It felt somehow symbolic that at the refugee camp in Athens’ abandoned Elliniko airport, many refugee families have pitched their tents around the old ‘Arrivals’ hall, while the ‘Departures’ area of the airport remains blocked off by wire fencing. Refugees have been staying in the Elliniko airport since they arrived in Athens. Many have had to stay here for four months already, since the borders have closed and they must await information about what will happen to them.They cannot leave Greece until their formal relocation is enacted, but the process has been very slow-moving.
Many tents are outdoors, and it is boiling hot in Athens this week. Kids race around, but most adults are sitting in the limited shade. Several of the workers with the humanitarian organizations onsite tell us that the refugees at Elliniko have their most basic needs covered, like food, medical care, and water, but that they are most in need of dignity. We are told that patience on the ground is thin, and it is easy to understand why. To know information about one’s fate, to be able to bathe and clothe one’s own children, not to sleep on the hard ground: these are basic elements of dignity that many refugees are missing. Camps around the city differ, and we are told that this is one of the worst. Many other camps are better equipped, with living conditions that are more appropriate and dignified. However, the need for more information is a recurring theme.
This weekend we are working with our Arabic translator to interview refugees and learn more about their experiences coming to Greece. Hearing these narratives first-hand has already been very impactful and enlightening for us, and it is our hope that this research will lead to improvements of the situation.