With your help during the past months we equipped and organized many transports to Greece to bring aid supplies to refugees. As we are aiming to achieve a mid- and long-term improvement in the quality of life of those stranded in Greece, we developed some ideas which are more complex than just delivering supplies.
On 22. April Kay and myself therefore flew to Thessaloniki, to establish as many contacts as possible with locally working organization and to get some firsthand experiences of the situation. Apart from visiting the large camp at Idomeni we wanted to have a look at some camps run by armed forces: we wanted to assess which infrastructural steps we could possibly take regarding kindergartens, schools, kitchens or distribution points. That was the plan made from afar…
On-site at the military camps
Reality hit us full force. We visited four military camps in total, with one of them not even showing up on official, publically available lists yet. At three of these camps it was difficult enough to get permission to enter at all. Photography was forbidden everywhere, even though the camps look orderly at first glance: Identical tents arranged in a grid, numbered, tidily attached to the ground. In every camp we encountered people whose mood ranged from sad to infuriated to desperate. Whenever we talked to them we heard stories of separation and loss, of misery. These conversations were important. To walk through a camp without talking to its inhabitants gave me a feeling of being a visitor in a zoo, of a white colonial master strolling through his plantation. I was mortified seeing people in living conditions worse than you would encounter them in a prison. Too few toilets, no showers in some places, each and every single day the same cold food for adults and children likewise, mostly no entertainment of any sort, predominantly no shaded areas. Realising that anything we can possibly do provides but a little comfort of a nightmare come true makes the idea of helping a cynical one. When asking those people what they need, there is only one answer: It doesn’t matter to us what food we get and how and where we sleep, the only thing we want is to get away from here. We want to live in dignity, we want to see our wives, our children, our parents again. We don’t want to die a slow death in oblivion. Activities or entertainment of any sort, education, psychological care, retreats, genuine challenges that give life a sense: no chance.
The absurd situation that sheer luck determines whether one can move around freely, finding a clean hotel room with all the amenities of life in the evening, and a 80 EUR return ticket to Germany – or whether you have to live on cold sandwiches and a sleeping site on rocky ground without any prospect of getting anywhere is disquieting. Providing 50,000 people with the basic necessities in a country which lies broken itself, suffering from an unemployment rate of 25%, where 50% of the young adults never had a job, where solidary movements to provide citizens with food and medical aid sprout like mushrooms, in a recession-stricken country it doesn’t take much to trigger an explosive mood. Especially when all of a sudden refugees need help, when there is hardly enough for the locals.
We stood there, having no idea where to start. Realizing that whatever we do isn’t more than bringing a person suffering from cancer some relief for their headache is disillusioning and feels like a punch in the stomach. 50,000 people stranded in Greece are 50,000 individual fates.50,000 dismal pictures and it’s not us who have to stand them, but them. Stand them on every single day.
It pleases us when and wherever we can help those refugees with clothing, Food, medicine or tents. However, what is it? Nothing. It is not what they are entitled to: human dignity. Volunteers like us do what official don’t do anyway. And we mustn’t stop, for giving up is even worse than doing nothing at all. We need to show these people, that there are people who care about them, who aren’t indifferent to their individual tragedies, who do whatever they can to help. Who listen. Who, maybe, just do what makes a difference between giving up and carrying on. We aren’t heroes, we aren’t saviours. With the limited means at hand we just do the very least that can be done.
At the camp in Idomeni
Compared to the military camps the mood at the camp in Idomeni is almost cheerful. The tents are improvised. Dark, smelly clouds of smoke rise from fireplaces scattered all over the place. It’s muddy after rainfall, it’s hot when the sun is shining. But nevertheless: children are playing, people are laughing here and there. Why is that? Because here, in a freedom which finds its only limitations in barbed wire cutting off they way to the north, hope is still sparkling. Add to that the attention and care of many volunteers who create a relaxed, almost festive atmosphere by handing out tea, food, clothing or simply by paying attention. However, it is predictable that this camp will be dissolved and that the refugees will be transferred to official camps. This will make it much harder for small organizations as access to those camps is heavily regulated.
We are making plans. We want to help the neediest. We want to create places where children can be children. Where mothers find peace and safety for themselves and their babies. We want to contribute to the ability of those people to create an everyday life consisting of more than the waiting time for the daily handing out of food rations. We will succeed, together with you, our partners here in Munich and on-site. Step by step. It’s a long-distance run, not a sprint.
We want to thank Dominik Kodlin of IHA, Aslam Obaid and Robert Martinkovic, without whose contacts and networks our action would have ended at the gates of the camps. Another thank you goes out to Chris from InterVolve, who – with a lot of patience and knowledge – reminds us of the situation at these “forgotten” camps.
What we have achieved so far
Equipping a camp with 400 field beds. Better Sleep and safety from snakes.
Providing many people with pots, to enable them to cook their own meals
Erecting a school tent in the military camp of Nireas, coordinated by Robert Martinkovic
What we intend to do:
Providing whole camps with new, good-quality summer clothes
Securing the provision with medicines and medical aid
Creation of safe spaces for mothers and children
Taking part in coordinating relief efforts for military camps, optimizing logistics
It takes your help to help us realizing all these projects. We will provide you with more detailed plans shortly, setting up a betterplace-fundraising page. What is more, we will give you the option to get personally involved.
For now, you can help us by donating directly to our account at
IBAN DE47 7015 000 1004 2328 54
Account holder: Heimatstern e.V.
The pictures in this post were made at the camp in Idomeni.