Greek government plays hard politics with asylum seekers

Greek government plays hard politics with asylum seekers

By Carla Deckers

After some months of hectic activity behind the scenes, we are back with a new post on the political situation regarding asylum and migration matters in Greece.

Everyday, dinghies are arriving at the shores of Lesvos, Chios or Samos carrying desperate people, among them many pregnant women and babies. Camps, such as Moria are dramatically overcrowded. This year alone, 62,000 people arrived on the islands. Winter is close and news of people freezing to death will come. 

New policies

Obviously the situation has to change as quickly as possible. However, the direction the Greek government is heading towards is alarming. Here is a brief overview on what the new Greek government plans to do.

Politico and The Guardian report that overcrowded camps on the islands will be shut down and replaced by detention centres. These may be on uninhabited islands or in isolated areas on the mainland.

These centres will be closed facilities. People’s freedom of movement will be severely restricted. They will not be free to go in and out as they wish. They will have to stick to certain schedules

What’s the point of these changes? 

  • By establishing these detention centres, deportations will be easier and faster
  • Only registered NGOs will have access to the camps and these registrations are tightly controlled.
  • These changes will not improve the conditions of asylum seekers.

Impact on lives

“Asylum seekers can be detained in Greece for extended period and with limited means of appeal (the asylum rejection), in clear violation of international standards, under which detention should not be the rule.” 

Amnesty International comment on the government’s plans

The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) warned that camps on the  Greek mainland, especially Athens and Thessaloniki, are already beyond capacity. 

By early 2020 more than 20,000 asylum seekers will be transferred to the mainland. What does this mean for CRIBS International? Work on the ground will become even tougher. Accommodation will become scarcer, hospitals more overcrowded and discriminatory attitudes will increase.

So please everyone, spread the word. Discuss this with  friends, family or neighbours and keep on supporting us. Donations are needed more than ever. 

Sophie’s Diary – part two

So, my aim at blogging every other day lasted as far as day two! 

Hospital visits

The following week was filled with going to the hospital with F to see her newborn son. Each day we thought he would be sent home the next day, and each day he wasn’t. We were told the baby was well, but we must wait for the test results to be sure.

I understand and appreciate the caution taken by the Greek hospitals but also worry about the impact of separating a baby from his mother for 10 days at less than three weeks old, and the impact on future breastfeeding (because I’m an expert at all this now you know! – Thanks Sally!)

image of a baby in hospital
F’s baby in hospital

A week later on the Wednesday we also took F’s three year old daughter to the hospital with a suspected urine infection. This involved a lot of waiting around, but F was able to go and feed baby regularly while I waited with her daughter trying to keep her entertained.

I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be a single mother with a 3 year old and a baby in a foreign country with no family, and husband still stuck in Syria.

So, I was happy to be able to help at this even more distressing time. 

Good news and difficult decisions

We also had a success story … and then a very difficult decision to make. A CRIBS family had moved out – the dad had got a job and with the support of CRIBS they found their own flat. This was wonderful news, and is exactly what the charity is about – giving people some stability in their hour of need, and enabling them to find their feet in a new country, develop their language skills and find work. 

This meant we were able to look to our waiting list to decide who to move in next. This turned out to be pretty awful – we had 7 families on the waiting list. We talked through their situations, including:

  • A pregnant mum with diabetes and a toddler
  • A woman sleeping on the floor of a church with her newborn
  • A woman sleeping in a park with a sick newborn 

We had to make that decision and we did so as a group.

When you are having to decide what’s worse between situations like this you really realise how bad things are.

When a mother with a newborn baby can’t access housing provided by authorities, you have to ask where the system has gone wrong, where all that EU money has gone. 

Free shop, new knickers

Another day or so was spent helping Qasim and Shazia with the CRIBS Free Shop – which is currently opening on an ad hoc basis to provide the families with the things they need, with dignity and respect.

a man stands next to rails of clothes in the CRIBs Free Shop
Qasim in the Free Shop

They can browse the clothes, household items, kitchen equipment, books and toys and choose what they’d like – just like any other shop, but minus the payment at the end, all thanks to the wonderful people bringing and sending donations. 

