01 July 2016
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The camp described below by Shala Gafry is where the Greek government intended to hold the unaccompanied minors involved in the forthcoming Sh. D. v Greece case, which was communicated to the European Court of Human Rights on 24 March 2016(French, pdf).
"I wish I could tell you today was a better day. It wasn't. We, a group of 15 Greeks, Afghan-Greeks and Americans, visited Malakasa camp today, 50 km north of Athens. We spent some time speaking with people individually and collectively to learn about their experiences on the camp. Although I had visited the camp while I was there in April and it was terrible then, what we heard was shocking.
The nearly thousand people that live are all sun burned, dehydrated (they receive just 1.5 liters of warm bottled water per person ever other day), and undernourished. Many times they have vomited and defecated blood from eating the camp meals. They live in fabric tents and find snakes and scorpions in them regularly. There are only 5 showers for these people and a handful of dirty port-a-potties, although flushable toilets are available in containers but locked for refugee use. Many residents have UTIs and rashes around their genitals from these inhumane conditions.
There are not enough medical personnel assigned the camp (a few EMTs come for a few hours a day, a few times a week), and when they are able to be seen to address their illnesses are usually told to drink water as their only "medicine." Even basic painkillers are hard to come by, and when they are distributed, they are given just one. Many of the women are pregnant. They have never been to the hospital. Many others have had miscarriages because they are denied permission to go to the hospital when they experience abdominal pain (they are told this is normal). When an ambulance is called, it takes hours for it to arrive and the family is denied entry into the ambulance. It costs 40 euros one way to go by taxi. Some taxi drivers have driven these families back to the camp from the hospital and hold the children hostage until they go into the camp and find money. The child is at that point released.
There are no schools, no NGOs who do any meaningful work, and no official interpreters. They have never spoken with any lawyers. No reporters or photographers are permitted, and there is a de facto shut down of information flow coming in and out of the camp. No toiletries are distributed, although there are plenty in the storage units. There are no towns nearby and when the residents attempt to board the trains to purchase basic needs, they are immediately kicked off for non-payment of fare.
We held a town hall style meeting towards the end, and unanimously the residents said they are at their wits end. Mental health problems are rampant. People are depressed and don't leave their tents for days at a time. Fights between residents are a usual affair. So is domestic violence. There is constant sunshine on this hilltop and very little constructed shade. Many have suicidal thoughts. Countless men and women were uncontrollably sobbing, wishing they had drowned in the Mediterranean than face this daily. One woman risked her life defending human rights in Afghanistan. She feels now that it was all a sham. The West has no human rights and instead the very term mocks them and they are ablaze with anger that they crossed the Sea in search of a promise that was all a lie.
Instead, what there is is a corrupt site leader, Uncle Tom interpreters from among them who receive special meals, ice in their drinks (there is not a single refugee-use refrigerator) and free rides into the city, and NGOs complicit in these injustices. They are also encouraged regularly to go back to Afghanistan. Many have gone back. One family from their camp who did so had their car stopped on the road by Daesh and beheaded for having returned from Europe. The families we spoke to knew them. Apparently, you can find the video of the beheading on YouTube.
When one of the few NGOs who operate there stopped by to find out what we were doing, I asked why there were no official interpreters. They said they didn't need any. They do children's activities. The people are not want for anything. They lie and exaggerate and any inefficiencies are not their responsibility. One Dutch man said he was offended and I shouldn't tell them what to do. A little while later, I approached him again and encouraged him to speak to a refugee. I insisted on translating word for word. A refugee offered his opinion on the conditions of the camp. The Dutch man said under his breath "I don't care." I translated this. He hesitated, but only for a moment. He then said that I was not fit to translate.
For the first time, I wonder: What exactly is the point of keeping these people here? Children smile and wave and say "hello" to us. Then they go back into their tents, under the beating sun, their spirits broken, their minds unhinged, their self-worth shattered, while the rest of us feel good that we have done a great job helping these poor dark-skinned people settle into an enlightened democracy."
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