Diavata refugee camp is located 7,5km away from the centre of Thessaloniki in an industrial outskirt. It is one of the three refugee accommodation sites in mainland Greece that have been established by law (in November 2016). RIS is the managing authority while ASB provides site management support. EODY has a regular presence in the camp since the departure of medical NGOs such as Doctors of World and WAHA in early 2018. An ARSIS programme providing legal advice and social support to the camps’ residents has ended recently. Meanwhile, according to the UNHCRs’ protection monitoring tool of September 2018, no special services for victims of torture were available on site.
The camp was established in the former Anagnostopoulou military camp in order to cope with the ‘crisis’ in Idomeni and opened on 24 February 2016. Its original capacity was for 2.500 persons.
Since spring 2018, the camp has received undocumented new arrivals from the land borders. Once described as a role model by former Migration Policy Minister Mouzalas, it is now one of the most overcrowded camps in mainland Greece. During the past three years, the camp has seen a series of protests.
As of 21 September 2018, there were 816 residents and the camp’s reported official capacity was for 936 persons. A significant percentage of the camp’s population were children (48%). Among the residents, there were also persons who were transferred in the camp in 2017 and had been subsequently granted with international protection status. In 25 January 2019, the Ministry of National Defence General Secretariat of Information counted 1.357 residents.
Refugees living in the camp have to walk along the highway to reach the next bus station or a nearby super market. Other than that, there are no other local amenities near the site. The fenced area has a guarded gate.
In May 2019, residents stayed in prefabs, UNHCR tents, a hand full of summer tents and two buildings. Some were housed informally in empty office prefabs without any provisions. The prefabs are constructed in rows around two buildings, one of which is used to house unaccompanied minors in one of 10 ‘safe zones’ currently existing. The other building is used to temporarily host unregistered new arrivals – mainly families. Every prefab has two rooms, but only one air condition in the corridor and one bathroom. Many prefabs are shared between two families.
In the past three years, a number of protests linked to poor living conditions took place.  Fights between refugees were also reported.  In April 2019, the camp attracted wide international media coverage when riot police fired tear gas to hundreds of refugees who had set up an informal camp outside Diavata. The refugees hoped to revive the Balkans route, cross the borders with Northern Macedonia and then reach other EU countries.
Those interviewed spoke about the recurring problem of overcrowding, difficult living conditions and lack of security including tensions arising between residents as a result of the different types of housing they are offered. Female interviewees said that they preferred to stay inside their prefabs with their children because they felt unsafe. One refugee reported he had been subjected to racist attacks on his way to the bus and his wife to harassment.
“Here in the camp, we do not feel safe. We are permanently stressed. I don’t remember any time to be relaxed here. There are fights. One time during a big fight, we Afghan men had to bring all our children and women into the prefabs and lock them inside to protect them. There were men with knives and big woods. The police didn’t do anything. We had to stay in front of the houses to protect our families. Even I had to be ready to fight. You see: we escaped from war just to be in danger in Europe.”
Hassan M.* (58) from Afghanistan, Diavata camp
He lives in the camp with his wife Nouria M.* (53) and their 17-year-old son.
Residents with serious health problems described having to wait in long queues in front of the medical services in order to receiving simple medicines such as painkillers. Lack of interpreters to accompany refugees to hospitals was also another cause of worry for those suffering with health problems.
For those already recognized, the lack of prospects and absence of regular language lessons in the camp dashed their hopes for a better future.
“I don’t see a future. … I can only give up. My days in the camp pass by without any change of my situation. During the day, I sit on a chair in front of the isobox and at night I try for hours to fall asleep. There are no lessons now, no measures to make a living, nothing.”
Behruz K.* (22) from Afghanistan, victim of torture and recognized refugee, Diavata camp
Hassan M.* (58) and his wife Nouria M.* (53) from Afghanistan escaped to Greece with their 17-year-old son. Hassan suffers from high blood pressure and high cholesterol; Nouria is diabetic. The vulnerable family arrived in Greece in early summer 2018 through the land border. For three months they stayed in the camp informally.
Hassan told us at the end of last August: “When we arrived in Greece we reached Thessaloniki on our own. … We went to the Asylum Service to apply for asylum, but they told us we should go to a police station or any refugee camp to register first. Some other refugees told us to go to Diavata camp. There the police at the gate called the Aliens Police Department (Allodapon) and asked them to register us.
We slept in a small tent during this first period… . We stayed for one month unprotected from the strong rainfalls of that period, getting wet again and again. Then we moved into the stone building in the middle of the camp for 15-20 days. … We suffered a lot because it was cold, humid and we slept on the floor… . We felt very unsafe. We had no choice, so we broke into an empty prefab house.