We had just had a huge delivery of women’s knickers from a local supplier arranged by the wonderful Mary Dallas and enabled by the huge success of my “Smalls for Sophie” campaign. We raised £110 and received an additional £100 from the Aagean Sol Network. So far this has purchased 132 pairs of knickers and we are looking to buy some toiletries this week with some of the remaining money. Any extra will go to rents etc, as mentioned in the Facebook appeal.

Thanks so much to everyone who donated, we had lots of happy customers, and plenty left for other women who we expect to be serving in the next week or so. 

A handbook

In between all this I finally got to meet Brittany and her gorgeous baby Ariyan. We talked about what was needed to help operations run more smoothly on the ground, and among other things we agreed to write up a CRIBS Handbook – to get all this extensive information from people’s minds into a document that can be used by others to run things day-to-day. 

In addition, my time has been spent creating processes and policies to make life easier for everyone. It may sound boring to some and don’t worry I won’t go into detail, but I love coming up with something that I know will make things much simpler and save so much time! 

This has of course been broken up with more lovely food and chai from Shazia, as well as a much needed visit to the island of Evia to visit Mary Dallas and have a break from the madness of Athens!

One week left – I don’t know where the time has gone, and lots to do in this last week, but feeling very happy to be part of such wonderful and essential work. 

Sophie’s Diary

Sophie is volunteering with CRIBS in Athens for a month. She will be working closely with staff and volunteers there to help put operational systems in place. She has kindly offered to blog her experience to give a sense of daily life on the ground with CRIBS.


First day in Athens

Getting my bearings with the neighbourhood, did some shopping and grabbed a coffee while going through my notes and trying to work out where each family is up to, and things to discuss when I meet the team on the ground later.

We had a very effective meeting – me, Mohammed, Qasim and Shazia, talking through lots of different things that we want to work on, and where the families are up to. We talked for 3 hours and still didn’t cover everything I aimed to – which just shows the immense amount of work on the ground here. The organiser in me couldn’t wait to get typing the notes up and make plans, and was looking forward to meeting Brittany who had stayed home with the baby.

‘There would be time tomorrow’ I thought …..

I was of course treated to a huge wonderful meal by Shazia enjoyed in the company of mum Jamila and baby Fatima, also living the flat. Gorgeous four year old Hania had gone to bed worn out after giving me a very warm welcome on arrival.

Sophie and Shazia at the end of a busy first day

Day 2: the real work begins!!!

We had agreed that I would accompany Farida to the hospital to see her baby, freeing Mohammad up to make some appointments, pay bills and buy fans.

We arranged for a medical student from MVI to come to the hospital with us to try to determine whether the baby really needed to stay in hospital. The news was good, they were not too concerned, but they wanted to keep baby in while allergy results came back so they could keep an eye on him. It was just wonderful seeing mums face light up as she saw him, she was able to breastfeed and we then had some time on the phone with Shayma interpreting what we had been told.

We now needed a breast pump so she could express milk at home to bring into the hospital. After lots of messaging we arranged to borrow one from Amurtel. I then went on the hunt for containers to store the milk, and a freezer bag to transport it to the hospital. This sounds simple but I was passed from one place to the next until I finally found what I was looking for.

Simple tasks like this become very exhausting in the 33 degree heat traipsing around Athens!

By the time I got back to Farida it was almost 9pm. After some miming and explanations, with the help of Google translate, about how often etc, she was finally able to express some milk!

I updated Sally on my way back and just when I thought my day was finished she told me that a lady from Congo had been in touch with her saying she needed help, food, has a baby and is pregnant. We are full at the moment so I couldn’t do anything about accommodation. I spoke to her and she was ok for the night but agreed to meet her the next day.

Ok, clocking off 10.30pm. No notes written up and no chance to meet Brittany. I leave Qasim a voicemail explaining I can’t help him at the shop all day tomorrow as planned but would come after the hospital. He had spent the day dealing with a huge truck load of donations to the shop; goodness knows how he fit it all inside. He quickly rang me to say don’t worry, he can manage, I must focus on the urgent things. How thoughtful of him!

I check Facebook and see Sally has set up a fundraiser for the extra costs of storage containers for the milk, freezer bag and transport to hospital. Already it has got £75 from only 3 donors, and I’m left feeling overwhelmed at people’s generosity and understanding, not to mention the scale of the work ahead. Time for a good nights sleep!

