Sotiris – A strong solidarity movement

Sotiris – Greek – member of Refugees welcome to Piraeus

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“My name is Sotiris, I am a member of Refugees welcome to Piraeus. We are coordinating the support initiative at gate E2 of the port. We started here last September when we were only welcoming people, offering food and assistance when they were arriving from the islands and before they continued their journey to the north. When the northern borders closed one and a half months ago we found at our hands an ad hoc camp, which we continued running. This means we became responsible for feeding these people and providing everything necessary for their survival. This is not a camp. This is a port. This means there are no infrastructures here for people to stay for long. This is why there is an ongoing effort for people to move on to proper camps. As the temperatures rise, this camp becomes a frying pan. You can not keep your tent on a hot surface like this. There are new camps opening every day and people are moving from here to these camps. There are some problems with these new camps which are often ex military camps in the countryside far away from big cities. Refugees need to be close to a big city, not only for the obvious reasons of building a social life, but because they need to be close to asylum services and close to money transfer services. They can not carry money with them when they are here in a tent. They have their money in their banks, or at home. So every other day they have to go to a western union to get money for their survival”.

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“The greek asylum system can not cope with more than 55.000 people trapped in Greece. Refugees have no other option now than to apply for Greek asylum. Some of them can also apply for reunification with their families who are already in Europe. Therefore it is essential for them that they are close to places where this can happen. The state is setting up regional offices everywhere in Greece and they are also setting up mobile units which will visit the various camps. But of course the people here are not aware of this and they prefer to stay in this camp because it is close to Athens and asylum offices. The system which is now in place was not designed for such huge numbers. Before no one wanted to ask for asylum here. The system as it is now is through Skype: so anyone wherever they are in Greece can apply for asylum through Skype. This made sense before, but now the system has crushed with so many applicants trying to get through. Hopefully soon the mobile units will be in place and visit the refugees wherever they are in Greece. There are 34 camps now all over Greece.  But there are still 5000 people here and 12.000 in Idomeni, so many more camps need to open to accommodate all these people as well”.

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“In the past 2 decades Greece absorbed about 1 million migrants from Albania, Pakistan and various other countries. The difference was that before there was not so much unemployment. People who choose to stay with us need to share the problem of unemployment with the Greek people. But some of them know this and they tell us that they are willing to do that, to stay here and to stay with us and help us fight the financial situation. We want them to help us rebuild this economy”.

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“The members of our movement have a solidarity background. The solidarity movement is very strong in Greece. It started about 5 or 6 years ago when we were hit by austerity measures and many of us found ourselves unemployed. We fought back by putting together small groups of people who were helping each other. We continue this today. When the refugees came, we already had the infrastructure for solidarity campaigns in place and we extended the support to the refugees. The scale of the effort is of course dramatic. Therefore it was absolutely necessary that we received the support from international volunteers and support groups. We collaborate with anyone we can. When you have to feed thousands of people you can not be choosy. This is a good example of what societies can do when the central government can not deliver anymore. Greece is a bankrupt country. Everyone contributes as much as they can. For us this is a very moving experience because it shows that society works even when the government does not operate anymore. We did not even need to look for international volunteers. They found us”.

More pictures here

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