A collapsed economy, an overburdened asylum system and European leaders turning a blind eye. Yet despite everything, Mariana Fragkou feels she has the most exhilarating job in the world. 'Although I now see it more as my life's mission. Our team is available for refugees day and night. Just like the Greek population was when refugees first arrived on the islands five years ago. They offered food, clothing and even their homes. Everyone was prepared to welcome the refugees with open arms. It still makes me feel proud. But now, years later, many Greeks are ruined, tired and sometimes downright hostile. They're frustrated about the lack of support from Athens and the European Union'.
In Greece, thousands of refugees live in the most wretched conditions. With a team of 250 lawyers, interpreters and social workers, GCR works hard to make a difference for refugees. The impasse in the overcrowded and inhumane refugee camps on the Greek islands requires a long-term structural solution, she sighs. 'We can do so much better. It's not even that many people. But our government lacks strong leaders with a vision that goes beyond their term of office'.
Since the coronavirus measures, the situation in the camps has deteriorated alarmingly, Mariana continues. 'During the lockdown, residents are severely restricted in their freedom of movement. Hardly anyone is allowed outside. People are terrified and need information. We use video calls to provide that information and set up a special coronavirus help desk on social media. Thousands of requests for help have flooded in.'
In August, during the interview with Mariana, the refugee camps were still on lockdown. Refugees couldn’t leave the camps from nine in the morning until five in the afternoon. Mariana: 'After five pm, a hundred people are allowed out, which in effect means you can leave the camp once every two weeks. It is inhumane.'
When we speak to Mariana again after the devastating fire in Moria, she tells us shakily: 'Hundreds of families now literally live on the streets. The situation is terrible and takes me back to where we were five years ago'.
The work of the Greek Council for Refugees is supported by the Dutch Council for Refugees, thanks to contribution from the Dutch National Postcode Lottery and our supporters.