Here, our coordinator Gary Rolston shares his experiences of the first week of work (June 21).
I have now been onsite for 1 week in Sounio at the southern tip of Greece mainland at a camp for people applying for asylum. There are many of these around Greece with varying levels of population and quality. This camp is an ex-summer camp for children, and now repurposed. There are 400 residents housed over about 70 individual cabins, and basic dorm style rooms. I’ve heard this is pretty good (the best perhaps?) compared to other camps. There are other camps with 2000+ people. Bear in mind that this camp is not the “first response” camps like Lesvos, for example, where the asylum seekers are landing direct from the boats. They are away from immediate danger. This is the place they get send to afterwards to wait, to wait, to wait. They are in a holding pattern for their asylum applications to be processed.
There is the Hellenic Navy who run the camp to ensure everyone’s basic needs are met, but then it has been up to volunteer organisations to fill any gaps to try and create a resemblance of a normal life while they are in a complete state of flux and uncertainty. We (A Drop in the Ocean) are now a team of 5 hard working volunteers and have started with distribution of items such as clothes and shoes. It will expand more as we go. We have sorted through containers of donated clothes to be ready, and yesterday we opened our “shop” to start first distribution.
Some things I have found:
1. The camp is not a detention centre and the residents have the ability to leave the camp and go to town, the beach etc.
2. A lot of people are highly qualified university educated people.
3. They are using the time to learn English.
4. Clothes that donated through the donation bins are quite often terrible quality and falling to pieces.
5. We are missing so many basic items for the residents here.
6. There are a lot of young children!
7. The people want clarity or a plan for what will happen. They want to be reunited with their family members – it’s their support network.
8. Each organisation is struggling to keep up donation levels for the ongoing refugee crisis.
We have many things that we want to do in the camp to make it a more hospitable place while they wait. It’s slow trying to assist and mostly it just needs a coordinated effort to make small bits of progress in the camp. I think we are on the right track. See some photos from the last week.
On June 26, Trude Jacobsen, the Secretary General of our organisation, visited the camp. Here are her impressions:
Today I had the pleasure of visiting our staff and residents in camp Sounio. Our team is a wonderful multinational combination of Swedish, Spanish, Dutch, Irish and Australian.
I am so impressed when I see what the Drops have managed to do in less than two weeks!
We are doing NFI distribution. As you can see from coordinator Garys shirt, building shelves in a container can be pretty hot!
We also do English classes. Today Ross was teaching the students medical phrases. Nice to know how to express sympthoms if you need to see a doctor. Afterwards students (mostly women) and volunteers had conversations about family sizes, weddings in different cultures, education, food and other interesting topics. I felt like I could have been there for hours, and felt almost sad when the “school day” finished.
In the evening it was time for food distribution. Each family got their basket filled up with hot food, today kebab and rice, oranges, dates, pita, sweets and sodas. A great teamwork between the commander and his staff, Maro from Organisation Earth, the residents and the Drops made the serving to 400 people done in no time.
Then it was just to wait for the sun to go down before we all could enjoy the food together.
A great day in beautiful surroundings. My guess is that this might be among one of the best camps in Greece.