John Skene is volunteering in Greece to help with the Syrian refugee crisis until June.

Greece turning into one big refugee camp: local volunteer

Greece has become a place of despair and frustration, according to a Victoria man at the heart of it.

Greece, once a safe haven for thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing a war-torn country, has become a place of despair and frustration, according to a Victoria man at the heart of it.

John Skene, a 28-year-old Victoria resident and business student, has put school on hold indefinitely to help with the Syrian refugee crisis in Greece.

He’ll spend the next three months volunteering in Piraeus, a port in Athens that sees roughly 6,500 refugees on a daily basis. The group of volunteers are occupying a cafe and warehouse at the port to distribute between 5,000 to 8,000 meals a day, water and tents.

Skene first travelled to Greece last year to help in a camp, where he directed refugees and distributed food and water.

However, since then the European Union and Turkey struck an agreement intended to cut off the flow of immigrants out of Turkey. As part of the deal, migrants arriving in Greece are to be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or if their claim is rejected.

Skene said the deal has had a profound impact in Greece — refugee camps around the City of Molyvos that were once sanctuaries for hundreds of people are being turned into detention centres and many large NGOs such as Doctors without Borders and Oxfam have pulled out because they refuse to help people in the so-called prisons.

Prior to the deal, when refugees arrived in Greece, they would be greeted by volunteers, sent to refugee camps and in some cases, reunited with family.

Now, when they arrive, they are told to go back to Turkey or get on a bus and be taken to a refugee-camp-turned-detention-centre, where conditions are poor and there is little food, water, protection and no freedom of movement, according to Skene.

Many refugees refuse to leave the port and end up squatting in abandoned airports, jails, schools and warehouses within the city.

“These people are left stranded in Greece. A lot of people are being forced to claim asylum in a country with no opportunity for them. The last time I was here, there was a feeling of when you help people you say ‘good luck in Germany or wherever you’re going’. Now there’s no hope,” Skene said.

“(The deal) has changed the energy in the camps. You’re trying to convey a level of optimism when you know there isn’t any for these people.”

Human trafficking has also become a problem.

Skene runs a security team dedicated to looking out for suspicious men in the area. There are often people roaming about the port, since it’s a public space and in the past, human traffickers have been known to prey on single women and children.

He said there have been a handful of incidents where children have almost gotten into cars with suspicious people.

“This is the largest human rights violation ever. (The deal) completely throws out everything that we put in to protect refugees,” Skene said, adding one man he met had been deprived of food for a day-and-a-half.

“It’s terrifying to be here and watching it happen in a city already devastated by crisis. Greece is turning into one big refugee camp.”

Skene will be in volunteering in Greece until June.

 

 

Just Posted

Coun. Fred Haynes to run for mayor against Mayor Atwell

Haynes to go head-to-head with Atwell for Saanich mayoral seat in 2018

School fence damaged by soaring sailboat

One boat owner advised, Transport Canada responsible for second boat

Bob Heyes back behind Shamrocks bench for 2018 season

Art Webster, Mike Simpson, John Hamilton will also return

UPDATE: Driver escapes from crash in Sidney

Town truck and another vehicle collide, causing van to roll over

Final key components for Johnson Street Bridge installed this weekend in Victoria

Dynamic Beast crane barge arrives back in town on Friday

Testing the Google Arts & Culture app

Going face to face with art

VIDEO: Fuel truck and train collide in B.C. causing massive fire

More emergency crews are still arriving on scene of a massive fire at the Port Coquitlam rail yard.

Back to work: U.S. government shutdown ends after Democrats relent

Short-term spending measure means both sides could see another shutdown stalemate in three weeks

Saanich signals support for in-fill developments in Gorge-Tillicum

The Gorge-Tillicum neighbourhood continues to experience infill. Council’s committee-of-the-whole signaled Saanich’s support… Continue reading

Man lives despite malfunctioning defibrillator at B.C. arena

A middle-aged man went into cardiac arrest after at game at Pitt Meadows Arena last Wednesday.

Reynolds, Edward Milne capture titles at Esquimalt hoops tournament

Host Dockers take fourth in senior girls draw

Cause of Northern B.C. seaplane crash released

TSB releases report on seaplane crash during a water landing in 2016 near First Nations community

Vancouver police crack down on pop-up pot vendors

Officers raided merchants’ tables on Robson Square late Sunday

Bell Media, NFL take appeal over Super Bowl ad rules to top court

At issue is a ban on substituting American ads with Canadian ones during the game’s broadcast

Most Read