Fifteen days after our registration with the police we had an appointment with the Asylum Service for pre-registration. Our appointment for the asylum application was scheduled for early September (2018).
Here in the camp, we do not feel safe. We are permanently stressed. I don’t remember any time to be relaxed here. There are fights. One time during a big fight, we Afghan men had to bring all our children and women into the prefabs and lock them inside to protect them. There were men with knives and big woods. The police didn’t do anything. We had to stay in front of the houses to protect our families. Even I had to be ready to fight. You see: we escaped from war just to be in danger in Europe.”
In October 2018 the family got finally registered in the camp as residents and from then on inhabited the container officially. Then they also started receiving cash-assistance. The family had their asylum interview in early winter 2019.
“The main problem we face now is that the camp is overcrowded. Even inside the containers they place always two families. We were with another family until recently, but they left. Eight persons we shared two rooms, one bathroom and kitchen. The second problem is the distance from the city. We cannot access the services there easily, we cannot attend lessons there; we cannot learn the Greek culture. If you do not speak Greek, there is no job. But I cannot work anyway. I am old and sick. Our son has to study, but he will have to support all of us. Now that our interview passed, we are scared of receiving asylum and being kicked out of the camp like the others. There is always fear ruling our lives and not opportunities.
Suleiman L.* (25) is from Afghanistan and a torture victim. He arrived on Samos shortly after the EU-Turkey ‘deal’ came into effect and nearly a year later was granted refugee status. He was transferred to Diavata camp almost a year after his arrival in Greece.
“When I was granted asylum, I was told: ‘Either you accept to go to Diavata or you will become homeless.’ I accepted. Here we are far from integration. We are far from a future. We are also far from our families. My wife and my three children are in Kabul. I applied for family reunification as soon as I arrived in the mainland. I want to bring them to safety. It has been 16 months since I applied. But I have no answer. I am spending days and nights worrying about them. They are in danger.
Since I arrived in Greece I got injured several times: On Samos, in Diavata. Last time, I got injured on my head by a knife…
I try everything to integrate and to get independent from state help. I tried finding work, but the only thing I found was work in the harvest in Thiva. My friends and me live together in one container. We worked in different periods, because one is always needed to stay back in the camp and protect our shelter. Otherwise some stranger will just take it. I tried learning Greek but the lessons here have no continuity. The teachers change and the lessons start from zero again and again. Nobody asked us what knowledge we have and if we learned a specific profession.
I got political asylum here and I got documents. I applied for AMKA, AFM and I made tax declarations. I even applied for an unemployment card. After all this, the Greek government didn’t do anything for me to learn the language, to find a job and a place to stay. We all speak our own languages here until today: Dari, Farsi, Arabic, Kurdish….!”
Suleiman was evicted from Diavata camp in March 2019 following the Ministry of Migration Policy announcement on the gradual termination of accommodation to beneficiaries of international protection living in refugee camps in mainland Greece. Suleiman was given a copy of the Ministry’s announcement and an informative letter about his eviction that he had to sign in order not to lose his right of receiving cash-assistance for another three months. Suleiman did not receive any information or advise on social welfare or housing. Since the end of March, he has been homeless.
He told us that many of his friends left Greece last February for other EU countries after the Ministry’s announcement. He has stayed as his family reunification request is pending but he has not received any answer so far. He describes how he is thinking all day about his children and cannot concentrate. They call him and say they are hungry and afraid. He doesn’t know what to answer.
Suleiman was expecting his eviction when he spoke to us about his non-existent options for integration and the difficult conditions in the camp.
“My second biggest problem now is the ongoing lack of (language) lessons that would provide me with the knowledge to get independent. I tried to find lessons in the city of Thessaloniki. Lastly, the lack of possibilities to attend any vocational training or get help to find a job is limiting my options to zero. I will find myself in the streets… Things were a little better until early 2018 but as organisations left the camp and services were cut, daily, our lives became darker. For people with asylum, there is nothing.
I am a victim of torture. The only place I told that is the Asylum Service during my interview. No one ever asked me. I never felt safe to tell and I did not see anyone who would be able to help me. It doesn’t matter to me now, because all I care is to reach that day that I can bring my family here and then I will finally tell my children on the phone that now I know the day they will be able to join me“.
