The abandoned building… that’s what we all call it.
This is a building in the centre of Thessaloniki. It, along with others, is a partially built and disused building that offers some shelter to hundreds of homeless refugees.
The majority of refugees living here do not have papers and they are unable to travel in Europe or seek asylum without them. Although some want papers, EU law states that any refugees seeking asylum, must do so in the first country they reach. Obviously for many refugees who want to travel further or have families in other European countries, they want to get as far as possible towards their destination before claiming asylum.
However, for some of the refugees hoping to stay in Greece it can still be difficult to get papers. In extreme but not infrequent incidences refugees have turned up at the police station and asked to be arrested. Once arrested, the police have to issue a police paper that the refugees have to activate within a two week window, by undertaking a skype interview.
The building has been frequently used since 2015 and the peak of the refugee crisis. The police are aware the building is in use and will occasionally review the situation. Last October, 2017, the police emptied the building and arrested many of the men before sealing it off. However over the course of a year it has been frequented by many passing through on their way to mainland Europe and has once again become home to over 100 refugees who have nowhere else to sleep.
Last week the police came again to the building. They arrived early on the Friday morning and arrested everybody in the building. Anything on the ground floor was removed, including any possessions and sleeping equipment.
Most of the refugees have now been released. Any that decided not move on and weren’t detained have returned to the building. On leaving the police station, they state that their possessions were not returned to them, which I believe to be a violation of refugees rights. They now have no belongings and although most of them did not have much to sleep with in the first place, they now have nothing.
Winter is coming, the nights are getting colder and darker and as volunteers we are now trying everything we can to get them essential sleeping bags and blankets.
We visited the building the day after the raid. After our clinic finished on Saturday, we went with the boys and took a list of names of anybody who had their things taken.
On Monday we managed to gather some blankets from another organisation in order to distribute them to those who now have nothing to sleep with.
We returned at night, after the evening clinic to distribute the blankets with the least attention. If word had gotten out that we were distributing sleeping goods, many others would have come from the city but we only had enough to give to the few whose names we had taken.
After packaging up the blankets outside our apartment, we arrived to the car park around 11.30pm; scaring away some of the local prostitutes who frequent the car park when we are not there. With the help of our translator we rounded up anyone in the building who needed blankets and brought them to the car park.
It took over an hour to distribute 60 blankets.
We finished our work at 01.30am and returned home. Although predominantly our work in Thessaloniki is medical, we also work closely with various voluntary organisations. We have regular street team meetings to ensure we are all aware of what is happening at ground level in Thessasloniki and with other charitable organisations in Northern Greece. These links ensure when incidences like this happen we can help as much as possible and try to support the refugees during these difficult times.
For anyone who wants to support this work, please visit my just giving page.