CRIBS Update from Rachel

I’ve volunteered for CRIBS for a few years running fundraising stalls and helping organise quiz nights but for 6 months I have also been doing regular admin work on a weekly basis. It’s always busy, always surprising, often heart breaking and most definitely hard work. The last two weeks however have been absolutely exhausting and it all started when the Greek police evicted a safe and established family squat, Clandestina.

Just to give a bit of background we communicate largely through a WhatsApp working group which is made up of volunteers in Oldham, Edinburgh and Evias (Greek island) as well as CRIBS staff in Athens: social worker, translator, maintenance and store team, most of whom are settled refugees. Messages bounce back and forth all day but last weekend carried on well into the night.

We had women and babies coming out of our ears as well as pregnant single women, a lady just out of hospital after major surgery and someone experiencing a suspected miscarriage. Staff and volunteers from other agencies on the ground in Athens were added to the group as new requests for help came in. Sally was on the phone to a hotel who we often use for emergency accommodation but they were full. One of our housed families offered a room and a new flat despite having no electricity was hastily prepared. We had volunteers cleaning flats, feeding new arrivals and out looking for a family with a poorly baby who are on the streets. Eventually everyone was safe, the last ones being a very young family with a severely asthmatic baby who were housed at 2am. The next day everyone received stipends for food as most of the new arrivals did not have a Caritas cashcard and therefore had no funds for food at all.

CRIBS has been housing families with babies for some years and in 2018 we housed 15 families by covering the rent and utilities in order to provide a safe home for families, mostly from Afghanistan, Syria and Iran and recently housed a Rohinga family who are now settled with one of our existing families, united by a shared language despite vastly different backgrounds. We have also supported 18 families to move into permanent accommodation or seek asylum elsewhere. We’ve recently taken two new flats on, one solely for French speaking single women to reflect the rise in homeless African women in Athens – a particularly vulnerable group who are currently either in camps, sleeping on the streets or ‘sofa hopping’ in other refugee accommodation. In 2004 Ager and Strang – in a report commissioned by the UK Home Office  – found that improved ‘social bonds’  (connections within refugee’s own communities) can enable groups to ‘get on’ without substantial external aid and play an important role in helping refugees to maintain a sense of identity and community, which contributes to a sense of security and wellbeing. Luckily for us we now have Farsi, Dari, English, Greek, French, Arabic speakers in our volunteer team…who knows what language we’ll need next!

As I’m writing this we have received a message from a woman with 5 month old twins who is on the streets…it never stops.

A great way to support our work is to buy from the latest Facebook auction which runs until May 5th…crafts, gifts, holiday lets and all sorts of stuff will be donated and sold over the next few weeks. It’s lots (groan) of fun and raises much needed funds. Join the group here to get involved https://www.facebook.com/groups/676972265843948/

It costs around £4,000 a month to house and feed our families with costs rising as we take on extra flats.

You can donate directly to our bank account also:

Lloyds Bank

Sort Code 309091

Account Number 67078668

Thank you for your interest in our work, Rachel

Athens in the Autumn

Athens in the Autumn

In October 2018, CRIBS International workers Sally Hyman and Fred Cairns spent a total of three weeks in Athens. It was a very busy but rewarding time. They visited all the CRIBS family and were greeted with delicious food and lots of news. Fred worked hard to get our storage area into some sort of order and two major distributions took place of household goods, clothing and nappies. He was helped by Cribs beneficiary Nasar. Nasar has continued to manage the store distributing to Cribs families and other organisations such as the Clandestina Community.

Boxing clever for our store. Thanks Fred!

More babies, more bums, more nappies. Thanks Donate4Refugees

Fred arrives at Athens Airport: so much stuff, so much organising, so much help

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One day, by chance, we met a family facing homelessness with a 12-day old baby, There situation was precarious and dad also appeared to be suffering from PTSD. We managed to house them and are trying to support them as best as we can.

We successfully got school places for four children, not without some struggle (more to follow). We also began links with the wonderful The Unmentionables. Through this many of the Cribs women have started women’s classes (still more to follow). Some less pleasant work involved fumigation of a flat, but the result was well worthwhile when we bumped into the family living there a day or so later. Something as simple as this had a huge impact to their self-worth.

