Last Thursday we arrived in Idomeni, the final destination of our journey together and the place where we distributed the rest of the supplies we filled the van with, thanks to everyones generous donations.
Absolutely nothing could have prepared us for the infernal chaos that is unfolding day by day. It feels like we’ve been slowly stepping down step by step on a scale of human misery as we have followed the tracks of the refugees – from landing with rubber dinghies on the beach at Lesbos, to the registration camp at Moria, on the ferry to the port near Athens on the mainland, and now to the border of Macedonia.
The situation in this makeshift camp is almost indescribable. Around 16,000 people are huddled up in a small area next to the border crossing- that is now closed. Every day more people pour in, despite the fact that everyone knows that the border is shut. Most people I have spoken with, however, still hope that the border will eventually be opened again, and they want to be ready and waiting for any opportunity to get through.
Everyone is ankle-deep in mud. Small tents have been put up on just about every conceivable surface. Fires are burning here and there, burning anything that is available, including garbage, and plastic which is creating a lot of toxic fumes. Children are running around everywhere. There is a huge lack of tents, blankets, sleeping bags, warm clothes, sanitary goods – yes basically everything. So many people are sleeping directly on the bare land in the mud and dirt. The UNHCR (United Nations Refugee agency) have set up some toilets, but there simply arent enough of them by any stretch of the imagination.
The queues to the toilets are very very long, and most people have to find some other alternative which is especially difficult for women- and a huge health threat to everyone. There is nowhere to take a shower and many people have not been able to change to clean clothes or have a wash in weeks. It is simply inhumane.
There are a few larger aid organisations on the spot, but those who are there have not been able to cover the need to so many people. Everyone has been taken by surprise at the closing of the border which has created a massive build up of people. The photos speak for themselves. I feel like I just don’t have words to describe the enormous humanitarian disaster that is unfolding in Idomeni as a direct result of the closing of borders has created.
The biggest problem is that there isn’t enough food. All the food that is distributed in the camp has come from independent volunteers. Jonny and I were deeply moved by the huge commitment of volunteers to help the refugees.
In September when the refugees first began pouring into Idomeni, around 1000 – 2000 people per day were arriving. Some people from a village nearby organised themselves into a volunteers group, and called themselves “Color, Open Kitchen.” The food was donated from other villagers, local restaurants and bakeries and other local businesses.
Every day these amazing people cooked around 1000 meals in their own kitchen. More locals and volunteers joined in, and by November they had collected enough money to buy equipment and set up a mobile restaurant kitchen, which they set up in a dumpster in the site. Since November this volunteer organisation has served around 3 000 meals of hot food a day. Last week, they topped the record with 8000 Servings. Not a single dollar has come from the state. Right now, it still all comes from private donations.
Some of the people from the camp are also involved in helping out in the kitchens. Many hours before the food is distributed, thousands of people start to queue patiently. It was completely overwhelming to see all these people stand there in order to be able to feed themselves and their children.
There are also other voluntary organisations in the camp, that are struggling to do the same thing, but there is still not enough food to feed all of those who are there. Many people leave the queue hungry.
It is completely insane. Where are the large aid organisations? Why is there not a single penny from the EU to support this? Where is the EU in all this? The colours in the EU flag feel as dirty and muddy as the camp.
During the night I meet a wonderful volunteer, a mathematics professor called Tsiakalos from Thessaloniki University. According to his own calculations, private individuals and volunteer organisations across the whole of Greece (from the Islanders, to Athens and other places in the country where the refugees have been) have fixed around 37 Million meals for the refugees, since the beginning of September 2015 to the end of February 2016. Not one single penny of this has been State funds of any country. Absolutely all of it has come from private donations.
The Greeks themselves have enormous economic problems, they have an unemployment rate of 25 % and many of them need support from voluntary organisations in order to cope with everyday life. Despite this, we have witnessed with our own eyes and heard many stories of the absolutely fantastic and concerning support for the refugees among the Greek people.
My trip in Greece has now come to the end. Yesterday I was able to pull out my European passport get on a comfortable plane back home to Sweden again. I am dazed with new, sad insights. To think that life is such a lottery ticket.
Jonny will stay in Idomeni a couple of weeks longer before he drives back to the UK via the Balkan Route up through Europe. He’ll be working together with Lighthouse Relief and Colour, Open Kitchen, so please continue to follow his experiences on this blog.
I would like to conclude by thanking you all for your amazing support both in words to us, and money for supplies. Thanks all of you, we raised 85,000 SEK. Thank you for your wonderful commitment. Thanks to you, we have to be able to support Lighthouse Relief with tools to build new camp. And among the very, very many other supplies we bought, we were able to supply refugees with 250 sleeping bags, 60 tents, 80 pair of shoes, sleeping mats, diapers, baby milk, backpacks, footballs, and a whole lot more.
In the upcoming days we will show you exactly what we bought. The need is so enormous, so please continue to support us while Jonny is there. The money will go directly to helping the refugees, with baby milk, diapers and baby food, that there is glaring lack of in the camp.
Together we can make a difference.
We all have proven this and this is something we can be proud of.
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