PIRAEUS, Greece — Piraeus, the port near Athens well known to tourists for its ferries to Greece’s picturesque islands in the Aegean Sea, has in the past month turned into one of the country’s largest makeshift shelters for different kinds of travelers: migrants and refugees.
In the past weeks, they have taken over four passenger waiting time at the port as temporary accommodation. In just a few days, 5,000 people were taking shelter there.
The port’s temporary residents are some of the 132, 000 migrants and refugees who have arrived in Greece since the beginning of this year. Most want to continue their journey from violence-ridden or poverty-stricken countries in Africa and the Middle East and to find refuge in northern Europe. They have arrived in Piraeus on ferries from the Greek islands, and plan to continue to the Greek-Macedonian perimeter intersect in Idomeni.
When HuffPost Greece visited the port on March 4, we saw people of all ages crammed in the passenger regions — families with children, pregnant women, seniors and people on wheelchairs or with crutches.
Blankets spread on the floors served as cushions or as tables for food. Young people hunched together to charge their phones. A few women were waiting their turn to clean their clothes at the public sinks. Groups of the rights of children played outside or devoured ice pops next to a human who prayed facing Mecca.
The number of migrants and refugees arriving in Piraeus varies by the hour, depending on the nature of the arrival of ferries bringing over thousands who had landed on the islands in previous days as well as the deviation of buses carrying migrants and refugees to shelters in the capital or the Greek-Macedonian border.
The port’s temporary residents are largely made up of Syrians and Iraqis. Prior to wholly closing its border Wednesday, Macedonia had stiffened regulations last month to keep out all refugees but Syrians and Iraqis, a handful of which were permitted to cross each day.
Most Syrians and Iraqis who arrive in the port expect to leave for the border immediately. In reality, many end up stuck there waiting for transportation north — and the bottleneck looks set to worsen.
On Wednesday, following a two-day summit between Turkey and the European Union that sought to develop a plan to stem the influx of migrants and refugees into Europe, Balkan countries wholly shut their borders for travelers without valid EU visas, including Iraqis and Syrians.
Last month’s border limiteds had already left 35, 945 migrants and refugees stranded in Greece. That number will now almost certainly rise.
While Greek authorities have tried to control the number of people arriving in Piraeus, including by limiting the number of seats on the ferries from the islands to the port, thousands of people remain on the port’s premises.
Dozens of volunteers are scrambling each day to cover the travelers’ basic needs — food, apparel and medical aid.
Volunteers hand out soup and pasta in the tent behind the passenger waiting time, which is set aside for food distribution.
One of the volunteers in the tent, Christina, owns a bakery in central Athens and regularly brings hot loaves of bread to the port. She would like to request that her last name not be used.
“I’ve done this job for nearly 30 years now, and I asked the boys at the store:’ If I render the raw materials, will you give a hand to take them to the refugees in Piraeus? ’ They agreed, so here we are, ” she explained.
Christina is upset at the situation in Piraeus. “Every day, there are food products of good quality that we can’t conserve. I asked the church in our region are in place to take them. Can you believe that they didn’t? ” she said. “I came here now, but I am looking for another organization to give to on a regular basis.”
Norman Hering, a U.S. citizen living in Denmark, also volunteers on the site. He has been in Greece for the past three weeks with the aid organization Aid Caravan. The group offers two meals a day to the migrants and refugees: mainly soups and veggies and a breakfast of tea, milk for children, biscuits and dry nuts.
“We’ve managed in so far, but I always suppose: What if tomorrow, it is not enough? ” Hering said. “But I don’t is considered that moment will come, because the volunteers here don’t stop coming , not for a minute. Some only bring stuff and leave, others want to stay and help.”
“We always require hands, ” he continued. “Sometimes there is not even time to learn their lists of the individuals who help us. But what I assure moves me, ” he said, smiling.
Hering explained why he left the U.S. “I am old enough to know that we are responsible for a lot of wars. We have bombed many people. Everything is connected. Even what goes on in Syria. Even if Donald Trump doesn’t get elected as president, there are many people who support him. How can I go back to that? ”
Volunteers and aid organizations have also set up a medical center in one of the passenger waiting time. Dozens of people waited outside March 4, lining up to see the medical staff.