We are going to school, really we are. We might be a little nervous, though

I’m off to school!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sally says,”As I have got to know family members better, they have developed enough confidence to feel that they can confide in me. During the visit I hope we managed to help them find the path to recovery from some mental health problems.”

Sal’s favourite moments!

Dinner is served: such glorious food every time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

None of this work would have been possible without the support of you, our donors.

Big bed, little boy. Thank you 1st Mossley Scouts

Welcome new baby. A thousand welcomes

 

 

Thank you all!

 

It Is Not OK

It Is Not OK

by Sally Hyman

It’s not OK to be pregnant when you don’t want to be
because there was no birth control,
or because you were raped.
It’s not OK
to go hungry during pregnancy
to be travelling
to live in a squat
in a camp
in a tent
on the street.
It’s not OK to give birth without support
in a place where you don’t understand the language
where you cannot consent to examinations, to surgery.
It’s not OK to have your new born baby taken and only see them one hour a day
to not understand what is wrong
to have to feed powdered milk which you can’t afford or even find
to leave hospital too soon, without your baby
to travel on the bumpy Metro with a caesarian section scar of 5 days
to see your baby for half an hour
to be so cold in your home or so hot that your baby has the runs,
can’t breathe is covered in flies or dies.
It is not OK to be back in a squat
or a camp
with little water,
dirty toilets,
no nappies,
not enough food.
IT IS NOT OK.

CRIBS International mydonate.bt.com/charities/cribsinternational
Real Homes in Times of Real Need

Notes from the field. March 25, 2017

Notes from the field. March 25, 2017

Well, admittedly it has been a while since our latest update, we have been busy and haven’t had a chance to write.  This was also a big day for us, emotionally speaking, and it has taken us time to process the events.

People often ask how we find families in need of housing from so far away. The answer is that sometimes they find us. One night in the middle of the night, Sally from CRIBS got a message that said “Ma’am, I am in a tent in Serbia with my wife who is pregnant can you help me?” Her immediate thoughts were of the cold and the dark. We didn’t know much about the situation in Serbia other than the fact that it is not welcoming to refugees. Over the coming days we learned that the family also had two small boys and we told them that if they were able to make it back to Greece then we could help them.

After following their progress from Serbia through FYRO Macedonia, the day finally came for us to meet them at the Greek/FYRO Macedonian border. It was a beautiful morning and we found ourselves driving nervously towards to border to pick them up. Luck was not with us on the drive, our GPS took us on a 20 km detour, then led us over all sorts of bumpy roads through the backs of villages. The coup de resistance was when the gas light came on, and we coasted into the border town of Evzoni with the clutch firmly in as we went down the hill into town. We filled up with gas and located the Hotel Hara, our meeting point, worried that we would be late. Although there has not been much action near the border this year compared with 2015 and early 2016, when the Balkan route was still open to refugees, the Hotel Hara seemed well provisioned for the refugee crisis, with their gift shop offering tinned food, cheap shoes, rain ponchos, and flashlights in addition to the usual hideous souvenirs.

We had been in regular contact with AD, the father, and had received updates for the past several days on their progress from Serbia and through FYRO Macedonia. “Tomorrow at 11 they will deport us from Serbia”…..”Sister, we have been walking for 8 hours and if we don’t get water, I think I will die”…..”We are at the bus station in Skopje, we will sleep here and take the bus tomorrow morning at 8”

 We sat outside on the terrace and drank frappes, the ubiquitous Greek iced coffee, and as happens when we are not rushing about actually doing things, were struck by the inequality and unfairness of it all. About how it would feel as a perfectly fit adult to walk 8 hours in the blazing sun, and how it must be so much worse to be walking with a heavy bag, small children who sometimes need to be carried, and to be pregnant. About how it feels to not be the master of your own life. And about all the refugees that we have met in Greece who once lived normal lives as we do and are now stuck in an indeterminable purgatory.

frappes

Finally after an hour of waiting, we received the message we were waiting for. “The police have left us back into Greece land, we are at the first exit of the highway. Where should we go?”  We messaged them back that we would come and get them and then we hopped in our car and tried to get as close to the border as possible before reaching the point of no return. Sally happened to have brought her passport, but Kimberly had not. Fortunately, there was a place for a U-turn about 10 meters before the border, and we were able to drive on the road leading into Greece from the border, hoping to find that elusive first exit.

