Report by Erika and Selim from Athens 01/25/2016
At 5 am we met at the airport and we left for Athens. After a good flight we arrived at 11 pm local time. Bruno picked us up and drove around for a while because he wanted to point out the Olympic stadiums of Elliniko. In one of these large buildings, the former Olympic basketball stadium, our supplies are stored. A little further is the Hockey Stadium which now serves as a refugee camp.
After this Bruno took us to Piraeus Gate E1. Here we could leave our suitcases with over 70 kilos of medicines. This extra baggage was sponsored by Transavia, for which we are very thankful! We met Fadi who helped us unload. We tried to get in touch with Sotiris, but did not succeed. He was everywhere and nowhere arranging things. We are sure we will meet him somewhere this week.
On the floor of the hall of E1 there were families everywhere, the elderly and young people on board and blankets. They could not leave because there were no buses to Eidomeni. The border to FYROM was closed. This means the parks in Athens are filled with refugees who sleep outside. We received many questions of refugees about the bus tickets because the date of the fares for which they had paid would now expire. People were afraid that they had to buy new tickets. Yes, indeed buy: refugees pay themselves for the tickets for the boat and the bus. No money means a long wait on the islands. Due to lack of information tempers sometimes run high. Hunger and cold make sure people can tolerate less; lack of nutrients for the body causes different behavior. This is true for each individual human being. A man asked for a medical check for his wife who was eight months pregnant. There were no doctors today and we could not help him and the Greek volunteers either. When you have to say no in such a situation is very difficult. It feels unnatural and inhuman.
At two o’clock we left and went to our hotel in Kolonaki, in the center of Athens. Our thanks go to Mirjam and our sponsors of COCO-MAT for this fantastic free accomodation! In the hotel we quickly swapped shoes and we headed off for the next appointment. Karina, a Dutch woman who lives in Athens, would take us to a number of initiatives. We met at a restaurant down the street where we got the bill written on the tablecloth much to our surprise.
Karina took us to Notara, where a squatted tax office serves as a refugee hostel. In this house 110 residents of all backgrounds live together. The common room was packed with residents who were sitting cozy together. We were given a tour and in the kitchen we found the food that we had sent to Notara! So this has arrived safely. There were making food for the stranded refugees. Normally this is not one of the activities, but now was required by the circumstances, so it was done. In Notara we actually ran into the daughter of Selim’s colleague. The world is small.
We met a number of active citizens who invited us to go along to their weekly meeting in another squatted building. There were also many students present from Denmark, Sweden, Taiwan and England who were in Athens for a course on migration at the Dutch Institute in Athens, after staying in Istanbul at the Dutch Institute in Turkey. The meeting was set up as a direct democracy. This meant that the meeting was pleasant but the process was also quite slow. This was also recognized by the participants. After an hour we went to Victoria Square from this location to see where the refugees were staying and whether we could do something. When we arrived, the van of Notara with the cooked food just arrived and everyone ran to the side of the square. There was a lot of pushing and shoving. The refugees were obviously hungry and in need of a hot meal. The cold was terrible. We had frozen fingers too. Yet these people remain outside all night and have to sleep in the cold. We saw families with children who circumambulated with sleeping bags. They could not lie down because then the police will take their sleeping bags away. Sleeping in the park is also hard. Every 2 to 3 hours, the police wakes up the refugees. There is an official camp, but people do not want to go there. They are afraid to be arrested, to be deported or put in prison, so they prefer a park bench. The treatment by the police is taken into the bargain, the reply is that the police in the country of origin is much worse.
After a cup of hot chocolate, we went back to our hotel after a long day. It was a beautiful day full of inspiring people who are all so very involved and passionate about what they do every day, rather than work or in addition to their daily work or family. Tomorrow our day will start at half past six, when the first boats arrive. Fortunately, the bakery around the corner is open 24/7 since we obviously will be missing breakfast at our hotel at that time.
We wish all of you a beautiful and inspiring day from Athens, a city in which inhabitants work very hard to spread the concept of solidarity.
καλήμερα – kaliméra (good day) Selim and Erika