Life Inside Elliniko Camp, Greece

Among the remnants of the abandoned Elliniko airport in southern Greece live thousands of families who have been forced to create homes in this makeshift refugee camp.

As many as 1,000 people currently live in the arrivals area of the former airport; hundreds of others live in other abandoned buildings in the camp. In addition to the abandoned airport, the Elliniko camp includes buildings once used for the 2004 Athens Olympics, such as the hockey, baseball and basketball stadiums. Many of the refugees seek out shade and the occasional breeze in the unused stadiums – a welcome respite from the summer heat and cramped tents they are living in.

Where thousands once crowded to cheer athletes, families are now crowded in dire conditions, unsure of what the future holds for them. According to the latest estimates, 2,849 men, women and children reside at the Elliniko refugee camp.

201607_Elliniko_teacher Yalda

Yalda has always dreamed of getting a college degree in English literature and becoming a teacher. In her home country of Afghanistan, this was close to impossible. When her brother began working for the United States army in Pakistan, her family began to receive death threats from the local Taliban militia and they decided to flee to Europe. “When we arrived here six months ago, I thought I could be somebody for these people. So I set up a school with other volunteers to teach and support refugees. Women trust me and come to me when they have a complaint or want to discuss private issues. So you could say I am like an ‘unofficial’ woman leader in Hockey camp”.

According to the latest estimates, 2,849 men, women and children reside at the Elliniko refugee camp.

201607_Elliniko_Martha and Ahmadi first groupsession copy

Our Doctors of the World team has been working in the camp since 2015 and consists of a doctor, a pediatrician, two psychologists and five interpreters. Together, they provide the residents of the camp with primary healthcare, pediatric care and psychological support. Many of the children in the camp suffer from respiratory problems related to the difficult living conditions and often arduous journeys to get to Greece. Our psychologist, Martha, previously provided psychosocial support as a Doctors of the World volunteer aboard a ferry transporting refugees and migrants to the Greek mainland. At Elliniko, she offers support in private and group sessions where people can meet and discuss their concerns and fears. Martha’s goal is “to help people find a way to cope with daily life within this community”.

201607_Elliniko_Alireza copy

Alireza arrived in the camp five and a half months ago with his family after a long journey from Iran to Turkey that took months to complete. A smuggler then arranged a rubber boat for him and his family, including his cousin Mohammed, from Cesme in Turkey to Greece. However, in the chaos of the journey Alireza and Mohammed became separated. Thankfully, Alireza recently learned that Mohammed had safely made it to Germany. His aunt has applied for family reunification, but Alireza doesn’t know when he will see Mohammed again.

We recently expanded our efforts to include a mobile dental unit. Our dentist, Sofia, and her assistant, Ippolyti, have been providing free dental services for refugees since July. Every morning, dozens of people line up in front of our medibus to receive treatment. On average, Sofia sees around 15 patients a day, many of whom have never been to a dentist before. At the end of the summer, the bus will travel across Greece to provide treatments in other refugee camps.

When Azimi, an artist from Herat in Afghanistan, first set up his painting stall at the entrance to the Hockey stadium the camp managers had reservations. Azimi explains how “Now they provide me with paint and other materials for my weekly workshop that I hold for about 50 students”. In early August, Azimi held his first exhibition at a makeshift school in the Hockey stadium.

Our main clinic in Elliniko runs in a parking lot from 10am to 4pm, Monday – Friday. In the evening, a group of volunteers takes over in case of emergencies. Authorities are planning to close down the camp in late August, and have been threatening to do so for months. The fate of the thousands of people in Elliniko camp remains unclear.