Vaghiochori Camp

Reception Conditions

Vaghiochori temporary accommodation site (refugee camp) is an hour’s drive from Thessaloniki (50km) and in walking distance to a small village of 60 inhabitants with the same name.

The camp is situated in the site of the former Vaghiochori primary school. The camp[1] opened as emergency accommodation site for refugees at the end of May 2016[2] following the evacuation of Idomeni. This remote camp has been used mainly as a transit camp during the past three years. There is no supermarket and no kiosk within a 5km radius

It has been closed down twice (on 15 January 2017[3] and in October 2018[4]) because of the poor conditions but is scheduled to re-open in May 2019 in order to host the refugees transferred from the islands or arriving from the land border.[5]

On 11 September 2018, the camp had a reported official capacity of 552 persons[6] and 348 residents. 42% of its residents were children. The camp consisted of 78 UNHCR tents[7][8]. The Greek Army was managing the site and site management support was provided by IOM.

The camp is situated more than 10km away from the next public health facility and hospital. Public transport is limited and before its second closure last October, the camp’s residents had to travel to Thessaloniki for hospital appointments or appointments with the Regional Asylum Office.

The first refugees transferred to Vaghiochori in June 2016 protested and denied exiting the buses.[9] During that year, it became camp of last resort and was used mainly to host those who were arriving from the land borders and had no other place to go. Its’ re-opening on 3 June 2018 marked a period where arrivals from the land border with Turkey had peaked, Diavata and Lagadikia camps were overcrowded and the hotspots in the Aegean had to be decongested.[10]

Residents interviewed by RSA in August 2018 said that the conditions in the tents exposed to the weather were tough, as rain would flood them. They said that there was no heating, air conditioning or electricity. They described how sewage water would run inside the tents that were set up next to the toilets and showers.

Food catering was offered once a day for the new arrivals, who had not yet received cash-cards. Old residents had to make fires to cook and to warm themselves.

A group of volunteers provided activities for children outside the camp to play with the children but there were no formal or informal educational activities offered for children and for adults inside the camp.

People said that they felt ‘abandoned’ and spoke of a deteriorating mental health as a result of the poor conditions and the trauma they experienced during their flight and then stay in the Aegean hotspots.

“I get crazy here. I wake up and I search a shadow and I sit there until the day is over. We are abandoned here. I wake up in the nights from the stress about our future. … We pregnant women are not safe because the hospitals are very far. Even if the ambulance would come at the end, who would bring us back here? Everything is far from here. One day I couldn’t feel my baby moving anymore. I was terrified. I thought what I would do in an emergency case. … . … We were in hell and now we are alone in the desert.”

Salima M.* (32)[11] Kurdish from Syria, Vaghiochori
The pregnant woman lived with her two children (a boy age 7 and a girl age 3) and her husband Mohammed M.* (34).

“I am pregnant, our daughter has a serious medical problem and is in need of an operation. She suffers also from psychological problems. Also, my husband has a problem with his liver. … (W)e were told our medical problems would get a good treatment as soon as we would be transferred to the mainland. From the first day we arrived here I am telling them about our medical problems, but nothing happens… The soldiers here are just telling us to have patience. Then one day at the end of August the heartbeat of our baby was very low. They called an ambulance. I wanted my husband to go with me. … He had to stay in the camp because of our kids. In the hospital they said I should return another day for a second appointment. …. I don’t speak English. It was 8pm and the latest bus had left two hours earlier. I didn’t know what to do. My husband couldn’t help me also. He was trying to find help in the camp, but no one was listening to him. He cut his arms in front of them.”

Alma K.* (26)[12] from Syria, Vaghiochori
The mother lived with her husband Mahmoud K.* (36) and their four children

Selected interviews

Fatima G.* (30), her husband Ahmad* (31)[13] and their two children aged 3 and 1 are from Deir Ezzor, Syria. They arrived in Greece through the land border with Turkey last July and went directly to Thessaloniki where they registered at a police station. They were given a suspension of deportation order valid for six months. Fatima is a lawyer and Ahmad an engineer. Following their registration, they were told to go to Vaghiochori camp to find shelter.

RSA met with them three weeks after their arrival in Greece. They said that they were subjected to three push-backs in the months before they managed to enter Greece.

Fatima reports of their situation: “We all live in tents. There are many families with children like us, but also around 20 single men. The ones who are brought here from the islands are taken within two weeks to other camps or to flats. They already applied for asylum before coming here. There are many who applied for family reunification and many sick persons or pregnant women.

We suffer from the living conditions here and … we still wait for the answer by the Ministry of Migration to take us to a better place. There are very limited services. All the people who come from the islands have Cash-Cards. But we don’t have. We depend on the catering, which brings food twice a day. People who are not yet registered in the camp also get no catering.

