Nea Kavala camp

Reception Conditions

Nea Kavala camp was built in the former “Asimakopoulou” air force camp. It opened its gates on 28 February 2016 and together with Cherso were the two mass tent camps established to host the thousands of refugees evacuated from Idomeni.[1] Nea Kavala camp is characteristically hosting many different nationalities.

The camp is located at the rims of Nea Kavala village next to a small countryside road and is 56 km away from Thessaloniki. The nearest town is Polykastro and it takes a refugee living in the camp between 30 and 40 minutes to reach it on foot. A return bus ticket from Polykastro to Thessaloniki costs 12 Euros.

The Greek Army and RIS are responsible for site management. Police is guarding the entrance. DRC[2] took over site management support from ASB in 2018.  DRC also provides legal info-sessions, individual legal counselling and representation[3] [4] and is involved in non-formal education for school age children, youth and adults. According to UNHCR, more than 60% of the children were attending formal education by mid-August 2018.[5] An ARSIS programme supporting vulnerable refugees (children and GBV) ended by the mid of August 2018[6]. As of September 2018, referrals of people with special needs were handled in co-operation by DRC, EODY, the Greece Army and DIOTIMA (the latter subsequently ended the program too).[7] One army was doctor providing medical care since August 2018. Two volunteer organisations (“Drop in the Ocean”[8] and “We are here”[9]) provide small-scale aid.

At the end of August 2018, the population consisted of new arrivals from the Aegean hotspots and the land borders as well as people who had been living in the camp for nearly two years. Many of those interviewed by RSA belonged to vulnerable groups. In September 2018, a significant part of the population was minors (37 %).[10]

Originally, 560 tents were set up to host 2.500 persons but at the end of March 2017, the number of residents reached 3.520.[11] Tents got replaced by prefabs in November 2016.[12] Ever since, the camp is consisted of prefabs surrounded by agricultural fields. Each prefab has one room without a kitchen or bathroom. Toilettes and showers are shared and placed between the four sections of the camp. Each section has between 35 and 70 prefabs.

In mid-August 2018, transfers from Diavata and the Aegean Islands increased the number of camp residents to 765 (of 777 spaces according to UNHCR[13]) and more than one third of the total population (293) were placed inside the camp in five rub-halls for emergency housing.[14] [15] In November 2018, the official capacity given by the Ministry of Migration Policy was 1.062.[16] While the closure of the site was discussed at the end of 2018[17] and the rub-halls had been removed, in March 2019, UNHCR tents were set up to host around 500 newly transferred refugees from the islands.[18]

Refugees interviewed said that they experienced lack of safety and spoke about tensions among the camp’s residents, unequal shelter conditions, and a breakdown of community structures. Residents described the fear they felt about walking in the camp when it was dark. Electricity cuts were creating additional problems regarding the safety of residents during the night. Women refugees were scared to walk alone to the toilets and single women feared staying alone in the rub-halls with too many men. All residents were anxious about leaving their prefabs unprotected.

“I don’t feel safe here. The toilette is far from my house… We stay sometimes for a week inside the tent, only going out to use the toilet. When I have to use the toilet, I lock the children in the caravan to keep them safe. My children get very scared here. L Life here needs a lot of patience. … Everything is difficult here because I am a mother alone.”

Anissa K.* (34)[19] from Syria, Nea Kavala camp
She was staying with her four children in the camp in August 2018 and has now reunified with her husband in Germany.

Interviewees said that the health care services on site were insufficient in numbers and specialties (i.e. no gynaecologist and no paediatricians) and that there were not enough interpreters. They reported that in case of emergency they had to request the police guards to call an ambulance and that the guards did not always accept to do so. The nearest public health centre is 5km away and the Kilkis General Hospital is 27km away. A pharmacy is more than 2km away. This posed particular problems to pregnant women, persons with mental health issues, persons with severe and chronic conditions and victims of torture who often require more complex examinations, regular doctor visits and treatment. Asylum-seekers and recognized refugees alike also criticised a lack of integration measures (no access to vocational training, insufficient language classes and lack of information on the Greek social welfare system).

