Since our last update, a lot of change has happened in Nea Kavala.
A few weeks ago, we heard that there were going to be many new arrivals brought to the camp from the overcrowded arrival islands. That they wouldn’t be put in containers but instead tents. Watching these individual tents, like those of 2016, go up in preparation was surreal. We had about a week’s notice before the new arrivals came – approximately 500 people, over a couple of days -from many different countries, including Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon. Single men and women, and many families with young children We were able to learn from the experience of having a mass influx last summer and be better prepared this time around, with some general information about our services and activities in some of the different languages – Farsi, Arabic, French, Kurdish.
We kept the social space open all day for the first couple of days, and had all of our team onsite to meet people and answer questions about our project and the other services in the camp and local town. Some of the older residents also helped to welcome the new arrivals, and shared information about our activities with them. It has been difficult for them, too, to see people brought to Nea Kavala to live in tents, and many have done their best to help as they can.
The reaction of the new arrivals themselves depended on people’s living situation back on the islands, which was very varied. Many people were in the appallingly overcrowded conditions of Moria camp on Lesvos, or on Samos. However, we also heard of people being moved from containers on the islands or for some even sheltered housing. It was a shock, and big backwards step, to find themselves back in a tent.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the challenging living situation, our classes and many of our activities are now bursting. After people signing up en masse to come and be tested for English, we struggled to find enough tables and chairs for everyone and have created a second level 1 class in the main centre to meet the demand. The women’s Space classes too, have grown massively, with around 30-40 women attending.
As for all the many, many new children, we set up a system to sign up and introduce the new little ones two by two each day into our Child Friendly Space, so that the parents were able to spend some time in the space, and the children were able to settle into the rhythm and routine of the morning, helped by children for whom it was already more familiar.
Despite some cold nights where those in the tents struggled to sleep, the weather has thankfully been mostly temperate for the past few weeks. This has also allowed us to run most of our activities for children of all ages outside – Slack lines, football, outdoor painting and sand pit play among other games – while gradually familiarising the new children with us, and the inside spaces and toys.
We are also trying to make the most of the spring season, which is always relatively short, to get some building jobs done, including improved the shading structure around our centre and creating more communal seating to go underneath it. Many thanks to the skilled work of some of the camp residents to help get this done, and to Help Refugees who financed these projects.
It has felt great to get more of the camp residents – both old and new – actively contributing to our project too– be it with construction, help in the classroom teaching English to lower levels, help running activities with the kids and youth, or helping keep the social space open and running.
Our new social space, which has been popular since we opened it at the beginning of the year, has played such an important part in welcoming the new arrivals and is also a place where a real mix of the many nationalities in the camp come together. And now that tents are back in Nea Kavala, it provides more than just a hang-out place. It’s a place to charge phones, make a hot drink, and simply stand up in an inside space away from the elements.
Despite the mostly good spring weather of recent weeks, the weather is often extreme in our area of Northern Greece – be it from intense, heavy rain which floods the camp and leaves unsanitary boggy areas that attract mosquitoes, gale force wind strong enough to blow tents away, tip containers over and bring homemade extensions crashing down, or a baking sun with a thick humidity and little breeze at all. We don’t know for how long the tents will be there, or how much of the extreme weather conditions those currently living inside them will have to endure.
As people keep arriving and Greece seeks to find space, there have been other challenging changes for asylum seekers and refugees with regards to accommodation. Earlier this year, those who had received confirmation of their refugee status before a certain date were told they had to leave their container or housing by the end of the following month, and that their cash card would be stopping not long after that.
Several families in Nea Kavala were served this notice. For the most part the families we knew who received this reacted by packing up and leaving the country on their 3-month travel document which they had recently received. But what the longer-term future holds for them we don’t know.
Whilst we can be happy that some of the vulnerable families in the tents have been moved to containers, and that some of those in the camp who have waited such a long time are finally being given accommodation, there is also the knowledge of how these flats have been made available. That it is most likely that some people’s situation has improved because another family, a little further down this bumpy and difficult road, has been served an abrupt eviction notice- leaving them facing an unknown future with very little support.
You can read more information on that here: https://blog.refugee.info/exit-accommodation-cash/…
It can be easy to feel frustrated and helpless in the face of events and decisions such as these. But we are still out here, continuing our work and supporting how we can- through our classes and activities and through showing solidarity to those arriving here.
Thank you to those who continue to show their solidarity from back home, by helping keep our project going.
Thanks to previous volunteer Chrissie’s family and community on the Isle of Mull, who held a local fundraiser. Thanks to previous volunteers Quentin and Bianca who have both recently raised funds amongst family and friends to help continue supporting our work.
And a big thanks again to Dagoll Dagom and the cast of Maremar, who spoke about our project and raised funds at their performances in Barcelona. Their support, and the donations of the many people who went to see the performance, are helping our project not only to finance direct material on the ground, but are also helping reduce the living expenses for very long-term volunteers – an invaluable support for the continuity of our project and the services we provide.
We continue to look for people to come out and join our team – we welcome anybody to apply but if you have a longer time to give or experience working in any of these areas then your contribution can be especially valuable: ESL teaching, early childhood education, trauma informed care and education, community projects, music, women’s groups, construction or DIY, youth work, project management and coordination.