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Border Experience | Part 3


Last week, 385 refugees arrived in Greece. Most of them are fleeing from the continuing war in Syria, political instability in Iraq and 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.

This is the last time we will be paying the motorway toll. We are headed for Larisa, about 2 hours’ drive from Thessaloniki – it’s an expensive journey. And yet none of us are questioning whether this trip is really necessary. Later, we are waiting at the entrance of the temporary accommodation site Larisa Koutsochero, which currently houses approx. 650 refugees. It’s far from providing a “home” for these people. There are only a few trees offering much needed shade during these hot summer months, the stony ground doesn’t exactly encourage children to play outside and apart from that, the camp is surrounded by … nothing. Larisa, the nearest town, cannot be reached by foot, there’s no gas station or shop nearby to at least buy some water or top up your phone credit. The people in Larisa are on life support from NGOs providing aid on site.

Once a week, IHA distributes vegetables at the camp in Larisa. As soon as we leave the vehicle, our van is surrounded by children – once you have lived here for a while, you know what it means when the white van with a Munich number plate arrives. One of the camp residents, who knows the other people living here quite well and can interpret between us and the Kurdish and Syrian refugees, is offering his help with distributing the blue and green vegetable bags we’ve brought. Blue bags are for family groups of up to three people, green bags are for single refugees. It’s an easy system that has worked well so far, even though discussions and questions have come up repeatedly. Today, this camp resident helps us to resolve issues whenever something isn’t clear to the others and to get the heavy boxes out of our van and carry them up the steep paths in the camp. We then knock on each container door to offer the vegetable bags to its residents: Vegetables for you – You are welcome!

Four hours later, almost all of the bags have been distributed. We will leave behind whatever is left, as some of the camp residents are currently in Athens for their asylum application procedure. We are almost done with today’s distribution when it suddenly starts raining. Or rather, pouring. The paths in Koutsochero become little streams. Luckily, we are already in our van and protected from the deluge. After 20 minutes, the bad weather has passed. Teenagers come out to play football again and the other children start surrounding our van once more. They help us collect our empty boxes – a welcome distraction from their daily routine. While all of this is happening, the Greek military is keeping a more or less watchful eye on the situation. There are regular jeep patrols between the container rows.

Those refugees who are housed in camps on the Greek mainland are waiting for their asylum claims to be processed. According to the International Organization for Migration, there are currently 62.000 refugees in Greece waiting for their reply. For them, the regulation for the distribution of asylum seekers in Europe (Dublin III) is very much tangible here. The people in Koutsochero are waiting to hear whether or not they are granted asylum in Europe, which country will accept them and when they will be able to travel to their destination. In this camp, all of them had their fingerprints taken and their personal information collected for the European database Eurodac. For their interviews, which form part of the asylum application, they have to travel to the Greek capital. It’s another 350km from Larisa to Athens.

Translated from German by Christin Reitschuster 

Folgt unserem Instagram-Account https://www.instagram.com/iha_help/ und erhaltet weitere Einblicke in die Arbeit der IHA.