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The last two camps and home…

7th June 2017

The last two days the team was to visit camps to the east of Thessaloniki, near Lake Koronia. The First was a German Red Cross/UNHCR site, a small camp near Lagkadas. Filled with small cabins for the refugees, the camp is home to around 350 people. The authorities can never be sure how many people are there as people tend to come and go. We were met by the military police and surrendered our passports and were shown to the cabin that we would work in for the day. Sadly, one of the regular sights we see in the camps is also a fact here. There seems to be many unaccompanied children in all the camps we visit, albeit I think we’re only seeing the beginning. The camps we have visited seem to be relatively safe for these kids and there are a lot of families here too. There are other camps in Europe which aren’t quite as “safe”.

for those interested please see a recent article https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/apr/24/eu-urgent-protection-23000-unaccompanied-child-refugees-squalid-camps-greece-italy …. Sadly, the current UK Government voted down efforts to restart the Dubs scheme in March

On a team note, it was Richard’s last day today. I know he snores (he describes it as whale song and assures me I’ll miss it and that he’ll make me a tape!) but I couldn’t have asked for a better guy to spend the week working with. Such a caring guy and I’ll miss his stories and lessons on the history of Islam and the Muslim people and his questions on general dentistry!

The camp at Nea Appollonia, a small village at the site of a thermal springs was the location for our last visit. Almost entirely now a refugee village, it is overseen by the UN. The village is entirely made up of Yazidis.

The Yazidi number under 700,000 worldwide and are mainly from Northern Iraq. The religion is one that takes elements from both Christianity and Islam. they have been persecuted for their beliefs throughout history culminating in the genocide perpetrated by ISIS on mount Sinjar in 2014 where 40,000 people were trapped on the mountain. 3000 were executed and 10000 killed. Many women and children were taken into slavery. Thousands are still missing or incarcerated now.

The community at Nea Appollonia is a couple of thousand strong. And it is very much a community. A lot of the people have terrible stories to tell. Many of the women have been raped by ISIS or children with no parents. But we were greeted so warmly by all the populace. The dentistry was an also ran today. Yes, we treated lots of children and adults but today was about the people. To go through so much and still laugh and smile and welcome outsiders is a testament to these people. Women baking Khubz, an Iraqi flatbread, in traditional outdoor ovens were quick to call us over to give us lunch… delicious and when we finished we were invited into a home to drink and listen to him play the Saz.

So, I’m now finishing this post in the comfort of my house, nursing a coffee. The world of the refugee seems a million miles away. These people are like you and me, the only crime they committed was being born in a warzone or to be persecuted for a religious belief or to escape from slavery and torture. All the countries and people in the world have a responsibility to these men, women, and children…. It could so easily be us asking for help in the future. I spent a week in Greece with a wonderful team and I thank them all for their efforts…. Richard, Mel, Lucy, Hassan, and Marcos you are stars. But I think Richard puts it best…

“The variety of people we saw in terms of ethnic background, religion and age was astounding. With all the horrors going on in this precious world at the moment, it makes you realise that we are all different but also so alike. All flowers of the one same garden,
Leaves of one tree. Beautiful in our differences, which are there to be celebrated and not as a means of discord as we see some groups attempting to do right now. The Earth is but one country and humankind are its citizens. To see it first hand is both troubling and inspiring in equal measure.

To embrace, smile and laugh with a fellow human being whom you’ve never met before simply because you show respect and kindness is truly humbling.”

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