The Good & Bad Endured at the Refugee Camps in Athens, Greece · What I Witnessed

The Good & Bad Endured at the Refugee Camps in Athens, Greece · What I Witnessed

As I committed to a 6 week journey, once I arrived → I soon realized, I was shielded from reality. No one could have prepared me to the things I became exposed to. No amount of research or information on the world-wide-web could have given me the slightest hint. I even learned things about my own two home countries that shook me. Some things educated me, while others left me disgusted and confused.

I was shocked to come across so many Afghan blooded refugees who had spent their entire lives, and generations ago, living in Iran. My mother’s land. From them, I heard some gruesome stories about the government → the legality of discrimination and racism.

Shocked — as I am half Persian and half Afghan. Blessed — that my parents and extended family shielded me from knowing these ways…. until now. If I knew this when I was younger, the pride I have for my nationalities wold have been tarnished. I would have hidden my identity, but today — I’m wise enough to know the difference.

When it came to the Talibans/Daesh (ISIS) in Afghanistan → a young Afghani teen broke it down very simple. In a way only one who has witnessed it first hand could. He said there are 3 tiers within the government and people — ranging from the extremists to the moderate. There are the ones that abuse the power and use the religion in extreme ways. There are also the types of Taliban that leave people be. Of course I’m butchering his words, but it’s hard to translate this.

I had asked him why he left, he said that the Daesh forced him to join. That they threatened him if he didn’t, they would kill him. His journey was one of many I soon learned met hardships I could never endure. From Afghanistan to Greece, I can’t give away too much yet but it included hanging on the side of a boat for days. Hiding from the boats staff and trying to survive.

This article will cover some of the things I learned first hand ↓ This piece was journaled/written after my first week at the camps.

Disclosure: I wrote these as journal entries → turned into a series of articles. So please excuse the many mentions of I, I, and I. The reason I did not share my experience sooner, is because there was a risk of not being permitted back to my volunteer services. Yes, even as a volunteer I could get banned. Truth is, a lot of ugly things have been done by “volunteers” and even including the workers involved — and to avoid any trouble, I kept quite. So some things I will rush over — but share over time. So please bare with me. 

→ And the obvious → please excuse any typos, run on sentences, and everything else — as this is me, raw and unedited. 

There’s no denying that life in a foreign country is hard. When you don’t know the language, the routes, or even their customs. To have no support, lack finances, and carry the weight of your family without knowing the outcome. To leave everything *home* behind for better opportunities can only be fueled by courage. Don’t misjudge it for fear.

We were scared, but our fear was not as strong as our courage.

— Malala Yousafzai

Incomplete but drawn on a wall at the camps. A home like this does not exists for them yet, where they are now.

I’m a firm believer in the gift and the curse effect. The good and the bad. This means that everything good has its evils and in everything bad you can find some good. A few things that surprised me when it came to their quality of life and the positives include:

When there is a will there is a way ↓

Not all camps are the same, but the one I was volunteering at allows for the refugees to leave the site whenever. This is a huge privilege. The good news is that when it comes to transportation, most bus drivers look the other way when it comes to tickets. Though, from time to time, conductors or police come on board to “check for transportation passes” which in reality is to catch refugees. During my time away I was stopped three times; once seemed protocol, the other time was for racist reasons, and the last time it was crooks.

The immigrants have means to clean water, good food (after a successful strike), translators, public education for children, and classes for all. But they’re at a distance away. Greece provides public bathrooms, showers, and even gyms at the park. When it came to showers, if they couldn’t use the ones on location — they had means to travel to public ones. Most did this at least once a week.

I hate to admit it, but I was expecting a dirtier crowd — and that’s just being blunt. I was relieved that that wasn’t the case. Imagine living in tents, as if you’ve been camping for over a year. I would start to care less about my appearance, but that wasn’t the case with them. They kept clean, scrubbed underneath their fingernails, and washed their feet regularly.

Some did smell like they had been walking around pissing themselves — and that’s in all honesty. Those same people, were the ones that had given up hope. We didn’t interact much. I’ll talk more about this in the negatives — but mainly because of what I didn’t let them do to me. It’s a guilt game for them.

Each family gets some compensation from the Greece government depending on their family size, status, and age — the politics to this is very frightening and I will explain in a later post. With this, they buy mobiles. Cell phones are a necessity and the way each person communicates with the government. For whatever they may need — interviews, status, etc. With their phone comes WiFi.

This means communication lines are open. They have a means to information that’s available online, like you and I. They can communicate with their families around the globe and many of them know how to use certain applications better than I.

I’m about to write about some things that are hard to take in, I advise to read with caution and an open mind. The negatives include:

Prostitution and pedophilia is real. It happens amongst the younger boys who are here without any families. From the government, they get little money and in order to survive they do awful things. This is how it started, as far as I know…. out of necessity and loneliness. There’s a park nearby the camps, where older Greek men go — it’s a park where children use to play at innocently. But then it changed when older men would approach them and start touching in inappropriate ways. Pat them on their backs, caress their legs, etc. Wave 20 Euros or so and direct them to a nearby bush or segregated location.

One of my colleagues student told her this → he came forth because he wanted to commit suicide. Ashamed of what he had done, alone with the heavy burden of finding a way for himself and his family left behind in a war zone. He said something along these lines …

Teacher, I don’t want to live. I don’t know if I’ll survive in their world and I feel that I cheated my own. I have done something terrible. My religion and family would never forgive me. I don’t want to live.

I mentioned before that even as a volunteer, being allowed in was a risk and the chance of being kicked out was real. The Greek government does this to protect the refugees. It seems like a lot of people have abused the intentions of volunteers. So out of necessity, the government has to take extreme caution. Volunteers have come in the past — both male and female — and put up a kind face. They soon lured away refugees and put them to slave work. Some, most, even as sex slaves.

UGH seriously WHAT THE FUCK!? Even as I write this, I’m mad! How can people do this to one another — I just can’t … excuse me. I need to step away.

I took this photo at one of the camps. I love that in all misery, art still exists.

It’s hard to be yourself at the camps. The stereotypical concepts of male, female, and separations are very real. But some see pass this. When we first began classes we had to ask the people if they were comfortable mixing genders. One elderly woman said it perfectly:

In order to survive in the world we have to find comfort in this. It is the way things are. If women here aren’t comfortable being in a mixed class then they won’t be comfortable living in the real world. If they don’t start here, they won’t start out there…

You can loose time here, get stuck in a cycle of days, weeks, months, then years. Everyone here had only imagined to spend a short time passing through. But most have been here for over a year and hope has drifted if not left them by now.

There is a cheated system with some of the people that work for the non-profits and Greece’s government. It’s important that I state how much the Greeks have helped, A LOT! With that said, there are its rotten apples and some of them I had to encounter. I’ll continue on this in a separate article…

The chances of escaping to another country are getting harder. It’s expensive and the ones that could afford it have already left. The ones that are barely getting by with its sum, about 4-7K each, are en route. Women are charged upfront whereas men can put their money in a holding account until they have successfully crossed over. No one leaves on the first try, and the price is the same every time. Families have had to make sacrifices and decisions no parent should ever, which of my children should survive?

More borders are closing and stricter laws are being put into effect. On March 24th, today, the government in Greece will send back the refugees left. Some have argued that they’ve already been doing this but the efforts will intensify. Truth is, horrible things are happening everywhere and only together we can make a change…. But first, please shut up and listen.

At the end of the day → forget all the reasons it won’t work, believe in that one reason it can.

I recommend reading this for more insight → I Volunteered in a Refugee Camp. These Are The Stories You Won’t See on TV. Until next time my doosts….