“When my girlfriend gave birth in Kilkis hospital, she had a caesarean. After five days she came with the baby back to the camp. The doctor had given her a certificate stating that she should not have to live in the camp with the baby for reasons of hygiene and to protect their health from any infections. We gave this paper to the camp doctor and he also said we should get a flat. But we are still here. The caravan is very bad for the baby and for the mom. The heater is not working well, so our child got bronchitis and there is no paediatrician here. We have to bring our child to Kilkis hospital when he is sick. My girlfriend had the operation and for her it was very hard to go to the remote toilets and then it is always dirty. We get both the Cash-Card, but we cannot survive from it because we have many expenses since the child was born. We pay our medicines ourselves, transport costs to the hospital and the Asylum Service, the child needs pampers and clothes… There is no social assistance here. Our baby stays without anything.”

Romeo S.* (41)[20] from Congo DRC, Nea Kavala camp
He stays with his girlfriend Noella S.* (31). They have a newborn daughter now. Each of the parents has a serious vulnerability.

Selected interviews

Qassim S.* (30) and his wife Zeynab S.* (29)[21] are Hazara from Afghanistan. The couple reached Lesvos few months after the EU-Turkey deal came into effect and managed to apply for asylum in November 2016. Zeynab was registered as vulnerable three months later. Over a year after their arrival, Qassim got subsidiary protection but Zeynab’s claim was rejected. Both challenged the decisions and their appeals are pending. Zeynab has epilepsy.

During their nine-month stay on Lesvos, the couple spent six months in a summer tent in Moria camp and the remaining time in PIKPA (a camp for vulnerable persons).

When RSA met with them at the end of August 2018, they had been living in Nea Kavala camp for eighteen months. The couple described how their mental health issues deteriorated as a result of life in refugee camps.

Qassim told us: “The situation here was difficult from the start but it has become worse. In spring (2018), the authorities transferred many new people here from Lesvos, Chios but also from the land border via Diavata. They built five rub-halls for them. We, the old people, live in the prefabs. In the meanwhile, some of the newcomers get a flat fast, while other residents who are here for months still wait. These rules on different housing are difficult to understand and sometimes there seems to be an arbitrary preferential treatment. Many people are upset about their living conditions and ask themselves: ‘Why not me?’

But the living conditions are not only different between the five rub-halls and prefabs, but in general they are difficult for all of us here in Nea Kavala. Sometimes electricity gets cut. The houses consist of one-room spaces without kitchen or bathroom. We have to use shared showers and toilettes in the camp. We are far from Thessaloniki.

We want to live inside the Greek society and become an active part of it, but they don’t let us. The last time we went there was one month ago to renew our asylum seekers’ cards. We have to use the public bus and it costs me 6 Euro one way from Polykastro [round-trip: 9 Euro]. ….

Since the UN left some months ago the situation has become worse. There is nothing to do…There is no help to find a job and get independent. It has been a month since the new doctor arrived. But no one goes to him and he just sits in his container…. DRC told us in emergencies we should tell the police guarding the camp to call the ambulance, but they don’t call most of the times we ask them to … .

We want to live in a city, learn Greek, find friends and jobs. I don’t want to live with the help of the state but to stand on my own feet. But if they cut the help we have now, we would become homeless because we don’t have anywhere to go. This is why we don’t have children yet. I feel fear. I fear for the future. And this despite the fact that I have experiences of many different jobs.

By the end of February 2019, the couple had not received an answer to their appeals. They felt abandoned.

Qassim said to us: “My mental health has deteriorated. I feel more ill now… . Now, they want to kick us who have asylum out, us who we never had a chance to learn the language and integrate, us who they put at the most remote place possible away from the cities. The only improvement is that the heater is working and electricity is stable now. So, our little prison has become more comfortable.”

Jonas G.* (21)[22] is from Congo DRC and a victim of torture. In July 2017, he was granted refugee status on Lesvos one year after his arrival on the island. Shortly after, he was transferred to Nea Kavala camp. Jonas suffers from mental and physical health problems.

