"If you don't like refugees coming to your country, stop voting for politicians who love to bomb the sh*t out of them."
Our delegation from CODEPINK: Women for Peace saw this written on a tent at the Idomeni refugee camp in on the Greek-Macedonian border: As we well know, neither the Greek nor Macedonian governments have bombed people, but they are having to deal with the huge numbers of refugees caused by the decisions of government far away.
The Obama administration which inherited the chaos from the 2003 Iraq war from the Bush administration but that has been bombing ISIS in urban areas in Iraq and Syria has resettled only 1,736 Syrian refugees over the last seven months -- despite President Obama's pledge to resettle at least 10,000 Syrians by September 2016. In contrast, Canada has resettled more than 26,000 Syrian refugees since late 2015, while Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have together taken in millions of Syrian refugees since the conflict began five years ago.
In early May, we had flown from Athens to Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city, and then had driven one hour north to the Greek border with Macedonia. The name of the tiny hamlet of Idomeni has become synonymous with the largest refugee camp in Greece.
As we arrived, a tremendous thunder, lightning and hailstorm hit the area, ripping down tents, making mud pools and deluging tents and the clothing and bedding inside. We saw the worst conditions (except cold and snow) that the 13,000 refugees must endure in five camps within four miles of the Macedonian border. All five are "informal, unofficial" camps and refugees can come and go at will. They have refused any attempt to put them into the formal "detention" camps that place them in isolated areas and restrict their movement within Greece. As a result, the services provided are not particularly well organized although all have limited porta-potties, showers and faucets for washing clothes. All have basic food provided primarily by volunteers, non-governmental organizations and the Greek military (in only one camp).
The first camp one comes upon on Highway 75 heading north from Thessaloniki is at the gasoline station and rest stop called EKO. Over 2,000 persons are camping in the large parking lot, grocery store and car wash. Save the Children provides rice porridge and oranges daily for children under 11 years of age and estimates there are over 1,000 children. We helped hand out the porridge by going tent by tent and asking how many children of that age group were in the household (tenthold).
Save the Children coordinators told us that they liked having the daily contact with people in their living space rather than having people stand in another long line. We were greeted with a warm smile and a thank you by every mother to whom we delivered the porridge. The Boat Refugee Foundation of the Netherlands has a number of volunteers that help with the porridge delivery --young women and men from the Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden and the UK.
At EKO camp we met a distinguished man who told us he was a mathematics teacher in a small village outside of Damascus, Syria. He and his 13-year-old daughter made the trip from Syria, through Turkey, by boat to Samos, ferry boat to Piraeus, train from Athens to Thessaloniki and taxi to EKO camp. He had been at the camp for one month and three weeks. He left his wife and 17-year-old daughter behind in Syria
Leaving EKO camp, we stopped at the Park Hotel on the outskirts of the village of Polikastro where the volunteer headquarters is located. Each night at 8pm, experienced volunteers provide an orientation for new volunteers and update everyone with the day's happenings.
In the back of the Park Hotel is the kitchen of Hot Food Idomeni, a group of volunteers that cook basic meals of staples such as rice, beans and curry in large vats for 5,000 persons each day. Paul of the United Kingdom heads up the volunteer force of 45 persons. Two shifts of 15 people prepare the meals and two groups of another 15 load up the food, drive the food to the camps and distribute it. Paul said that they are spending about $2000 per day for food and transporting the food for 5,000. The Greek military feeds one of the other camps and has called on Hot Food Idomeni to help them when their food ran out. Hot Food Idomeni is a remarkable place to work as a volunteer and it's a great organization to send donations as their work is definitely keeping people alive. Donations can be made through Hot Food Idomeni.
After the Park Hotel we stopped at the 500-person camp called Lidl, named for a nearby merchandise store. Most persons live in white tents provided by the Greek military. The tents are in long military precision lines next to a small runway. The military does not let new volunteers into the camp, only those affiliated with organizations.