Trying to imagine a highway from the perspective of a pedestrian can be difficult. Things that seem so momentous to a pedestrian will pass so quickly in a car that it is hard to share the same viewpoint. We cruised slowly along the shoulder with our hazard lights on, scanning carefully for people walking off the road. We came to an exit to a service road and took it, thinking they might not wish to walk on the shoulder of a highway with two little ones. The service road let to an abandoned building and we looked it over carefully. It was situated in a charred landscape that looked like some sort of post-apocalyptic disaster scenario Remains of diapers, towels and UNHCR blankets  could be seen in the undergrowth. Clearly it had been an encampment of some sort several years ago at the height of the Balkan route. We rode through it, calling out their names from the windows. Alas, our family was no where to be found.

We returned to the Hotel Hara to check if they had by chance made it there while we had been out looking for them. No luck. We left our number with the woman there, asking her to call if a family of four with two small kids and a pregnant mum did show up on foot looking for us. We took another swing past the border, which was quite a pleasant little place, with picnic tables under tall trees and a few cafés and souvenir shops. We asked in the shops and the people at the picnic tables. No one had seen anyone come by on foot, which would have definitely been something out of the ordinary that people would remember. By this point, at least an hour had passed since they had messaged us and we were starting to get worried. Kids or no kids, the Hotel Hara is only a kilometre or two from the border and they were no where to be found anywhere between the two, nor had they been in contact with us (which we assumed was more a telephone problem than anything else). Since the hotel was their choice of meeting point, we had assumed that they knew where it was. We decided to try the main highway to see if they had passed by the Hotel Hara by accident. We stopped at a gas station to ask if they had seen anyone pass by on foot, and the sympathetic attendant, by asking how they got to the border in the first place, gave us the solution to our puzzle. “Busses from Skopje cross the border at Eidomeni, not Evzoni”.

stick figure

Eidomeni was a mere 5km west, so we got on the highway and headed towards it. Not long after we got on the highway, a solitary hitch-hiker appeared on the horizon. “Now is NOT a good time for a hitch-hiker”, said Kimberly, “we need to find a family!” As we slowed to pass him, however, we saw, huddled in a tiny patch of shade on the other side of the road, a pregnant woman and two children. We had found our family.  It was an emotional reunion for a bunch of people who had never actually met. AD was weeping with joy, and the kids suddenly got a second wind and started to scarf down the bananas and water that we had brought. The mum, AM, seemed to have shut down and withdrawn, saying little and not wanting food or drink. They were very relieved to be in the car travelling into Greece and told us that their SIM card had no longer worked once they had got to Greece.

We took them to the hotel that we had booked for them near Polykastro, got them settled in and left them to rest and shower. We made plans to meet them for dinner in a few hours. There were several other things on our to do list for the day, but none of them were close by and we realized that we would have to postpone them to another day, as meeting up with the family had taken so long. One of the challenges with everyone so spread out over the north of the country is that we ended up driving several hours a day to see people. It was not unusual to drive 70 km just to see someone.

waiting

We met them for dinner, happy to see that AM was looking much better and once rested and relaxed, and we discovered that she spoke English very well, even if she was shy at first. They told us stories about their winter in Serbia, which sounded horrible beyond words. They showed us pictures of refugees with mismatched shoes and shoes gaping open with holes, standing in the snow, pictures of the 2-hour line-up for the only meal a day that was provided by volunteers. After we commented on a scar on their 3-year-old son’s hand, they showed us a picture of the third degree buns that he had because his hands were so cold that he stuck them in a fire. AD described a “reception centre” that they would sometimes go to when it was very cold (temperatures sometimes go down to -20c in the winter in Serbia) so that his wife and children could warm up and not spend the night outside in a tent. He told me that the women and children were allowed to fall asleep sitting at tables, but that the men were not allowed to sleep. He showed us a video of the guards coming around and shaking the men awake when they started to nod off. He said that this reception centre was very hard for him, he would be exhausted for days afterwards, and that he would only go because he was so worried about his wife and children.

There was something almost surrealistic about how we were all sitting together,  eating dinner in a restaurant, having ice creams and sitting in the main square watching everyone out for the evening. It made all of us think about how quickly everything had changed for this family over the past few days, about how a refugee’s life is all about how things can change in an instant. Sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Planning for anything can be hard.

