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Border Experience | Part 2

REPORT: 23TH JULY 2017

Last week, 312 refugees arrived in Greece. Most of them are fleeing from the continuing war in Syria, political instability in Iraq or ethnic persecution in Afghanistan.
We would like to share our experience during our stay with the Intereuropean Human Aid Association (IHA) in Thessaloniki, Northern Greece in the upcoming weeks. In our blog, GRenzerfahrung, we will document our volunteer experience, which for us means five weeks of quite literally borderline experiences.

The beach is only a couple of hundred metres away. It‘s hot today, but there‘s a cooling breeze which makes the heat more bearable. Some beachgoers are waiting at the bus station. We find a parking spot nearby and leave the car. But we‘re not here to visit the beach. Instead, we are visiting a former holiday park, which now houses about 150 refugees. Most of them fled the war in Syria and have left their home already three years ago. Their journey has led them across Turkey to the Greek islands and finally, to Northern Greece. Today, we are in Epanomi, approx. 45 minutes by car from Thessaloniki. IHA is providing aid at this temporary shelter: play groups for children in the afternoon, distribution of fresh vegetables and milk for families and birthday parties for children.
Many of the refugees staying at Epanomi are waiting to be reunited with family members. A father living in the UK or an uncle in Sweden – efforts are being made to enable these refugees to live with their families again, but it’s very time consuming. For some, this means waiting for three years before being able to start a new life as a family and offer prospects to their children. Three years, which nobody can give them back, beach or no beach. This is not a holiday for these people, but an escape from war, torture and oppression. While political solutions to speed up family reunions within the EU will still be some time in coming, IHA and its volunteers celebrate children‘s birthdays, they play football with teenagers and talk to the people about their day-to-day worries. Today, we are particularly happy about a 19 days old newborn – born as a refugee in Greece.

We attend a birthday party, enjoy some cake and celebrate a new life. For just a short while, we all forget what has brought us here today. On this little balcony, in this temporary shelter for refugees in Greece, all borders disappear – different nations, cultures, ideas and fears all united on just a couple of square metres. What will become of this newborn? Where will its family live?
There‘s loud music, dancing and clapping, sweet cake, and children chasing balloons or playing with volunteers and climbing on their backs.
On our way back to Thessaloniki, we realise how tired we are after three hours of playing with the children, distributions vegetables to the adults and communicating in several languages. It‘s hard sometimes to understand everybody. While navigating the evening traffic in Thessaloniki, we receive our shift plan for the next day – there’s another busy day ahead for everybody.

More information on family reunions
Mobile Info Team in Thessaloniki campaigns for quick family reunifications. For this, they started a petition.

Translated from German by Christin Reitschuster