Saturday, April 22, 2017

Let's say you're a refugee at the Oinofyta camp

If you're a refugee here, you are probably one of the 88 percent who are Afghan (the remainder are Pakistani, Iranian or Iraqi). You may have been middle class when you left Afghanistan. You left not for a better life in Europe, but to save your life. Maybe you were a woman teaching girls. Maybe you worked for the U.S. Maybe your wife witnessed a killing and reported it. Maybe you questioned the tenets of Islam. You walked from your homeland. Maybe you came an overland route or maybe you got here via Turkey by a boat that didn't sink into the sea. Most likely you arrived on one of the Greek islands.

Last year you could get registered and your papers processed in a relatively short time, and you could move through Greece, staying at camps until you found a smuggler who might be able to get you to the border of a country like Macedonia, and onward to more desirable countries in Europe. Recently, though, the delay has increased. At camps like Moria on Lesvos, living conditions are poor. You may have decided to go to mainland Greece before you got your papers. That means you are now illegal in Greece.

If you are at Oinofyta, you and your family live in a small room inside what used to be a chemical factory. For months you had only a shower curtain to protect your privacy; now you have a door with a key. If you lose the key, you pay five euros to the camp manager. If you have five euros.

You share bathrooms and showers with 500 other people. The bathrooms are very dirty and, even though they were built only last year, they are in need of repair.  If you are a woman, you share a cooking space and a cleaning-up space with 80 other women. You and your husband have no personal space for privacy.

Several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provide help with social and psychological and educational and recreational needs. One of them, Do Your Part, provides distributions for clothing and food in addition to progressive camp management. None of the NGOs can help you with the most important thing: finding a way to move out of Greece to other Western countries. The NGOs will explain the current process for getting asylum in Greece, and will try to help you with it, but if you don't have legal papers or if you can't get through to Greek Asylum Services on Skype to arrange for an asylum interview, you can't move forward. Progress in Greece always happens slowly, and sometimes it does not happen, and often the rules change. This seems to be the nature of the Greek culture.

Last night you found out that, as of next month, Mercy Corps, which distributes money from the European Union via money cards, will not be available to you if you do not have current papers. Also next month, the Greek government will no longer provide catering of simple meals. The rules have changed again. You know you will have less money and be responsible for more of your own care.

You have trouble sleeping at night. You remember your life before you had to leave your country. Even now you could go back there, but it is not safe. You want to find a safe place to live and raise your children. This camp is not that place.

I am an American woman. I have been working at Oinofyta for a month on my third trip here. Tomorrow I am going home. If you're a refugee at this camp, you are not going anywhere any time soon.


Anonymous said...


Arkansas Patti said...

The picture you paint is full of pain and hopelessness. Thank God for those like you who do care and try to help.

BethB from Indiana said...

This was eye-opening, sobering, and heartbreaking. Thank you for your contribution of time and energy.

Linda Reeder said...

Thank you sharing this picture of refugee status with us. I know that we have to multiply this by hundreds of thousands. I have no idea what to do about it so it is easy to hide myself away from this reality. Thank you for doing so much to help.

Chris Loehmer Kincaid said...

Linda, I don't know how you do it. Where I volunteer in Kenya, there is at least hope, people are able to work towards improving their conditions. Where you're at, there is no chance. I do not understand how people can do this to each other. There is no reason why these refugees aren't allowed their freedom and the right to live a life.

DJan said...

It is heartbreaking. The world is becoming dysfunctional everywhere, but in the Middle East it's unbearable. I thank God every day for having a chance to live out my life without having to be in those circumstances. All I can do is offer small donations to Do Your Part. :-(

Dee said...

Dear Linda, you are in the midst of, surrounded by, tragedy. As you remind us, you can come back home here to the States. But even when you do, I suspect you will return there because it is clear that is a commitment you have made.

I used to have a prayer on my refrigerator about it being impossible to help everyone. And God says to each plea, "Help One." You are doing that and more.

For my part, I must find how I can do something. I saw in DJan's comment that she gives donations to "Do Your Part." I'll look that up. I cannot imagine the stress under which these refugees live.