Katsikas is the name of the other camp in which Second tree operates. With the enforced cessation of all activities with children, four of us were sent today to both camps to tell the children and families in person of this closure, along with the reason and the anticipated date of re-opening (though of course nothing can be certain.) Second Tree is rightly proud of the efforts they take to keep everyone informed of all of their procedures. So the usual suspects – Abi, Ellie, Carolina and I – were sent off in the van.
I had been warned that, in comparison with Agia Eleni, Katsikas was far closer to a regular refugee camp. I prepared myself for something rather grim – my only experience of camps so far has been to see (from the outside) the ramshackle camps in Lebanon, and the utterly horrendous Moria on Lesbos. This time I was to be allowed in, so would get a fuller picture. And actually, I was impressed.
All of the accommodation was in the form of containers, but not just regular shipping containers such as they have in Moria, each one housing three or four families, but purpose-built units, with doors and windows, and equipped with basic cooking facilities and furniture, one family to each one. They were laid out in neat rows, each one numbered, and with wide spaces between them, resembling the sort of holiday camp that Britain used to have. Some had even been customised, with small gardens, porches, lean-to storage spaces… I was impressed with the home-made fence around one neat and green garden, made out of reclaimed bedsprings.
Actually, what they most resembled was the first house I had ever lived in, the post-war prefabs that had been my parents’ first home, and which my mother had loved. The atmosphere was calm and peaceful, and there was even some light manufacture, one man squatting on the ground, hammering a piece of iron into shape over a stone block. However, there was also a sense of purposelessness; these people’s lives are on hold, while they wait for something to happen. I was also told that it was a very different place at night, with fights and drunkenness, though I think boredom and lack of purpose might be a contributing factor to that.
We split into two pairs, Carolina and I visiting the Arabic families, while the others took on the Farsi and French-speakers, each pair accompanied by a senior student to act as interpreter. There were delicious cooking smells coming from several of the cabins, and we were invited in for tea a couple of times, but really we did not have time; we were there for about three hours, and we walked a considerable distance, in the baking sunshine.
We then went to Agia Eleni to do the same thing, but the security guard there would not open the gate to let us in. After some lengthy negotiations by phone (some at a pretty high level), eventually it was agreed that one person could enter, later adjusted to two for security reasons. Since Abi and Ellie knew them best, they drew the short straw, while Carolina and I went home on the bus. Just as well, really, since I was shattered. It had been an exhausting, but fascinating, day.