“I am in this camp now for one year and two months. It is not easy here. We live five persons in one container. I have many medical problems but here this is like the first thing they don’t care about. We are far from everything, but most of all we are far from the hospitals. Transport is a major problem. And there is only one military doctor here. But I don’t count him. He says just: You are fine. There is also no regular psychologist.

We have nothing to do here. I want to learn a language, I want to be trained or study. Instead, I sit here and wait without knowing for what I wait. Nobody ever asked what I can do and what I want to do in the future. If you want to find a job, you need to go to the cities, but we cannot afford the transport back and forth or to rent a house there.

If you are a recognized refugee, they don’t care about you. If you ask for help, they don’t do anything. They always say: ‘Wait!’ I fought hard to get an AFM and an AMKA. I didn’t know how to do that. We are new here. We need assistance. Without help we are blocked.

I get 150 euro a month since I arrived here. I heard about the Social Solidarity Fund and I wanted to apply for it, but I was told I have no right to get it because I live in a camp. So I cannot change anything. I cannot make myself independent.

I feel there is no difference between me and a person who has no residence permit in Greece. Even we have seemingly less rights. I tried to apply for a place in a UN flat last year. But they said I had no right for that as I got asylum in Greece… .

I feel as soon as we get papers here, they forget us. We just do not exist for them. At the same time, I don’t feel safe in the camp… . People fight inside the camp with knives sometimes. Others hurt themselves. No one cares. The police does not intervene. When we call them for help, they just say they will come, but they never do.”

In February 2019, Jonas was notified by camp management, that he had to leave the camp by the end of March along with a dozen other African refugees.

“They knocked my door and told me the Ministry had decided people who got asylum before July 2017 should leave the camp… . They said we’d get our Cash-Card for another three months and then it would be cut. If we denied leaving the camp, they’d cut the Cash-Card immediately and call the police to take us out by force. They gave us the information paper about these decisions. That was all. No advice on integration possibilities or other information to help us. Since then people are going crazy. We did not expect that and then one day we are just told to go. We asked them where we should go and what we should do. They said, they don’t know. The Ministry didn’t tell them. Then they gave the usual answers: ‘Wait.’ ‘We will see…’ …

I have an AFM and an AMKA, but I could not get any other papers until now. I don’t know how to do that and no one seems to want to help us in that. We don’t know the system. I just understood I could not do things without having a proper address. Some of us left the camp directly after they heard the news and they are trying to find solutions in Athens or Thessaloniki. I want to go to the school because my plan is to study medicine. At the moment I am still in shock. But what should we do? I will not give up. I will keep my head above water!”

At the end of March 2019, Jonas had to leave the camp and became homeless.

Romeo S.* (41) and his partner Noella S.* (31)[23] are from Congo DRC. They met in Moria and fell in love. Noella got subsidiary protection but Romeo has been rejected and waits on his appeal. During the meeting with RSA, Noella was six months pregnant. Both had experience different forms of violence in their home country and suffer from mental health issues and physical health problems.

Romeo told us: “I arrived on Lesvos in October 2016 and my girlfriend two months later. We were both transferred to Nea Kavala in March 2017. Our asylum interviews took place in summer 2017 in Thessaloniki. My answer came a year later.

In Moria and Nea Kavala we don’t get medical help or psychological therapy. We were visiting both a psychologist in Nea Kavala at some point, but he left. There is no gynaecologist and my girlfriend needs regular check-ups for the pregnancy.

The living conditions here are bad. We asked for a flat three months ago, but they told us to wait. I have to accompany my girlfriend everywhere to protect her. Women don’t feel safe here. They risk being molested or even raped.

How can we build a future with our young family when even my stay in Greece is not sure? I am thinking a lot about that. We are both stressed about the day of birth. We cannot communicate with the ambulance. We have to inform the police to call them, but we cannot communicate also with them. I feel there are no solutions for us here. I lived here for 11 months just to get a rejection.”

When RSA spoke with the couple again, their baby was two and half months old. Romeo was still awaiting to hear on his appeal decision and they had applied for a residence permit for their baby based on Noella’s legal status. The living conditions for the young family remained hard.

