Life at Oreokastro refugee camp

Oreokastro Central Macedonia
Photo story
January 23, 2017

The camp at Oreokastro is a warehouse to which around 1,500 refugees were moved from Idomeni, on Greece's border with FYROM, when the latter closed. It opened on 28 April 2016. This was originally supposed to be a short-term base for refugees, but plans to move them by July, then by September, appear to have been shelved for the time being. Today, it has a population of 1,148, the vast majority of them Syrian, with some Kurdish people. The camp is characterised by children, who run and play along its corridors.

MdM has been at the camp since it opened, and provides a variety of health services including primary health care, mental health care, sexual-reproductive health and connected services including helping people visit hospital for check-ups and non-emergency appointments, calling ambulances in emergencies, translation at hospitals and in some cases staying at hospital with refugees after accidents, or to ensure they are comfortable and feel secure.

The team attends six days a week, and the clinic is inside the warehouse, where the people live. The shot of the tent rows from above is taken from the upper floor of the fixed clinic.

The team has a strong and close relationship with the refugees, who trust the NGO, know from experience that we are there to help, and like the individual team members. As at some other camps, children often come to visit the clinic to say hello, and because they know there will always be people there who will talk to them.

As at all the refugee camps in Greece right now, the major challenges from a health perspective are based around hygiene and mental health. 

The people in the camps are living extraordinarily close to one another, and this means disease spreads fast. Equally, washing and cleaning facilities are very far from ideal, itself a cause of certain conditions. As at all camps, skin conditions - often caused by poor hygiene levels or insect infestations - are a common problem.

Moreover, the camp is a large, dark building, packed with tents. It is incessantly noisy and people are living extremely close to one another. Combined with a lack of activities for most adults, and the traditional roles of provider and/or protector of the family for men and women, the camps are an effective incubator for mental health problems, and the medical team is increasingly seeing people present with mental health concerns and symptoms. MdM has a team of social workers and psychologists working with individuals and groups to help, but the feeling of powerlessness - that their lives and futures are not in their own hands - seems unlikely to fully subside until they leave.

The camp was extraordinarily hot during the summer, and remains cold well into the afternoon during the winter months. Both prevent sleep and the latter in particular causes health risks. There is still no heating in some camps and as a result people are using cooking equipment to attempt to warm themselves - a serious risk to health, which has led to fires in the last weeks. On the plus side, the warehouse keeps the rain off, and the wind out.

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