A woman with a crutch was crying. Her children were sitting next to her. She had just been told that she’d be transferred to the hospital, but she didn’t want to go. Like so many of the other refugees, she was afraid she’d miss the buses headed for the border.
The medical center’s pharmacist, Eleni Lourda, said she spends up to 12 hours per day in the facility. She’s assured a lot. “What can I tell you? We consider 12 -day-old babies come by here when we wouldn’t let our children outside until they turn 40 days.”
The clinic got its start by collecting medication from community pharmacies, Lourda said. The Ministry of Health recently gave the clinic an ambulance to service the area, week after they requested one. Physicians volunteer in the clinic after their changes at the hospital or in their private practices. Most of them bringing whatever renders they can. But even with help from aid organizations like Physicians of the World and the Red Cross, Lourda said, it’s difficult to keep the clinic operate.
The staff at the center work in difficult conditions, Lourda said. Many of the patients’ issues would be relatively easy to treat under normal circumstances, but become difficult under the current ones.
Patients often don’t want to go to the hospital. The centre lacks interpreters. There have been instances when the staff needed to convince women to let male doctors treat them.
Lourda recollected one particularly painful incident. A girl had given birth in a boat on the perilous journey across the Aegean Sea. The faculty had to find a way for her to see the baby, who was kept in an incubator, so she could breastfeed the baby. When the woman left, although the caregivers devoted her equipment for the newborn, including boilers and bottle teats, she took merely a single bottle with her. A bottle for the road, and she was gone.
Each of the four waiting stations accommodates hundreds of people, but each has only two people to clean it. There are few waste bins outside the waiting areas. The litter is piling up, and there aren’t enough chemical toilets to serve everyone.
Despite the large number of people and the widespread exhaustion, there haven’t been any serious problems yet — in stark contrast to Idomeni, where annoyance over the border bottleneck contribute to conflicts and protests.
In Piraeus, men and women of the Greek Coast Guard oversee the situation in the morning. From midday until the next morning, a private security company takes over. Merely one security agent is running that switching, however, and if something comes up, he or she has to inform the Coast Guard.
The relief efforts at Piraeus are coordinated by the Piraeus Initiative for the purposes of Refugees and Migrants. As in other parts of the country where many refugees have arrived, the government’s contribution to taking care of them is minimal.
“All this time, those of us who have been here haven’t seen anyone from the relevant ministries to come and document needs , nor have we been asked about anything that we might require, ” said Foteini Servou, a member of the Piraeus Initiative.
Servou said that the members of the initiative, who now number about a hundred, have been at the port for months. “The demands are huge, ” she said. “We gather all we can, we talk to physicians, pharmacists, some interpreters who offer voluntary help. We can’t predict the needs, which constantly emerge, but the good news is that people keep get here to help.”
But even in Piraeus, amid the chaos and uncertainty, love tales can be found.
Mohammed Ali is a tall 18 -year-old boy from Afrin, a district in Syria’s north with a majority Kurdish population.
“My father and I took the decision to leave. It was impossible to stay in Syria any more, ” Ali said. “Now, I am here with my parents and my two siblings. We’ve been waiting for five days now for a bus to take us to Idomeni, at the Greek-Macedonian border.”
If the bus came now, though, Ali wouldn’t leave.
“I am waiting for Nobahar, my girlfriend, ” he said. “Before I left Syria, I proposed to her. We have been together since school; I couldn’t leave her behind. But we got separated in Lesbos. I heard she is coming to Piraeus tomorrow.”
Piraeus isn’t an easy place to be, Ali said. “But at least “youre feeling” safe and people try to help us. They genuinely try.”
Bahan is 18 years old and only married her 21 -year-old spouse. Bahan asked us for information about the situation at the border. For a moment, she appeared worried, but then started smiling again.
“I believe that we will be ok, that we will get to Germany or the Netherlands, ” she said. “I have plans to become a nurse. We need to find a house and be safe. In Syria and Turkey, anywhere we ran, we were scared either of the bombs or the people who didn’t want us there. I want to forget all that.”
Bahan doesn’t want to forget Syria, though. “When I close my eyes I assure Damascus, where I grew up. It was really beautiful, but you wouldn’t be able to see it now.”
This story originally appeared on HuffPost Greece and has been translated into English and adapted for an American audience.
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