Vasilika, refugee camp – 9 dec 2016
I have an appointment with Angelikka, coordinator of MSF (Medecins sans Frontières) to run a Trauma Workshop.
Police officer at the gate: Stop – papers, please… You are not allowed to come in. You need a paper of the ministry in Athens. I saw you taking pictures – that too is not allowed. You must erase the pictures and show me that you erased them… No, you cannot visit the camp. You have no permission. You have to leave. You have to leave now.
The refugee camps in Greece are ‘forbidden territory’. One cannot simply visit them and talk to the people there. It is also forbidden to give food or clothes to the refugees personally. For ‘security reasons’ donations are centralized. This means that one can only help by passing through the NGO’s that are active in the camps. Spontaneous help is not appreciated, not even from the people living nearby. The home made Xmas cookies from my Thessaloniki guide Susanne were ‘access denied’ and her offer to come over and help one day a week was turned down.
To me that seems Kafkaesque. As if the refugee crisis is no longer about helping the refugees. We seem to have forgotten that being a refugee means fleeing war, fleeing trauma. Instead, we’ve lost ourselves in politics, fear and short term thinking. Helping, reaching out to each other, being human – it no longer seems a priority. That is why ‘spontaneous’ helpers like me are not welcome: we point to the crux of the matter – that we’ve forgotten about the refugees. That we’ve forgotten about love. That we’ve forgotten about humanity.
For me, I do not want to give in. I am still on tour, trying to soften the pain of others. I keep on going.
In Vasilika, I found a way to by-pass the strict regulations. I parked the Trauma Tour Bus just outside the camp and invited the helpers to visit me. And it worked: Angelikka, Pia, Georgia and Vicky, 4 social workers freshly hired by different NGO’s, came over and enjoyed my two hours workshop on trauma in a cosy ‘bussy’ atmosphere.
Before leaving, I quickly took a picture of the camp – just couldn’t resist 😉