I just got back to Berlin last week from northern Greece, having spent a week volunteering and filming at Camp Eko. An independently run volunteer camp situated 30 minutes outside Thessaloniki, Eko is building a kitchen, women's space, and school on a farm. This farm is right next to Vasilika Camp, which shelters 1,300 Syrian, Kurdish, and Iraqi refugees.
I met Hevin inside Vasilika. She welcomed me into her tent, offering me coffee and oranges. Like so many other refugee women, Hevin surprised me with her humor. This project has forced me to check my own biases - why shouldn't she be funny and full of energy? Because she has been politically assigned the label of "refugee"?
At 41, Hevin is a widowed mother of three children - ages 12, 14, and 18. She's a former women's arts teacher from Afrin, a city in northern Syria that is predominantly Kurdish. Her husband "died" four years ago -- he went out with friends one night and never returned home. Hevin was frantic and asked everyone in the neighborhood if they had seen him. Neighbors told her he died but the family never saw his body.
Life became even harder than it already was. Now a single mom, she had to work even harder to make ends meet. With war, everyday items and food were getting more and more expensive. The last straw was when her landlord informed her he wanted to move back into the flat. She couldn't afford to move into a new one so decided to leave six months ago in February 2017.
But on March 18, EU struck a deal with Turkey - “all new irregular migrants” arriving in Greece will be returned to Turkey. Borders officially closed and now, Hevin and her family are stuck at the Greek border - first at Eko (an informal camp at gas station in Polykastro that was evacuated) and now at Vasilika.
It's really hard to describe and probably even harder to imagine what camp life is like for those who live there. Vasilika is military-run so there are officers stationed at the main gate 24/7. The camp consists of 9 huge hangars, abandoned warehouses next to a highway and barb-wired fences surround the place.
If it sounds like an open-air prison, that's because it looks and feels like one. There are 60 portable toilets that are not properly cleaned on a daily consistent basis. There are only about 20 showers, 10 of which don't have hot water and with winter coming, this will be very, very problematic.
People tried to build a kitchen on site in order to cook the few vegetables that are provided for them but the police stopped the project. There isn't much in this area besides farmland. Fifteen minutes down the road, there are a few shops and a big supermarket that no one can afford to shop at. At this point, most families have been stuck here for 6 months and counting. Many have run out of money and rely solely on what the government is providing the camp.
No one knows what will happen next. It is becoming increasingly clear with each passing day that camps such as Vasilika are not going anywhere. Rumor has it that current Vasilika residents will be there until at least September 2017.