Families brace themselves for winter in camps as temperatures drop in Greece

Published: 15 November 2016 12:17 CET

By Anita Dullard, IFRC

Khaled Al Khedur and Amina Suliman came to Greece expecting to stay only a short time, before moving on through Europe. Nine months later they are still in northern Greece, getting to grips with the reality that they could be here for at least nine more.

“We don’t have any plan for the future because we’re stuck here,” said Khaled. “We are waiting on the EU relocation program. But right now we have no idea what our future will be.”

Khaled and Amina are just two of more than 60,000 people who have been stranded in Greece since the northern border— gateway to the rest of Europe — closed in February.

They keep themselves busy by volunteering with the Hellenic Red Cross’s hygiene promotion team, raising awareness about health and waste management issues in Nea Kavala camp where they live. More recently, they have been helping with distributions of emergency items for the camp community to make winter more bearable.

“We are happy to help people living in the camp to improve their situation here, and make the camp a more liveable community,” Khaled explained.

“Our tents flood when it rains”

In central Greece, families face similar issues. Amina shares a tent with her mum, four brothers and three sisters. The family have lived at Ritsona camp for eight months. In preparation for winter, Amina has been knitting woollen scarfs and hats to keep the family warm.

Describing life in the camp, Amina said: “Is really hard. Yesterday there was a mouse in the toilet. And our tents flood when it rains.”

Both Nea Kavala and Ritsona camps are shifting residents out of tents and into container units equipped with electricity, heating, shower and toilet. But not all camps are being adjusted in this way. In other camps, where people will be stuck in tents over winter, the Red Cross has been working with other humanitarian organizations to provide insulation and flooring for tents to protect people from the wind and rain.

“What kind of life is this?”

At Cherso camp, Mohammad Ali Alshekh is living with his two teenage boys. He and his sons will spend their winter in a tent. He said: “In Syria I owned a spare parts business for European cars. Now I am reduced to living in a tent, with no end in sight. What kind of life is this for my children?”

The Red Cross is advocating for alternative housing for people stranded in Greece. More than 12 months into the crisis, the Red Cross believes people should be assisted to move out of camps and into longer term and more dignified housing.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ Head of Office, Ruben Cano said: “It is critical that the response in Greece moves from the emergency phase to sustainable, long-term solutions. That includes housing for people who are expected to be here for months to come, and the swift relocation of asylum seekers and refugees under the EU relocation and family reunification schemes.”