Today, we cleaned up Victoria Square. We swept, picked out trash from among the bushes and plants and filled up four large bags. A couple of the young Algerian men helped out as they realized how disrespectful it was, culturally, to leave an older woman like Nihad, to sweep up after them. In the mid-afternoon, we ran into the Boat Refugee Foundation volunteers as they were preparing to hand out tea. So we purchased 120 croissants to distribute with the tea since there would be no food distribution that day. All of the people in the camp would have gone a day or more without any food. The distribution was chaotic and uncontrollable. Boat Refugee tried to help us but the men were so hungry, they were fighting with each other, pushing and grabbing us and each other just to get a simple croissant and tea. It was heart-breaking.
After talking to others, we agreed to serve a simple dinner in the evening. We purchased 100 loaves of freshly baked bread from the Georgian baker. Others brought cheese, bananas and orange juice. We set up an assembly line in the bakery, one man sliced each loaf in half, and the rest of us put a slice of cheese in each half loaf, rolled it, put it into individual sandwich bags and organized them into four large bags. The bananas and juice were set aside for the children. I recruited a couple of our Algerian refugee buddies to gather the men and have them stand in line outside the bakery. It worked this time! We handed out over 200 sandwiches. On her way home, a friend found a back street where dozens of families were waiting on the street for the 11 pm bus to Idomeni. She handed out sandwiches and juice to them, as well. We wrapped up somewhere around 10 pm.
A lot of help is needed in Iodemini, but it’s tough with the Macedonian border closing and opening on a whim. The camp has capacity for 1200 people, but when we arrived at the camp it was virtually empty because Macedonia had closed its borders and many outside the camp are working to exploit these refugees. Busses full of refugees are being stopped at the local gas station which is less than 20 kilometers away from the camp. They are often keep there for a day or more, forcing them to purchase clothes, food, blankets at the gas station. Aid workers are not allowed on the premises because it is private property and as to not compete with the gas station’s business. MSF has a presence there giving medical help but that’s it. Essentially, a camp has been created at the gas stations, except refugees have to pay high prices for everything.
I met with a Greek non-profit, they need clothes and volunteers for the camp. They need long term volunteers here for sorting and distribution of clothes and food. The camp also needs Arabic speaking volunteers. The situation here is dire, mostly because of the gas station that is forcing the buses to stop. I took it upon myself to buy things for the babies and children that needed it (hats/scarves/juices). We could also hand out ear plugs as a lot of folks can’t sleep on the buses or in the camps.