“We have been now for nearly two years in this camp. In the beginning there were a lot of organisations helping families. … We cannot get a flat, they say because my girlfriend has asylum. … When my girlfriend gave birth in Kilkis hospital, she had a caesarean. After five days she came with the baby back to the camp. The doctor had given her a certificate stating that she should not have to live in the camp with the baby for reasons of hygiene and to protect their health from any infections. We gave this paper to the camp doctor and he also said we should get a flat. But we are still here. The caravan is very bad for the baby and for the mom. The heater is not working well, so our child got bronchitis and there is no paediatrician here. We have to bring our child to Kilkis hospital when he is sick. My girlfriend had the operation and for her it was very hard to go to the remote toilets and then it is always dirty. We get both the Cash-Card, but we cannot survive from it because we have many expenses since the child was born. We pay our medicines ourselves, transport costs to the hospital and the Asylum Service, the child needs pampers and clothes… There is no social assistance here. Our baby stays without anything. I tried to find a job in Thessaloniki. I got an offer, but they said it was a problem I live in Nea Kavala…”.

Footnotes

  1. Sources: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZW4npLi1Vyc (last visited: 19 April 2019)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfrF6g6JQyg (last visited: 19 April 2019); https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLbOrKVUytU (last visited: 19 April 2019)
  2. Source: https://drc.ngo/where-we-work/europe/greece ((last visited: 19 April 2019)
  3. Source: https://drc.ngo/media/5240212/about-the-iom-greece-project.pdf (last visited: 19 April 2019)
  4. There was reportedly a service gap of one month between the change in service providers.
  5. Source: https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/66038 (last visited: 19 April 2019)
  6. The program had started in September 2017 with a focus on unaccompanied minors and separated children as well as other children. They were offering a child-friendly space with different activities. Furthermore, they were working on the prevention of GBV and awareness raising and supported individual cases with psycho-social and legal services. Source: http://arsis.gr/drasis-ke-ipiresies/paremvasis-stous-katavlismous/sti-voria-ellada/ (last visited: 19 April 2019)
  7. Source: https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/67420 (last visited: 19 April 2019)
  8. The volunteers distribute dry food and vegetables, clothing items and other necessities. Three times a week they offer “games and fitness“, they provide for a bike rental service, a wood workshop, a laundry service, and sewing machines. Source: https://www.drapenihavet.no/en/locations-2/northern-greece/ (last visited: 19 April 2019)
  9. The volunteers have created a „women friendly space with different activities, a child-friendly space for toddlers, English lessons, they run a social space with activities for adults and young people. Source: http://weareherecentre.org/neakavala/ (last visited: 19 April 2019)
  10. Source: https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/66038 (last visited: 19 April 2019)
  11. Source: https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/47291 (last visited: 19 April 2019)
  12. Source: https://www.unhcr.org/gr/2605-προκατασκευασμένα-σπίτια-αντί-για-σκ.html (last visited: 19 April 2019)
  13. Source: https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/66038 (last visited: 19 April 2019)
  14. Source: https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/66038 (last visited: 19 April 2019)
  15. Source: https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/67419 (last visited: 8 April 2019)
  16. Source: http://immigration.gov.gr/documents/20182/31265/Fotografiko_leukoma_prosfyges_gr.pdf/ccf067ab-99ff-4de4-8e95-2696745f7d05 (last visited: 19 April 2019)
  17. Source: https://www.makthes.gr/kleinei-amesa-to-kentro-filoxenias-sti-nea-kavala-181453 (last visited: 19 April 2019)
  18. Source: https://www.facebook.com/maritta.gudrun/posts/2348669792045845 (last visited: 19 April 2019)
  19. Interviewed on 25th August in the village of Nea Kavala.
  20. Interviewed on 28th August in the village of Nea Kavala and on 3rd March 2019 by telephone.
  21. Interviewed on 25th August 2018 in Polikastro and on 1st March 2019 by telephone.
  22. Interviewed on 28th August 2018 in the village of Nea Kavala and on 3rd March 2019 by telephone.
  23. Interviewed on 28th August 2018 in the village of Nea Kavala and on 3rd March 2019 by telephone.