Notes from the Field. March 24, 2017

Notes from the Field. March 24, 2017

Started the day with a visit to Nea Kavala camp, 1km away from the village where we are staying. We wanted to give some dates to the woman that we saw yesterday and to hopefully meet a new arrival- a pregnant woman with a one-year-old. We ran into logistical problems as the sun was bright and hot and we did not feel comfortable asking a pregnant woman to walk a kilometre across camp carrying her other baby. We sent some dates, tahini, and almonds in with our interpreter, along with the message that we would come back another day, later in the afternoon when it was cooler.

image

After that we had been invited to lunch with a family that we are supporting in Thessaloniki and on the way we stopped in town to buy some liquid iron and notebooks. The woman at the stationery store was very interested and moved when we explained what we were doing and gave us a handful of pens and a book on babies. The generousity of the Greek people is amazing.

image

Our lunch date was with a Kurdish couple, Rwida and Ali, and their 4 children. They are living in an apartment complex run by Filoxenia, (http://filoxenia-intl.org/), an organisation which has rented an entire apartment block on the edge of Thessaloniki to house refugees. While the location is very much on the outskirts of town, the atmosphere in the apartment block is one of joy and community. Kids are coming from one apartment to another to borrow lemons and return plates, and there is a pre-school on site as well as a school bus to take the older children to school. There was construction taking place on an on-site clinic when we arrived, to be staffed by Médecins du monde. The apartment building is new and of good quality, unfortunately because of the economic situation in Greece…..

image

Our meal was a very extravagant barbecue, cooked on a small hibachi in the field behind the apartments. A vegetable truck had arrived earlier and Rwida had purchased some aubergines, which she promptly sliced and interlaced with meat on skewers. Some parsely was turned into a delicious salad with onions and some tomatoes and hot peppers grilled and back in the apartment it was expertly plated by Rwida who worked in a restaurant in Aleppo before she left. We had a chance to talk extensively to her and her family and hope to share her story here later to give CRIBS donors a personal look at how their donations are helping people get out of the camps.

image

We left much later than planned and it was like saying goodbye to old friends. In keeping with the theme of visiting new Kurdish friends we visited a friend of a friend who recently had a baby and got to hold yet another sweet baby. One thing that pleases us greatly on this trip is that the majority of babies that we have seen are healthy and happy.

Notes from the Field. March 23, 2017

Notes from the Field. March 23, 2017

A busy day overall. Started out by zipping into town, following our friend and colleague Kayra to an apartment in town where her organization houses several families. Kayra spends so much time here that she seems almost local and was able to organize a good priced car rental with Matteo, a local character who runs the only run car rental business in the village. It seems to be a moonlighting job, most likely with no office as he tends to show up either very early in the morning or very late at night at your house, with the car and the paperwork. We have rented two little canary yellow cars, which makes us pretty easy to find, especially if we travel in convoy.

car

In the apartment we started with a quick visit to meet a mom, auntie and little one. Neither the mom and auntie could not have been more than 25. Had a chat about the mixed feeding that she was doing and determined that there was not much desire to change the status quo. There was sometimes a story about feeding in the night and sometimes no breastfeeding at all. They are young and without an older woman present. This is what is needed so badly here, a network of older women to help. In Syria they would have had a big sister or an auntie present. but now, so much disruption affects the old, the very new, and all stages in-between.

dad and baby

In consultation with our colleague Rivka from Birth Companions International in Canada, we went in search of dates, almonds and tahini to help supplement the pregnant women’s diets. So far several of the pregnant women we have met have been anaemic and there is good evidence that for those not diabetic, dates, which are rich in iron, improve their chances of avoiding prolonged bleeding after delivery. Tahini and almonds are both high in protein and calcium, two other important parts of a pregnancy diet. The shopping was a little awkward, however. After a fair bit of driving we found a Jumbo which sells everything you don’t want and in some abundance! (Easter decorations, barbies, scented candles). The next store was a cash and carry, selling items in bulk to businesses. As CRIBS International is now a limited company and has a tax number ( although the number was admittedly not with us ) we were allowed to shop there after much discussion and promises to send our number by e-mail as soon as we got home. The power of bureaucracy! Initially they clearly thought we were bonkers, two foreign women claiming to have a business. Once we started to say the magic word “afhimi” (tax number in Greece), they started to think we weren’t so crazy after all. The helped us out with our purchases, partly out of suspicion/curiosity, and part no doubt out of kindness for people who couldn’t read labels so well. A lot of people with businesses seemed to be buying supplies that looked distinctly personal- the perfect amount for a family dinner. Any doubt that they had about our shopping for personal food purchases was quickly dispelled as we bought 24 bags of dates, 16 bars of dark chocolate, 2 kg of almonds and 12 jars of tahini.

