Federico and Giovanni of Maisha at the Refugee Camp in Ritsona, Greece

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The Ritsona refugee camp (about two hours drive north of Athens) is home to approximately 500 people of different ethnicities and backgrounds but mostly Syrians. It is difficult to determine the number exactly, since there are no enclosures that contain it, and therefore the count is variable. Everyone is waiting to know their fate. Everyone must be pre-registered and registered in order to apply for asylum, ask for family reunification because they have relatives in other countries of the Union and even those who know they have no chance and only hope not to be sent back.

Inside the camp, under the scorching sun and attached to each other, there are about 155 tents hosting refugees by family groups. There are many children.

In addition to ours, other voluntary organizations such as the Red Cross operate on the field.

Echo100plus manages the “warehouse” in a former military building in which several basic necessities have been crammed.

It is the only structure equipped with electricity and is organized by rooms: clothes, food, and hygiene.

The largest one is used for the collection of clothes that are then divided by gender and size and organized in boxes. The distribution, for a number of reasons, is rather complex.
The hygiene room collects products for personal use that are distributed twice a week, such as toothbrushes (90% of refugees do not use them), shampoos, nappies, wet wipes, etc.

The last room is for food; three times a day, just before meals, the army catering service delivers orange juice, bread, brioches, oranges / peaches, water, cheese, milk and a meal that varies, usually some cooked vegetables with tomato sauce or pasta.

(The food delivered by the army gives each refugee a daily contribution of 2000 kcal).

The hygienic conditions of the camp are critical: there are less than ten electricity sockets, which are obviously not enough for 155 tents. Water other than that delivered daily by Echo100plus, is toxic as it contains arsenic. Temperatures are around 35-38 degrees on average, with those inside the tents reaching up to 45/50 degrees.

At our departure, Echo100plus distributed a small battery-powered fan for each tent (better than nothing). The mobile bathrooms are the classic “chemicals”, their hygienic conditions are very bad among flies, smells and dirt.

The routine tasks of the volunteers of Echo100plus consist in unloading the army trucks and the distribution of meals at set times, during which a refugee for each tent delivers a ticket at the counter on which is indicated the number of adults, boys and children present. For each age group corresponds a pre-established ration.

In addition to the distribution of primary goods, Echo100plus deals with other projects within the field, in order to engage refugees in different activities. The proposals range from yoga lessons to carpentry. Although tensions due to shifts, excessive heat and a still imperfect organization often arise, they are projects that are well received and welcomed with enthusiasm. Other organizations give English lessons to young people and provide health care.

A nascent project is linked to tailoring: currently Echo100plus owns 5 sewing machines, although only one, is used twice a week by the only tailor present among refugees and takes care of adjusting and arranging the clothes of those in need.

The project plans for an expansion in the use of the machines, creating, if possible, a dedicated space and teaching other refugees the basics of sewing and cloth alterations.

Each association carries out its tasks almost independently on the field.

Giovanni and I, in the ten days of stay, have dealt, in addition to the routine tasks described above, with the “carpentry” project. It had just started, when we arrived, by an Austrian guy, leaving by now, who introduced us to whathad been done and “passed the baton”.

The project is to provide refugees with wood, pallets and tools needed to build what they need in tents, such as beds, tables, doors or chairs.

To access the carpentry one needs to register and wait for his/her turn, as the demand is high but the space, the wood and the tools available are limited, which allows access only to four or five people at a time.

The pace of work, during these ten days, has been very intense. A longer stay could certainly have created opportunities to deepen the dialogue or direct knowledge of some people housed in the camp. For example, other volunteers were invited to the tents to have a coffee or to share stories at dinner party.

I have observed that many people, among the refugees, have made themselves available to provide community services such as helping to unload the van or collect garbage. Surely, as already in the case of the tailor, it would be interesting to use the existing professional skills for the common good and it is in this perspective that the volunteers try to make an organizational contribution.

Every passage of airplane is a source of anxiety for those coming from countries at war. The plugging of the ears or, simply, the frightened expressions, point to distressing scenarios.

The “refugees” topic is too complex to reduce it to superficial considerations of pietism or, conversely, criticism. What is certain is that the world’s eye cannot ignore it and the International Community should commit itself so that this human migration is commensurate, regulated, guided by a cultural mediation that the volunteers, alone, cannot sustain. As volunteers we can only come to the aid of other human beings.

Federico and Giovanni

 

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Luciano Zapponi

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