The Help Refugees team have just been in Idomeni, visiting projects we already support and assessing how best to roll out further aid.We found around 10-12,000 refugees in the main camp with approximately 65% consisting of women and children. There are also 3 smaller camps in the area, two in petrol stations – BP with around 200 refugees, EKO with around 1,500 refugees and Hotel Hara with around 500. Almost all the refugees are living in tents with some are in the industrial sized MSF tents. Most of these tents are not suitable for the cold and blustery weather conditions. Night time temperatures can drop to minus 2. By day, teams of volunteers work round the clock to replace the many tents ruined by the wind and try to ensure everyone has basic protection from the elements for the night ahead.
The camp is lacking sufficient hot water and hygiene facilities, consequently there is a lot of disease – mainly respiratory (exacerbated by burning plastic). At night you can hear children coughing continuously in tents. There is also Hep A, Hep B, Chickenpox and Gastrointestinal illness.
The need for new clothing is great and difficult to organise especially as the weather as been so bad of late. Intervolve are the main clothing distributors. They have over night shifts distributing the most needed items and will soon start to operate 24/7.
Up until now there has been one distribution point for the whole camp which is for all forms of non food distribution in camp A. Now one will open in camp B.
In the absence of official information being provided there is a 24/7 information point run by volunteers. This tent is not official and consequently the information given is limited and not always correct.
Tensions have been rising in the camp in the last few days. The political situation is fluid but the border remains closed. Many refugees still believe the border will open, volunteers advise this is not the case.
Authorities are giving the refugees three options:
1. Apply for asylum in Greece
2. Apply for family reunification
3. Apply for the relocation programme.
The biggest obstacle with these options is that they can only be applied for via a Skype appointment between 10-11am with the Greek Home Office. In reality this is just NOT happening, the system is frequently down (it was at time of writing) with the UNHCR saying they hope it will run again shortly. In addition very few refugees have access to Skype.
The Greek Police are respectful and helpful and generally have a great relationship with both refugees and volunteers, however it’s been reported that when a problem/ violence occurs the police don’t appear to respond.
MSF are on the ground and doing incredible work although, as everywhere in this crisis, their resources are limited. However, they have now appointed a coordinator to work with independent volunteers who are making great inroads in getting aid where it needs to be.
UNHCR/ IRC/ Praxis/ Save the Children all have a visible presence but it is clear that the camp would not be running and the refugees would not be surviving without the rapid response of the independent volunteer movement, particularly those headed up by the inspiring efforts of Aslam Obaid – whom Help Refugees are proud to support.
Following the creation of Greek military camps, buses arrived at camp to relocate 1000 people. They were being taken to two camps for Syrians and Iraqi’s and one for Afghans. The government said that the conditions would be better than Idomeni and that for Syrian/Iraqi’s their right to remain would be extended. UNHCR were unable to confirm the conditions would indeed be an improvement and that the Afghan camp would not turn into a detention centre. Consequently volunteers felt uncomfortable to encourage the move and once again due to the lack of information refugees did not feel confident to go.
Help Refugees are building key relationships with the grassroots groups working here on the frontline so that we can continue to fund and support their efforts in providing basic humanitarian aid. The situation is appalling but we will do everything in our power to alleviate some of the suffering.
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