The borders are shut and tensions are running high in the refugee camps, as people become increasingly desperate about their future. A few days ago, in Souda on the island of Chios, refugees set fire to the rubbish skips as a protest. The fire spread and was only put out after a couple of hours by the fire brigade with the help of the police and the locals whose houses it threatened – but not before severely damaging two large tents used by NGOs and the UN High Comissioner for Refugees, some offices and a load of equipment. One of the firemen was injured.
In the sprawling border camp of Idomeni, in Northern Greece, police had to use tear gas to break up clashes between rival groups of rock-throwing Pakistani and Afghan migrants; incidents of violence along ethnic lines have become a daily reality. At Elliniko camp in Athens, hundreds of people, mostly Afghans, refused to eat because of the quality of the food and because of their belief that Syrians are receiving preferential treatment at their expense.
There are still nearly 60,000 refugees stranded in Greece, although the flow from Turkey has abated since the deal in March between Brussels and Ankara. However, it has not lessened as much as shifted – they have now gone back to trying to reach Italy from Libya, and hundreds have drowned in the Mediterranean in the last few weeks (this route is longer and more dangerous). In total there have been 10,000 deaths in the Mediterranean since January of 2014.
Meanwhile, tireless and feisty volunteers are continuing to give their all to help their fellow man. The Dirty Girls of Lesvos (see previous post, here) have saved more than 10,000 blankets from ending up in a landfill. Hearing the Idomeni camp was to be emptied, they came over and collected around 15 tons of bedding, to clean and re-distribute to other camps. Alison Terry-Evans says: ‘A clean blanket is a small way for people to have a little dignity in an underserved situation.’
Other volunteers are bringing water to camps where there is none; some deal with vulnerable groups; some with cleanliness; some with training and education of the refugees. Some set up WiFi in the camps (like Ilias Papadopoulos or Ben Ridge) or lay wooden floors in the tents, paid for out their own pocket.
Take a look at the video below, and you will see why Iokasti Nikolaidi spent three months cooking, together with up to 15 of her friends, on the island of Samos. Her husband, a fireman, was upset with the deaths he was witnessing. Iokasti was on maternity leave, having just given birth to her fourth child, and had not been out and about. When she went with him to see the hundreds of desperate, dispossessed, exhausted people, and especially the crying kids, she wanted to help. ‘Why don’t you cook something?’ said her husband.
Iokasti called her friends; they started with 30 portions, and slowly built up, with the help of other women, to their record – 4,380 portions one day! Spurred on by a photo of her holding a sick baby – she was initially angry with the photographer for taking it – volunteers from England and the rest of Europe came to help, and people sent money and supplies. Her worst nightmare: when the food finished, and the last people in the endless lines got none, after having waited for hours. This was her last thought when falling into bed at night: ‘If we don’t cook tomorrow, these people won’t eat.’