The refugees that had been stuck at border of Idomeni since early this spring have now been in the camps set up by the Greek government for just over 4 months. What you hear are stories of sadness and despair, families torn apart by border closures, depression, and more. The people all want to move on, they want to get their families back together again, and they desperately want out of the dreary, hard, noisy, buildings that have become their homes.
SCM is working in two camps at the moment: Karamanlis and Frakapor. While somewhat similar in size, they couldn’t be more different. They are about a five minute drive from each other, but Karamanlis is located in sort of an industrial park area with other buildings surrounding it, including a building being rented by another group that SCM has partnered with, called Swiss Cross. The warehouse serves as a storage place for all the donations that have come in for the camp, an office space for the two organizations, a community center, and has workshops for a tailor and a carpenter – both Syrians who are putting their skills to use to help their fellow refugees at the camp.
The Karamanlis Boutique shop where the people can come and pick out the clothing items they need and like.
It also houses the “boutique” and the grocery store where the people can come and spend points they are assigned based on family size to get food, household supplies, clothing, etc. This way, they can pick out things they want and need, and supplies can be adjusted according to demand. There is a falafel stand and a coffee shop that do charge for their wares, mostly sold to the aid workers that are there.
Frakapor is located near what must be a sewage treatment plant in an old warehouse and the odor from the plant is quite noticeable when you first arrive. After a while, you get used to it, and I imagine that the people living there have gotten used to it, but it just adds to the depressing conditions of life in the camp. They don’t have a community center like at Karamanlis, and this is something that would have a positive impact on the people there. They do have an area for the classes we are teaching and both the adults and children are very happy about the classes SCM is providing in English, German, math and Arabic grammar.
While walking through Frakapor with our team lead Jamal, we were stopped by a man who spoke to Jamal briefly, and with some emotion about something, then we parted ways and continued on our walk so I could see the scope of the camp. A few minutes later, we ran into the same man again, and this time he invited us to have tea in his tent with this family.
The man, whom Jamal knows and SCM has been helping to get treatment for severe depression, was very hospitable, he had his children there – two boys and a teen aged daughter, but his wife is not with them. With Jamal translating and filling in the story, the man’s wife had left Syria on her own before he did and made it to Germany. The man and his children planned to follow her, but only made it to Greece. They are originally from a city in the north of Syria, and traveled through Turkey, a journey that took them 17 days, then crossed to Greece, and finally they ended up at the border with Macedonia where they were abruptly stopped by the border closure. It has been a year now since the children have seen their mother and the man his wife.
They fled from northern Syria only to be stuck now in northern Greece, apart from their mother, who did make it to Germany right before the borders closed.
This broken family is just one of many such stories of how this crisis has torn families apart. They have been forced to flee their homes in Syria, in terror for their lives, and now they continue to suffer from separated family members, depression, lack of hope for the future. And with nothing to do all day for most of the adults in the camp, despair runs rampant.
I met a woman in the camp who is also helping SCM as our teacher administrator for Frakapor. She was an administrator at home in Aleppo, Syria, and fled to be with her sister who is already in Sweden. Other members of her immediate family have also already made it to Europe and are settled in new communities. She is now with other members of her extended family – cousins and aunts. She was married, but her husband left her for another woman, and now she is on her own, and stuck in Frakapor. She is occupying her time, though, by helping SCM administer the education program at Frakapor.
Both of these people that I met at the camp had different stories, but they are both languishing in the camp, and I could see the hopelessness and sadness in their eyes. There are a lot of faces like that in the camp. I don’t want them to give up hope, but I can sort of understand that they don’t see how this is all going to end. Their chances of reuniting with family members already in Germany or Sweden or elsewhere seem to be out of reach, and no end is in sight for the conflict in Syria. They have lost everything, and many are thinking what else is there? The answer, in their minds, is another day in the concrete and steel box of the warehouse at Frakapor. And that’s it.
Please continue to help us help them. We want to continue to be able to supplement their food rations and get more educational materials for the classes. We also want to help support the craftspeople that are working in the camp to fix things, repair things, and more by getting them the supplies they need.