15.07.2016 Oreokastro camp: Waiting for months and months

They keep us imprisoned here, and from time to time we get an injection, like the promise of relocation or reunification, to keep us silent“ (M., pharmacist from Deir Al Zoar, Syria, staying at Oreokastro camp)

Oreokastro camp was set up in a former tobacco factory, located in an industrial area in the outskirts of Thessaloniki – like many other camps where migrants and refugees who are not allowed to cross the border to Macedonia have been brought. According to UNHCR, the camp was opened on 28 April 2016 and has 320 tents and 58 toilets for 1433 people; 40% of them are children. The majority of the tents are inside a dilapidated industrial building. However, the size of the building does not suffice for all the tents, implying that around 20 tents are set up outside the building on concrete ground, exposed to rain and scorching summer heat.

Many people were brought to Oreokastro during the eviction of Idomeni in May this year. The residents of the camp can exit and enter the fenced area, but there is nowhere to go. The entrance is guarded jointly by the Hellenic Police and the Hellenic Army. Their behaviour towards independent supporters and observers wanting to enter the camp, be it to visit friends or to document the situation, seems arbitrary, allowing them to enter one day, but not the next.

Volunteers have brought small fans to make the heat more bearable, and other volunteers come to teach language classes. However, there are still many problems prevalent in the camp. „There are NGOs here, but they do not solve the problems„, M. explains. „The light in the toilet area broke several days ago, and the NRC promised to fix it, but the lights are still broken and we cannot see anything at night. Some people are scared to go to the bathroom„, he continues.

When the official aid structures fail, people at Oreokastro self-organise to ameliorate the situation. „They did not distribute all the food and goods, but we knew that it was in the containers in the sun and that the food will be damaged. So we opened the containers and distributed the food ourselves„, M. explains. Now the food is better than before.

In any case, the living conditions are not the main concern of the people stuck in Oreokastro. Better conditions would not change the fact that people do not want to stay in the camp and that they continue to be denied the possibility to continue their travels to other countries on legal routes. People are still separated from their friends and families, who live on the other side of the borders, which they are not allowed to cross. Many people suffer psychological consequences, due to the hard conditions in the camp, and some have already left and tried to travel on in different ways.

Oreokastro camp was the first camp to be processed in the pre-registration procedure. The pre-registration is an additional bureaucratic step, introduced in June 2016, which people in the camps in Greece have to take before they can apply for relocation, family reunification or asylum in Greece. The official procedures are extremely slow, characterised by long waiting times, additional bureaucratic procedures, sporadic contact with the authorities, and uncertainty under difficult living conditions. M. describes the situation poignantly:

They keep us imprisoned here, and from time to time we get an injection, like the promise of relocation or reunification, to keep us silent. Under international human rights law, you are allowed to leave any country, everybody here should be allowed to cross the border and to apply for asylum. We did not come to the European Union to spend our lifes in small tents.“

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