Views from the Ground: Skaramagas

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This is the second article from our “Views from the Ground” series. Campfire Innovation is based in Greece and often visits projects, camps and key locations to identify the challenges faced by volunteers and refugees and the best smart solutions deployed. This is a is a collection of stories based on the places we visit and the people we meet that inspire us.

Campfire Innovation had the chance to visit Skaramagas in Elefsina during the Shape Europe 2016 conference organised by and for WEF Global Shapers. This was an extremely informative visit and left us with a lot of thoughts about the importance and structure of camps.

A QUICK INTRODUCTION

Skaramagas is the largest camp in Greece. The camp is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior. However, the land is owned by the Navy which means they oversee operations and have staff present on the ground. There are over 3,000 people living on the premises. This includes 100–200 people that have recently arrived, have not been registered and have no access to accommodation and services in the camp, including no access to food distribution. They stay in tents on the edge of the camp. The rest of the population is accommodated in ISO boxes which includes a small kitchen, bathroom, running water, satellite dish & TV and air conditioning.

The space on which the camp has been set up is a former shipyard owned by the Navy. We were there on a very sunny day and stood melting in the sun while we were shown around by camp staff. A little shade could go a long way here.

Police guards the entrance to monitor who comes in but this is an open facility which means refugees are allowed to come and go freely and even leave the camp for good.

LIFE IN SKARAMAGAS

Daily operations and services (healthcare, children activities, mother & baby spaces) are implemented by a variety of INGOs and smaller NGOs (Danish Refugee Council, Drops in the Ocean, IFRC, Actionaid). UNHCR has field officers there most days for legal information and protection.

While Skaramangas is above average standards compared to most other camps around Greece, the first concern is still improving infrastructure and living conditions. Additionally, as another winter approaches, winterisation is crucial.

Food is provided by private contractors (catering companies). The general feedback is that the food is of very low quality and nutritional value.

There is not very much to do in the camp, especially for young men. Some have taken on rubbish cleaning duties to improve camp conditions.

There are no direct ties with the local community. There is a nearby town and buses that connect the camp to nearby Elefsina and Chaidari and to Athens. The Municipality of Chaidari provides cleaning and waste collection. Some local independent volunteers come to the camp to drop off donations.

LOOKING FOR SMART SOLUTIONS

Camps have traditionally been temporary emergency structures for movement of populations across rural areas. Right now, we are seeing more permanence in camps, refugees are more likely to come from urban areas or towns and our societies are accustomed to better levels of services. There is a growing trend to re-invent refugee camps.In Jordan, the Azraq camp was designed for more safety and a sense of community.

Skaramagas, so close to Athens, could become an example. Once basic needs are covered, it is important to bring some liveliness into the camp and make it a pleasant place to live in.

  • Disaster Tech Lab have set up wifi for the residents.

  • Drops in the Ocean are currently building a small community centre that will offer a small cafe space, classes, workshops and legal advice clinics. Many refugees are involved in the building activities. You can support their fundraising campaign here!

  • Hope School has launched, offering education for the younger residents of the camp.

  • Residents have set up an informal restaurant right on the waterfront!

Yet, more can be done!

Activities, education and skills development for children and adults are needed, especially young adult. They have little to do right now and that boredom and frustration quickly build up into discontent and fights.

Connecting to local communities (Elefsina, Korydallos, Nikaia and Chaidari are the nearest) would be welcome. However, it is becoming increasingly important for local communities to not feel they are being forgotten in favour of refugees. After all, Greece is also facing a crippling financial crisis and many Greeks are struggling to survive. Projects that benefit both refugees and locals and bring them together in a way that breaks down barriers would be key!

Camps are not an ideal set up. But they will be the reality for refugees for many months to come. It is important for them to offer conditions that are dignified and help refugees regain a level of routine and normalcy.

Want to volunteer in Greece? Why not check out www.GreeceVol.info for all the latest vacancies?