“We need a solution!” – Refugees protest in front of Schisto camp

20160314_130847_resized_1“We need a solution!”, says Mohamed an afghan refugee who protest together with other refugees from Afghanistan in front of the camp Schisto in Attika Region. “Our papers are to expire! We demand from the Greek government to renew them for one month more. Otherwise we will get illegalised and they might detain us here or even deport us back”, he says.

Along the protesters is also a woman from Afghanistan, who is trying to describe the situation inside the camp, inside the big tent where she and her children are sleeping. “The wind blows through the tent. There is no heating. Lately rain water entered the tent. Each of us has just two blankets in order to warm herself in the night. We are freezing! How can I survive with my children under these conditions?”, she says. Next to her is a couple of very elderly refugees also from Afghanistan and a young woman with a serious health problem. She can be fed through a tube that is in her stomach. “The doctors here told me to solely drink water.”

The refugees outside Schisto are complaining that whatever problem they have, the doctors give them just one kind of medicine. According to media reports in this camp are currently 2,000 refugees. Many of them who are in the small tents have to sleep on blankets on the ground. The former army camp is under the surveillance of the military. It was opened in mid February following the pressure on Athens when Brussels demanded the Greek government to quickly open the hot spots and relocation centers.

Although Schisto was planned as a relocation center, currently there are many refugees from Afghanistan, who cannot participate to the program. So they are stuck there, with the only perspective to make an asylum request in Greece and with the fear to be deported back to Afghanistan, in case the EU and Turkey agree during the EU summit on 17./18. March. The original plan was to keep the refugees not longer than 72 hours in this camp and the total capacity was planned to reach in maximum 4,000 in the future.

10478585_10205730074506819_7708127930553335105_nAt 9th of March around 200 refugees from Schisto had started a protest, trying to walk many kilometers in order to reach from Schisto the center of Athens. Their demand was to open the borders. More than 45,000 refugees are said to be in Greece wright now, most of them enduring in the devastating conditions of mass camps with the only hope being a soon re-opening of the land borders to Macedonia and from the through the Balkans.

On Monday the deputy defence minister said, that he estimated that the majority of the refugees would stay in Greece up to two years and some of them permanently. Concerning the refugees in Idomeni he said that they are obviously waiting for the results of the Brussels meeting, hoping that EU-leaders would allow them to pass the borders in the end. The government had the task to convince them that this will not happen, he underlined. According to him, the transit camp in Idomeni will get empty after the summit, hopefully, in the end of the next week. He furthermore stated, that there was enough space for them to stay in the three camps near the borders.

Fact is, that in many cases refugees are afraid to go to the camps because they think they will be readmitted back to Turkey and because the situation in the camps is very bad. Refugees and activists report about camps in the periphery where refugees have to sleep in tents full of mud, without the permission to exit the camps – like i.e. in the camp of Larissa. In many cases refugees who have been transported from Athens or Thessaloniki to camps, decided to leave the camps and try to find another place to stay by themselves. Meanwhile, volunteers are trying to find private homes for vulnerable cases, like families with babies or disabled persons.

The situation in the port of Piraeus is very difficult too. More than 4,000 refugees have to sleep on blankets in the terminals or in tents outside. The heavy rains of the last days made the situation in the port even worse. The stone warehouse and the terminals at the gates E1 and E2 are full. According to media reports on Sunday 300 refugees have been moved to camps to Ritsona and Malakasa. There is an urgent need for information about their rights and for accommodation for families and vulnerable cases.

No employees of organizations that can inform refugees are present during weekends at the port, despite the high needs. “Νobody cares what will happen to us. Europe cares just about money. We cannot trust no one anymore”, says a 23 years old woman from Iraq. Many refugees ask for a place to take a shower. Some returned back from Idomeni, exhausted, ill and in some cases even suffering from hypothermia. Mainly families came back. They try to apply for relocation to other EU-countries in the Asylum Service of Athens. If not vulnerable case, appointments for languages like Arabic, are just possible by skype.

Many refugees from Syria and Iraq are confused. They dont know where to sleep. Hotels for relocation cases are already full in Athens. It was decided that 66.400 applicants shall be relocated from Greece the next two years. 1,600 applications have been made since the start of program in November 2015, but just 765 have been approved. 74 have been rejected. Only 569 refugees were finally transferred to another EU-country since November.

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... is like a “paper boat”. We chose this as a metaphor for what we want to create and for the situation of refugees and migrants in Greece. The paper boat is a folded boat able to swim – for a while. Then you have to build a new one to go on travelling. A paper boat is symbolic for the journey of life, vulnerable but in your own hands and to be recreated again and again. It is simple, but it carries many hopes and dreams. It can dance on a turbulent sea. It belongs to everybody. And it might become the small version – like a first draft – of a welcome-space.

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