Thursday, 28 April 2016

Idomeni Diary: Day 3

Day 3 at Idomeni - March 18th
Tried to do the food distribution in the morning, but we were delayed outside the camp; a government minister was visiting and no one else was allowed in until they left, also cleaning firms were going around with trucks emptying the portaloos and bins and we were held up for an hour and a half. We scouted around for other distribution points outside the camp, including around the old train station where lots of people camped, but none were suitable.

Eventually we were allowed in and set up on the far side of the camp. Few groups distribute on this side, so the need is greater. Due to the fact we were delayed by the time we started distributing most people had gone to get food elsewhere, or brought it from some of the private businesses which set up just outside the camp. We distributed 1000 meal packs then decided to go elsewhere as the queue was petering out.

There was an argument with some of the refugees who were helping us at the end. The volunteer coordinators wanted to give them the same amount as all other refugees, in order not to encourage dozens of people from volunteering as helpers unnecessarily and using up resources needed elsewhere. A couple of helpers asked for several meal packs, saying they would distribute them to the other, and then walked off with them. When another was offered only one pack, he demanded the same as the others and when this was denied, he refused to accept the single pack and left.

I'd personally preferred to have given them more for their help, the concern from the coordinators is that can create unfair and unequal patronage networks, where the unofficial refugee volunteers can recruit their friends to help, while excluding others, something the coordinators want to avoid.

The reality is the aid distributions are disempowering and problematic in themselves, although at the moment they are necessary. The coordinators are trying to develop solutions which empower the refugees and give them more control and autonomy, and promote self organisation. The Syrian refugee coordinator has been trying to bulk buy thousands of pots and pans so refugees have the equipment to cook their own food, then volunteers can just distribute raw ingredients to families and groups and they can cook it themselves. This would save masses of time and energy, and give the refugees something they can do and have ownership of.

Lots of the ways the camp is structured leave them nothing to do. For instance the cleaning is normally done by volunteers with gloves and sacks provided by NGOs. But it makes more sense to organise refugees to keep the camp clean themselves, they have enough incentive and desire too, and the free time, but the political will isn't always there to spend the time and energy creating ways for the refugees to have control of this. Giving refugees control of cleaning, and food production would free up volunteers for other tasks (or better, make their presence redundant) and give the people in the camp back some dignity and control of their existence.

Conditions were better as the mud was drying out. Children were running around in the fields, playing football and badminton, and more people were out and about, milling around, drinking tea and talking.

We took the food leftover from the first distribution to one of the camps outside Idomeni. Refugees had squatted some abandoned buildings near a petrol station a few kilometres outside the camp. We distributed there, and came across more Pakistani refugees. Most of the people in Idomeni are from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan.

We headed back to the hotel, and after lunch started producing food for the next day. Our coordinators "miscalculated" and we ended up making 2000 meal packs, which took us seven hours. We finally finished at midnight.

Some volunteers referred me to a team of medical volunteers who I worked with on day 4.

MSF tent, with a simple demand
Bulgarian Doctors relief organisation

Children playing in the dry fields

Graffiti found in the camp today, probably done overnight by activists. Dozens of signs had this written on them around the camp

"The borders are closed. Stay in the camps, you will receive hospitality. Don't trust stupid people who put you in danger. Don't get tired without a reason." - Notice handed out by the police at Idomeni

Kurdish tent

Kurdish tent

Railway station encampment

Western Union office in the village of Idomeni

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