Since I last blogged we have immersed ourselves into the work at the Salvation Army and also into other groups. Within the Salvation Army, I’ve now completed putting their records onto a data base, so that we more accurately see how many families we’ve got registered with us and some other key data. We’ve registered an additional 210 families in the three weeks since we’ve been here, and I’ve heard some very sad stories. Stories of lone females living in fear and having suffered sexual assault, refugee families who are living in a schoolroom with 5 other families sharing one bathroom between 300 people, and a Greek family who having lost work are now living with no water as this has been cut off. They are all such sad stories and we are learning about the real need of both the asylum seekers and the locals.
Currently on a worldwide scale there are other countries like Sudan, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia where people are starving, and in this context it has been declared that Greece is no longer in crisis. I guess that this is true, in as much as refugees are not flooding in to the country at the same rate as they were over the last couple of years, (although about 50 people a week are still arriving on the Islands), but the fact that people in other countries are also suffering does not reduce the needs here in Greece. Many of the refugees here are really struggling to make any life for themselves, or see a way forward for themselves or their families. They have escaped horrors that I can’t begin to imagine, seen family members die and find themselves here in Athens, where their future is, but there doesn’t appear to be a way for many of them to establish themselves with a home and a job to support their families. On top of this, things are very uncertain in Turkey which could have a huge impact on the number of refugees that arrive in Greece in the future.
The Greek Governement have recently announced that as from 01/04/2017 NGO’s will not be able to supply many non food items like toiletries, nappies and female hygiene products to refugees. The NGO’s have until 01/07/2017 to use any existing stock that they have from which date I understand it will be a criminal offence for NGOs to supply these items. I understand that the intention of this is that families will instead have to register for cash cards, which are topped up by UNHCR, with money depending on the size of the family. If the refugees use their cash cards to purchase the non food items then this will boost the Greek economy which needs all the help it can get. This is all very sensible except that you have to qualify to have to apply for a cash card, and there has to be sufficient money on the card to purchase these essential items for the scheme to work. Unfortunately the qualification for a cash card is tough, as you have to be registered as an asylum seeker and either living in a camp or in a proper house (not a squat, or on the street) which disqualifies many at the first hurdle. The prices in the shops are more expensive than in the U.K. and families are not given a lot of money on a card, so it is unlikely that a family with children that need nappies will be able to afford nappies, food and other costs on the money they’re given. I do not know how this will work its way out, but it seems pretty hopeless for many.
Aside from the day centre, we’ve been helping a wonderful man called Artur who runs a ‘Tea and Sandwiches’ programme. Twice, or sometimes three times a week, Artur makes 60 huge sandwiches and 4 flasks of tea which he then takes out to feed the homeless on the street. We’ve helped make sandwiches, and been out on the streets with Artur a number of times and met many of the people that he’s helping to feed. The first group he visits are the most desperate. Many of these people have no papers and so really have no recourse to access any of the formal services. They are living on the streets with only the clothes they wear and the food they can source from either free services, begging or going through bins. During the course of the route Artur takes he feeds at least 60 rough sleepers. He sometimes has medics accompany him who treat any injuries and ailments, and he also distributes clothes. We’ve come across a couple of English people who have been in Greece for many years, been caught in the crash and ended up on the street. They live alongside others from across Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and many other countries.
The Salvation Army are also going through changes in leadership which impacts on Captain Curtis and Captain Ray who will have increased responsibility in this project, and within their church, until further support arrives. We have been able to assist them in making some changes to the day to day running in the day centre which has had a positive impact, but there is work to be done as we try and sort out how to work through the Government instructions and how to give access to the clothes that we currently would like to distribute without there being fights and squabbles.
We would value prayers for the refugees in Greece and their situation, for the work in the day centre, that we can find a way to still provide a useful service that meets some of the needs of the the people we are trying to serve and for the staff in the day centre. We are a team predominantly made up of volunteers, some of whom are asylum seekers themselves, and they are working hard to use their skills within the day centre and also trying to establish themselves with getting homes, connecting electricity, getting bank accounts and establishing themselves in a new country. A tough call.