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24.05.2016

ECPMF findes the refugees that Greece tries to hide

by ECPMF Refugee Journalist Ola Aljari
I have been in Greece for two weeks and this was my second visit in two months. Many things have changed in the meantime.
Most of the refugees I met on the first visit were happy and full of hope, in spite of the Greece-Macedonia/ FYROM border being closed and the EU-Turkey deal that was announced a couple of days earlier. They thought that “Europe is the land of freedom and human rights and that it will not let them down”, as some refugees told me.

water in and around tents after rain by Ghias Aljundi Water in and around tents after rain by Ghias Aljundi (Photo: Ola Aljari)

Many media outlets and freelance journalists were covering the situation and spotlighting refugees’ problems and needs. However, this time everything was different.

I spent ten days in the refugee camp at the Athens port and met more than thirty refugee families. They were disappointed and afraid.

Concentration camps

In the camp at the Athens port, one can see six main tent gatherings, each with around a hundred or more small tents spread on different areas of the port. I could estimate that four or five refugees at least live in each tent, and that most of the families are with children under six years old.

The worst of all was the old rickety building, which contains around five hundred tents (pictured). The tents are pitched so that they touch one another, with almost no passageway between them. The air inside the large hall is very heavy, with hundreds of people breathing, smoking, cooking and getting rid of their wastes inside. Soon it could become even worse in summer with the heat and insects.

All refugees share a number of toilets and baths with the average of around one toilet and one bath for 100 refugees (This is an approximate ratio based on my personal observation). To go to the toilet you need to stand in a long line first to get some toilet paper and then stand in another line to go to the toilet. The same applies for baths with one difference! To use the bath, refugees need to have their papers stamped by the police when they have entered the port for the first time. Without the stamps refugees cannot even wait for a turn to bathe. A Syrian refugee family form Syria, Lattakia; with three children 8, 6, 2 respectively, told ECPMF that they could not have a shower for more than 15 days because their papers were not stamped. A few days later I saw one of the family’s children, and she was all clean with wet hair. The six year old girl told me that they managed to get a stamp for their papers and were able to shower finally.

The luckiest families found shelters under old big abandoned vehicles and put their tents underneath. The vehicles provide a little protection for the tents and their inhabitants from the sun and direct rain, but of course not from the run-off water caused by the rain.

The Greek authorities have moved the refugees’ tents from the area “E2” in the port, where most of the ferries that transport tourists arrive, to the area “E1” further back in the port, where they can be out of tourists’ sight. Refugees who had been decamped were very tired, disappointed and angry.

The amount of food given to the families was not bad, but the quality of the food was really poor, and the amount of some basic substances like bread, salt, sugar and oil was not enough.        

Saada is a Syrian refugee from Menbj city, in the countryside east of Aleppo. Menbj was bombed by the Syrian regime forces and then fell under ISIS control. I met her with her family at the gate “E2” of the port one afternoon. They had spent the night on the pavement outside the gate, because they were not permitted to enter. They were totally exhausted and hopeless, after they had waited for almost a month in Idomeni on the Greece-Macedonia/ FYROM border.

 

Tent desroied by rain in Athens port camp by Ghias Aljundi Tent desroied by rain in Athens port camp by Ghias Aljundi (Photo: Ola Aljari)

Saada told ECPMF that they were desperate and they ran out of money, so they decided to go back to Athens and wait there. Three days later, I met the young woman and her family inside the port camp. She told me that they managed to enter behind the backs of the police. Consequently, they did not get the right stamps on their papers and, as a result, they are stuck now in the port.

All the refugees who had no stamps on their papers when they entered the port, cannot leave it to go anywhere - not to the hospital or the market or even to visit any organisations that are responsible for resettlement, because they will not be able to get back in again.

No media coverage

During the ten days in the port, I met only one photo-journalist. There were a couple of other photographers who work for the relief organizations. Their main job was to film the process of distributing aids for refugees by these organisations. No one was documenting the refugees’ suffering or needs or terrible human life conditions they live under.

The only journalist I met in the port, a Belgian freelance photographer, told ECPMF that he faces difficulties selling his photos or stories about refugees. He said media outlets are not interested any more about what is happening in Greece. “They only want the stories that cheer people up, not the serious ones”.

Tents Athens port by Ola Aljari Tents at Athens port (Photo: Ola Aljari)

Not only have the media lost interest in the refugee crisis. Refugees also lost interest and confidence in the media. Hasan is a Syrian refugee engineer from Homs, who had lived for two years in Germany and speaks good German. He said: “No one wants to help us. Maybe no one can. The journalists used to come here and film and we used to talk to them, but they do not come any more. They lost hope, so why shouldn’t we?”

We will talk to you because you are Syrian and you can feel our misfortune, not because we believe any more in the ability of the press to change things,”

Hasan added.

A couple of days before I left Greece, I tried to follow some families that were transferred from the port camp to a new camp in Skaramagas, in the western part of Athens. I could not enter Skaramagas camp, as I was stopped by the military men, who are responsible for guarding the camp.

They asked about my authorisation and I told them I did not have any. The soldier had put me on the phone with one of his supervisors. He told me that I cannot enter without an authorisation from the Ministry of Press. He provided me with an email address and a phone number to contact the ministry and get the authorisation.

I did not contact the Ministry of Press myself, as I had no time left and I had to come back to Germany. However, I talked to Ben Wilson, Department of Methodology at the London School of Economics (LSE), who is making a survey of the refugees in Greece with his colleague Dominik Hangartner and their team.    

Wilson told ECPMF that his team is trying to get authorisations to survey refugees in the new camps in Athens. “We have someone who speaks Greek helping us out. But it seems like we will not have too many problems as long as we plan ahead. One thing that seems strange to me is that it sounds like it varies quite a lot from camp to camp, so I'm actually really happy that we're getting help,” he said.

To comment on the above, ECPMF is trying to contact the responsible Greek authorities.

Ola Aljari is a Syrian refugee journalist living in Leipzig. She works part time at the ECPMF, reporting on media coverage of refugees and its impact on press and media freedom.



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