As I look into my younger brother’s eyes longing for a toy and asking about the time he will be able to back to school, I think about my future, ‘Will I be forever stuck in a refugee camp, waiting in a queue for food, clothes and hygiene products?’
-Yazan Omira, 16 years old, resident at Ritsona Refugee Camp
The refugee crisis encompassing the 4.8 million displaced Syrian refugees has long occupied the headlines, to an almost desensitizing extent. However, their plight is far from over, and the grim images shown are still very much a reality. Many are now stranded in camps in remote areas, in limbo about their future, forced to queue multiple times a day for their most basic needs. Among the hundreds of camps is Ritsona, an abandoned military base in rural Greece, now home to 800 refugees.
Ritsona Refugee Camp, a cluster of white boxes in the hills. Photo: Vera Bos
Echo100Plus is a small Austrian charity, which runs entirely on donations and volunteer work. At Ritsona, Echo is responsible for the distribution of necessities; water, hygiene products, and clothing items.
The current setup for getting clothing to the residents is not ideal by any means. Residents are forced to come monthly, to line up in front of a derelict structure, and be doled out their allotted clothing items. On distribution days, the residents; doctors, computer engineers, and farmers alike, wake up at 4 am in the hopes of securing decent clothing for themselves and their families. The volunteers try to fold and organize the donated clothing, but often to little or no avail. The stacks quickly become dusty piles as residents are forced to sift through them. Most residents will wait for four hours plus, only to leave disappointed at their empty hands, and stung with the undignified nature of it all.
Women’s clothes distribution, the signs show how many of each item residents can take.
At Echo, we have decided that we cannot be responsible for these heartbreaking situations any more, and have formulated a plan. We have elected to transform the warehouse (a dilapidated military building) into a clothing “boutique”. Residents will be given a quota of points per month, with which they can purchase clothing items. They will be able to enter the boutique on certain days, peruse the selection at their leisure, and select items without being under the pressure of the distribution days. We believe that the added freedom and personal choice of this experience will contribute much more to the dignified and normal life that we are constantly working to give the residents.
This may seem like a simple goal, but one of the biggest afflictions the residents suffer is a complete lack of control of them and their family’s lives. For so long they haven’t been able to choose when or what they eat, how or when they get hygiene items, when they can get new clothes or what their children will wear. By establishing a Boutique we hope to restore a bit of choice and control to address this paralysing passivity. We know that most of the residents just want to leave Ritsona and start their lives again, but sadly for many this may be months or even years off. With lines of hope left fraying, and the topic of suicide even finding its way into the conversation on a weekly basis, making Ritsona a place of positivity, not despair is an urgent matter.
our warehouse in its current state
In order to make this plan a reality we will require
- fabric to cover the ceiling
- new lighting
- and a check in/check out area
… all of which necessitates funding. Please consider donating to help us bring some normality, dignity, and positivity to this camp, where these things are hard-pressed. Any surplus funds will be put towards our activities programme, currently consisting of chess, Arabic lessons, and soon sewing, English conversation, and more!
Katie, Sarah and the whole Echo Team
Photo credit: Vera Bos
It is impossible to forget our pain and sorrows from Syria and the war. But we have the new pain and sorrow of waiting for a future. The waiting has become like a knife which causes suffering and the pain is real. Here is we are waiting for someone to say to us “Come and share our place with us. This world is not just for one person it is for all people”.
-Mustafa Mustafa, 23 years old, resident in Ritsona since March 2016
Despite the cruelty of war we know this is not the end. I insist on succeeding in a country that I do not know. A country that is not mine, a country whose people are kind and generous. Those people who have stood beside us and are the reason for many smiles drawn on our faces. Those people who pushed me to look for a life full of happiness and success.
Yazan Omira, 16 years old, resident at Ritsona Refugee Camp