- Joint Ministerial Decision 3/14762, “Establishment of Open Facilities for the Temporary Hospitality of applicants for international protection”, Gov. Gazette Β’ 3720/16.11.2016.Source: https://www.firstreception.gov.gr/PRImages/EditorImages/Ευρετήριο%20Νομοθεσίας%20ΥΠΥΤ_Ιούνιος%202018.pdfhttps://www.firstreception.gov.gr/PRImages/EditorImages/Ευρετήριο%20Νομοθεσίας%20ΥΠΥΤ_Ιούνιος%202018.pdf (last visited: 8 April 2019) ↑
- The ASB within the program is tasked: SMS activities, ensuring protection and support of vulnerable groups and offering non-formal education opportunities. Source: http://asb.gr/asb-signs-agreement-with-iom/ (last visited: 10 March 2019) ↑
- Source: https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/67420 (last visited: 8 May 2019) ↑
- Source: https://www.dikaiologitika.gr/eidhseis/koinonia/166067/protypo-evropaiko-kamp-i-domi-filoksenias-prosfygon-sta-diavata (last visited: 8 April 2019) ↑
- Source: https://www.dikaiologitika.gr/eidhseis/koinonia/166067/protypo-evropaiko-kamp-i-domi-filoksenias-prosfygon-sta-diavata (last visited: 19 April 2019) ↑
- Source: https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/66038 (last visited: 19 April 2019) ↑
- Source: http://www.geetha.mil.gr/media/refugees/2019/gr/20190125.pdf (last visited: 19 April 2019) ↑
- ibid ↑
- RSA research, August 2018. ↑
- ibid ↑
- Source: https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/69055 (last visited: 10 March 2019) ↑
- 23.5.-24.5.2018: Around 200 refugees block highway for two days to protest about living conditions in a period where the number of residents was more than double the capacity. Sources:http://www.ekathimerini.com/229012/article/ekathimerini/news/migrants-block-highway-to-protest-conditions-at-diavata-camp (last visited: 10 March 2019);http://www.ekathimerini.com/229001/article/ekathimerini/news/migrants-block-northern-greek-highway-in-2nd-day-of-protests (last visited 10 March 2019);https://www.lifo.gr/now/greece/193904/thessaloniki-diamartyria-prosfygon-gia-tis-synthikes-diaviosis-sti-domi-filoksenias-ton-diavaton (last visited: 10 March 2019) ↑
- According to the camp manager Mr. Simitopoulos, who talked to the local news after another protest last January: There were around 500 persons living in Diavata without access to prefabs. 220 were occupying containers of the Education Ministry, 50 were staying temporarily in a building and 100 in tents. Dozens were hosted in the prefabs of others during the night. The rest lived in tents they developed to wooden huts.Sources:7.1.2019: Protest.https://greekcitytimes.com/2019/01/08/migrants-protest-at-camp-in-thessaloniki-video/ (last visited: 10 March 2019)https://greece.greekreporter.com/2019/01/07/two-injured-in-refugee-protest-at-diavata-camp/ (last visited: 10 March 2019)http://www.ekathimerini.com/236304/article/ekathimerini/news/refugees-protest-winter-living-conditions-in-greek-camp (last visited: 10 March 2019)https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/14401/winter-conditions-add-to-migrant-hardship-in-northern-greece (last visited: 10 March 2019)10.1.2019: Snow in Diavata people in tents. Source:https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=51&v=l0omdWKhIJc (last visited: 10 March 2019);13.1.2019: Snow. Source:https://greece.greekreporter.com/2019/01/13/migrants-endure-squalor-freezing-temps-in-greek-migrant-camp-video/ (last visited: 10 March 2019); ↑
- 17. August 2017. Source: https://www.gettyimages.de/detail/nachrichtenfoto/refugees-are-protesting-in-diavata-camp-in-nachrichtenfoto/833678752 (last visited: 19 April 2019) ↑
- 10.5.2018: Fight among 100 persons. Sources:http://www.thestival.gr/society/police/item/381480-prin-ligo-epeisodia-sto-kentro-filoksenias-prosfygon-sta-diabata-thessalonikis (last visited: 19 April 2019)1.6.2018: Fight among 100 persons.https://www.protothema.gr/greece/article/792890/agrio-xulo-metaxu-metanaston-sto-kedro-filoxenias-sta-diavata/ (last visited: 19 April 2019)5.10.18: A fight between 60 persons, ends in injury of Iraqi refugee.https://greece.greekreporter.com/2018/10/05/iraqi-migrant-injured-in-thessalonikis-diavata-camp-video/ (last visited: 19 April 2019) ↑
- Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/05/world/europe/greece-migrant-protest.html (last visited: 19 April 2019) ↑
- Interviewed on 27th August 2018 in front of Diavata site and on 2nd March 2019 by telephone. ↑
- Interviewed on 28th August 2018 in front of Diavata site. ↑
- Interviewed on 27th August 2018 in front of Diavata camp and on 2nd March 2019 by telephone. ↑
- Interviewed on 28th August 2018 in front of Diavata camp and on 2nd March 2019 by telephone. ↑