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:
Sort Code 309091
Account Number 67078668
Thank you for your interest in our work, Rachel