Six months ago we began our partnership with the Bristol Skipchen helping to plan, support and fund their incredible journey from Bristol to the Greek Island of Lesvos where they built and ran a ‘Skipchen’ serving thousands of hot meals to refugees daily.
As boats arriving in Levos have decreased and the numbers of refugees stranded in Athens have grown exponentially, the Skipchen team decided to relocate to the Greek mainland to respond to urgent needs there. On their way to Athens a desperate call came from Idomeni, asking for assistance. In excess of 14000 refugees were stuck there and starving.
With the support of Help Refugees, Skipchen were able to act fast to get to Idomeni and have served 6000 meals to thousands of women, children and men over the past week.
We would like to thank the entire Skipchen team for their inspirational attitude and tireless work, which we can only support with your continued help. Please consider donating to support them here:https://mydonate.bt.com/
This is team leader Sam’s full account of their time in Idomeni:
After hearing alarming accounts from colleagues and friends of the dire situation on the Greek-Macedonian border we decided that we should put our Athens project on hold for a few days and help with emergency food relief. We had the van packed with blankets from Lesvos and we set of Friday evening. It is a 6-8 hour drive to the border and by midnight we were exhausted so decided to pull of the motorway and find a bed until morning.
We ended up in the bizarre seaside resort, 40 miles south of Thessaloníki. Holiday towns off season always make for strange stopovers but this place had a particularly surreal atmosphere due to the amount of fur shops. After a much needed 7 hours sleep we hit the road again heading for Polykastro, where the Park hotel on the edge of town has been converted into a 24/7 volunteer hub.
An abandoned building over the road served as a warehouse for blankets and clothes, every room was full but the management were happy for volunteers to camp in the back garden. We made the most of a break in the relentless rain to unload the van in to the warehouse and set up our tent. There was a team dubbed ‘Hot food Idomeni’ who had driven down from Calais 3 days before, preparing dhal for 2,000 in a (covered area) adjacent to the hotel and teams were at work sorting clothes and other supplies under the shelter of the abandoned petrol station next door.
We were immediately greeted by familiar faces from Lesvos and were filled in on what was happening. We then set off to find wholesalers to get the ingredients we needed. Because time was of the essence and we had limited equipment we decided on a menu of cheese and tomato sandwiches and boiled eggs. Not surprisingly it took us longer than expected to find a decent wholesaler that could provide the quantities of produce we needed for 4,000 meals so it was 6pm before we made it back to the hotel.
The next morning we rose early to start the prep, our first job was to get the egg boiling process under way. With the one pot we had, it took around an hour per 500 eggs and we had 3,000 to get through. As this was happening we assembled a team of willing volunteers and turned the outdoor seating area of the Park Hotel in to a mini sandwich making rave, heavy drum and bass helping us become parts of a well oiled machine, we were no longer humans but choppers, spreaders, slicers and wrappers. Like any process it takes time to get in to the swing of things and 2 hours in we had only done a couple of hundred of sandwiches and were a little worried we would never be ready on time but we learned fast and by the end they were flying out.
For four days we were at the Greek Macedonian border making and distributing food. Though the authorities were due to clear the camp on Sunday, thousands of people are still there. The main camp was flooded, some toilets were finally put in while we were there, and there are no showers. There is no disability access for those in wheelchairs. People also stay on the forecourts of petrol stations in tents and in abandoned houses and hotels, often in unsafe and unhygienic conditions. Most people have inadequate clothing and footwear and when what they do have is wet there is nowhere for them to dry themselves apart from small, smoky fires in the rain.
On Sunday a hunger strike was called and although a camp wide hunger strike was clearly impossible given the numbers of people involved we can empathise with those who called it and understand their need for autonomous action. Why would any sane human want to be sustained in these conditions? As activists and as volunteers this is a difficult position to be in. Are we propping up the governments of Europe while they neglect the most basic human rights of so many or are we just humans doing the best we can with the little we are able to give? Probably both. On Monday approximately 1500 people tried to cross the border by walking through a river in to Macedonia. Three people died in the attempt and everyone else was arrested and returned to Greece the following day. While we were there we served almost 6000 meals and talked to a lot of people. The question we were most often asked was ‘When will the border open?’
We left Idomeni on Monday evening after having handed our equipment and contacts to a small group of independent volunteers who will continue to distribute 3,000 portions a day
We would not be able to do our work without your support and kindness. Many of the
refugees we help are fleeing the conflict zones of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Others are trying to
escape political oppression in countries like Eritrea. All are human beings like us. As well as providing
immediate physical assistance, we want to help refugees maintain their dignity.
Please click through if you would like to find out more about our work in Calais, Dunkirk, Lesvos, Samos, Idomeni
and other locations. If you would like to know how you can help refugees, please check out our