We suffer from the heat. The toilettes are all placed at one point of the camp. They are filthy and far from our tent, so I am scared to go alone or leave our children on their own. There is no hot water. But sewage water runs to the tents nearby. There is nothing we could do here. We have to sleep at 9 pm when it gets dark. There are snakes and rats. … We have to cook on a fire. The children play in the dirt all day. I have to boil water on a fire to bathe them. There is no safety. At night, we cannot see. There is no light in the bathrooms. Our three-year-old is still in shock since we were shot at when we passed the Syrian-Turkish border. He is not speaking at all because of the stress but there is no one to help us for that problem here… . Under these conditions, he will also not improve.”

Alma K.* (26) and her husband Mahmoud K.* (36)[14] are from Afrin in Syria. They have four children aged 1, 4, 6 and 8. The family got transferred to Vaghiochori from Lesvos. Alma was four months pregnant at the time of the interview with RSA.

Alma described the serious difficulties the family was facing: “We arrived on Lesvos in July 2018. Our (asylum) interview appointment is for October 2020. The doctors there (on the island) found I was highly vulnerable due to the pregnancy and also because our daughter is ill. We were transferred within a month from the day of arrival. Our daughter has a serious medical problem and is in need of an operation. She suffers also from mental health issues. My husband has a problem with his liver. He got more ill on Lesvos and we were told our medical problems would get a good treatment as soon as we would be transferred to the mainland.

From the first day we arrived here I am telling them about our medical problems, but nothing happened. The soldiers here are just telling us to have patience. Then one day at the end of August the heartbeat of our baby was very low. They called an ambulance. I wanted my husband to go with me. I didn’t know I had to return from Thessaloniki all by myself. I called my husband and I was crying. He had to stay in the camp because of our kids. In the hospital they said I should return another day for a second appointment. …The interpreter in the hospital showed me on the phone the way I had to take back. I don’t speak English. It was 8pm and the latest bus had left two hours earlier. I didn’t know what to do. My husband couldn’t help me also. He was trying to find help in the camp, but no one was listening to him. He cut his arms in front of them. In the end, he sent me the address of the camp and I had to take a taxi. It (cost) 90 Euro…. We get 410 Euro per month for all our family.

I cannot move around alone in the dark, because I am scared. People here are just waiting again to be brought somewhere better. But we feel no hope any more. We are far from life here. I want my children to go to school and learn something nice. We are left alone in nowhere land and no one is allowed to come to us and help. I feel my life has finished. I feel like I died.”

In mid-September 2018 – after two weeks in Vaghiochori – the family got transferred to Filippiada camp. There, they felt it was even worse for their children because they never felt safe as there were more fights. Their biggest worry was that their daughter had not had yet an appointment for her operation. Being moved around from one marginalised camp to another made it more difficult for her to receive appropriate treatment. Transport to the hospitals, lack of interpreters and expenses for medicines created further obstacles. After their baby was born, the family was finally transferred to a flat.

Alma said: “On the one side we feel safer now in our own flat, as we are protected from bad people and wild animals. At the same time, we feel also unsafe as we are left to survive and start a life without anything in our hands. We don’t know the language, the place and the system of life here”.

Footnotes

  1. Source: https://www.voria.gr/index.php/article/ipes-sto-dimo-volvis-to-vagiochori-me-dikastiki-apofasi-tou-1961 (last visited: 08 May 2019)
  2. Source: http://lagadasonline.gr/index.php/component/k2/item/1127-mesa-stin-evdomada-metaferontai-oi-prosfyges-sto-vagioxori (last visited: 08 May 2019)
  3. Source: http://www.eleftherostypos.gr/ellada/69234-prosfyges-stin-thessaloniki-arnoyntai-na-fygoyn-apa-to-xioni-kai-na-pane-se-xenodoxeia/#more-69234 (last visited: 08 May 2019)
  4. Source: https://www.life-events.gr/gegonota/trimini-paratasi-se-ergazomenous-sto-erimo-kab-prosfygon-sto-vagiochori-foto/ (last visited: 08 May 2019)
  5. Source: http://www.kathimerini.gr/1016560/article/epikairothta/ellada/ston-aera-h-xrhmatodothsh-gia-programmata-stegashs-kai-sitishs-prosfygwn (last visited: 08 May 2019)
  6. Source: http://www.geetha.mil.gr/media/refugees/2018/greek/20180914.pdf (last visited: 08 May 2019)
  7. Source: https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/66038 (last visited: 08 May 2019)
  8. Source: http://www.geetha.mil.gr/media/refugees/2018/greek/20180914.pdf (last visited: 08 May 2019)
  9. Sources: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oxZ886lZ4Y (last visited: 08 May 2019)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GMgdXTIdT4 (last visited: 08 May 2019)
  10. Source: https://www.iefimerida.gr/news/445855/volvi-grothia-sto-stomahi-oi-eikones-apo-tis-synthikes-diaviosis-ton-prosfygon-eikones (last visited: 08 May 2019)
  11. Interviewed on 26th August infront of Vaghiochori site and on 1st March 2019 by telephone.
  12. Interviewed on 26th August infront of Vaghiochori site and on 1st March 2019 by telephone.
  13. Interviewed on 26th August 2018 in front of Vaghiochori camp.
  14. Interviewed on 26th August 2018 in front of Vaghiochori camp and on 1st March 2019 by telephone.