tiropita

Shopping finished, we went to meet a woman in Nea Kavala camp who had a small baby and a large family. We are not registered with the camp and are therefore not allowed in for any reason. Nea Kavala camp now has containers which are basically just empty boxes, with no amenities but air conditioning. We ended up sitting in our parked car outside the camp gates and chatting, awkwardly, especially for Kimberly, who was stuck on the passenger’s seat facing backwards. The woman amazed us with her strength and fortitude. She seemed calm and pleasant, taking what life had dealt her in stride. As with almost 70% percent of deliveries in Greece, she had had a caesarian, her first after 5 natural deliveries.

We finished our day in Polykastro at the same apartment where we began. This time we visited Maryam with the baby girl who we had previously seen with blanket over head . The flat was damp with aspergillus mould on the walls. The floor is covered with the ubiquitous UNHCR blankets and mats. Why does the UNHCR deem it necessary to stamp its name all over its donations? The family is lovely. Maryam is super competent and wraps the baby like a burrito. Once settled, we heard the story of her birth. It was the 31st of December and Maryam had been in light labour for several hours. She was taken by a volunteer in their car 25 minutes to Kilkis hospital. There, the lone doctor on duty said that Maryam must have a caesarian section. Her husband and she were both adamant there is no need. Both her other two had been natural deliveries so there was no need for a caesarian section. The doctor refused to deliver the baby. How can you refuse to deliver a baby? Fortunately this is a close couple and they were of a single mind that a caesarian was unnecessary. They made the competent decision to go to Thessaloniki and have a natural delivery there. If you read other baby related blogs, you may have heard of Kilkis Hospital. To meet one of its “patients” who was victorious is quite a thing. However, not all people that we met were lucky enough to have a volunteer willing to drive them all over the country. Any one who had come to the hospital in the usual way- by taxi or by bus – would have been left to their fate.

Then it was home to supper, ouzo and more work before hitting the sack at half past one.

Notes from the Field. March 22, 2017

Notes from the Field. March 22, 2017

Highlights: Visiting two hotels in the industrial area surrounding the Thessaloniki airport which are housing vulnerable people formerly in Nea Kavala camp.

Hotel 1: The “Four Seasons”. Grubby, small rooms, sticky floors and kids playing in the car park. Far from all amenities, children who formerly went to school in town now have only English lessons and outings. Food is OK, provided by the hotel but over salted and greasy. Rooms are cramped, the kind of place that you would be happy to stay in for one night and then leave.

sally and baby-0-1

Hotel 2: The “Athena Palace” Hotel. Isolated, the shop on the outskirts of town is a ten minute bus ride. Cleaner, more spacious and more modern. The atmosphere in the dining room was one of dejection, of fulfilling an obligation. This is in stark contrast to meals that we have been invited to in refugees homes, which are meals of beauty and grace. While the circumstances out side of the meal are not much different, refugees in their own apartments are able to feel much more “at home” simply by being able to cook.

Obviously we weren’t there to just sit and chat, many moms and babies were seen. We will be returning in the coming days and promise more on them later.

woman and baby in hotel

From the hotels, Sally came to the Thessaloniki airport to pick up Kimberly, just off of a long plane ride from Canada, and then back to our apartment in Nea Kavala for some much needed rest.

Our evening ended by exchanging messages with a family that we have pledged to sponsor. They decided to attempt the Balkan route, on which all the borders are closed to refugees, but got stuck overwintering in a tent. We are waiting for pregnant mom, dad and their two sons to make the return journey and hope they are successful. Their morale is currently very low and it was a sad end to the day. The father messaged us:

” If I didn’t have two sons I would killed myself. I have lost everything and my son is asking me father why we always coming and walking in the forest”