I arrive at the Eleonus camp, which has some 3,500 refugees from many nations living on an old industrial estate site on the outskirts of Athens.
The camp is surrounded by mechanical noises, bangs and shouting Greek workers. People here are accommodated in small static containers, each has bunk beds and a kitchen, normally with two families sharing.
The camp is run by Project Elea and the Greek immigration service. The residents have access to schooling, sport activities and creative arts workshops with teachers and volunteers mainly coming from European countries.
The volume of people here is immense and they are in constant need of supplies especially with the onset of winter and large number of babies being born in the camp as many women arrived in Greece pregnant.
This is the first official camp to be established in Greece by the authorities. Paula Pleuser, co founder of Project Elea assures me it will probably be the last camp standing as the accommodation for residents is so robust. Project Elea have sent their needs list to Refugee Aid for future support.
After Athens I have traveled south to the small village of Sounio, here I have joined an industrious and resilient group of volunteers aging from 20 to 45 who are running a refugee camp here. The camp is supported by the UNHCR and the Greek Navy who supply lunch and dinner to the 400 residents. Nearly all of the families here traveled to Greece from Syria by boat.
Many residents here have told me that the naval presence brings a sense of security and there are officers here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including two Navy doctors and a Commander. The accommodation here consists of wooden cabins with bunk beds which were previously used as a summer camp for Greek kids.
Through out my time here I have seen residents slowly winterising the cabins with plastic sheeting and staple guns. There has been heavy rain which is penetrating the cabins and temperatures of minus four Celcius. Yesterday the last of the heaters were fitted in each home by volunteers, much to the relief of all!
Since joining the crew here I have been working as a teacher in the school, chatting in my best Arabic to kids, mums and dads and discovering many of the residents stories. The school is well attended in the camp by the under 6’s with the over 6’s attending local Greek school each day.
Everyone here has varying degrees of post traumatic stress. This is most obvious in the behavior of many of the youngest residents. Many of the kids demonstrate extremely angry and violent behavior which easily terrifies their younger siblings who are hugely reactive to fighting, shouting or displays of aggression and will cling to you for dear life in the playground!
The volunteers here are doing a tremendous job of introducing routine and play into the lives of these little ones. With plenty of hula hooping, skipping, dancing, basket ball, songs and art classes, the children here in the camp find they are free to express themselves in numerous ways.
This voluntary work, which is hugely commendable, will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the personal and social development of these children. Of course trauma manifests itself differently in the different individuals here. Some of the fathers drink and rant, a lot smoke, one lady lost all of her 5 children to the war and she is trying to suppress the night terrors she suffers through medication.
Women have seen their babies killed in front of their eyes, some are numb one day and weeping for hours the next, husbands have lost their wives to the sea on the journey here… and so the tragic stories unfold as I am invited into the families cabins for tea.
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