It’s difficult for me to write about the new camps. I have to remain diplomatic. We are trying to forge relationships with each commander to allow teams of small NGOs access to serve the populations inside.
But these camps are terrible in ways that make me question any faith I had in the broken asylum system. Basic human needs for clean water, privacy, enough food, medical access, and showers are largely unmet. The camps are isolated—rows of army tents hastily put up inside of abandoned warehouses in industrial areas. Kids play on small patches of cracked concrete, food is insufficient, on-site medical support hardly exists, safe drinking water is not always available, and electricity and WiFi are a rare luxury.
I heard that a hunger strike is planned. They’re hoping for more media coverage, but that won’t happen in a compassion-fatigued world. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)—in an attempt to make a political statement against conditions in these camps—is refusing to go in and provide aid, and, by doing so, “validate” the existence of some of these camps. That leaves major gaps in lifesaving services to be provided by volunteers. The big international aid organizations are absent, the Greek system is completely overwhelmed, and stuck in the middle of all of this are these beautiful, resilient, traumatized small kids who are growing up learning how little the world cares about them.
Everywhere I go, refugees tell me that they want to go back to Syria—that a fast death there is better than this slow death in Greece.
This evening, I did a site assessment for one of the worst camps. “We’re treated like animals,” a group of mothers told me through a translator.
An old woman with deq facial tattoos recognized me from an afternoon tea in Idomeni. She approached me, kissed me hello, and begged for insulin. A determined Syrian woman whose husband was killed in bombings at home gave me a tour of the 12-foot-tall pile of industrial waste that lines the side of the warehouse, along with the outhouses that haven’t been cleaned for weeks. “I want to work with you,” she said through a translator. “Can we make this place better?”
Colleen Sinsky worked as a volunteer assisting refugees on the island of Lesvos in 2015. She returned to Greece with the organization A Drop in the Ocean this year.