yet it is a significant one. Here Major Pantelidis tells us about that journey:
“Around 2,000 people arrive every day from Turkey to the Greek islands of Mytilini, Kos and Leros. They stay on the islands for a few days until the police issue them a permit to stay for up to six months. Once they receive the document, they travel to Athens by boat. From Piraeus: the port, with buses or the metro they arrive in the centre of Athens where they move to Pedion Areos and Victoria Square. There they meet with other countrymen who give them information on how to continue their journeys. Most of them leave Athens on the same day, around 40 coaches leave daily from Athens to Thessaloniki. From Thessaloniki, they travel to Edomeni, a train station near the borders of the FYRO Macedonia and they cross the borders on foot. The FYRO Macedonia authorities issue them with a pass to cross the country. By walking or with public transport they go to Serbia to continue their journey until they reach one of their final destinations.
It is so sad to see young men and women and families with children going through all this.
The majority of those who come to Greece are young men. There are also many young families with small children and young women. It is very rare to see families with older people, although there are some. Among all these people, there are many unaccompanied minors. Today at the camp at Pedion Areos, it was reported that there were 10 unaccompanied minors. It would not surprise me if these children are being trafficked.
I trust that the information above is of some help. I believe that the problem is bigger than we can see. Maria, who works with girls on the streets, told me that she has seen some Syrian girls working in the streets and some of them underage. This is very sad because Syrian communities are strong and the family values are equally strong. Maybe this is a sign of desperation or they are victims of trafficking.”
If you would like to know more about the work in Greece through the Salvation Army or wish to support it in any way, please contact Heather Roy firstname.lastname@example.org