The Snake, fisticuffs and some photos of Tabakika

Four days ago, the UN Security Council approved 15-0 a plan to arrive at peace in Syria. The resolution puts forward a blueprint to have a ceasefire in 6 months and elections and a new constitution in 18. This is… optimistic. It also does not include Daesh (the Islamic State). This means, unless Turkey improves its motivation or technique in stopping the outflow of refugees from its Aegean Sea coast, the current situation will be the status quo for the foreseeable future. As of right now, over half the population of Syria has either left the country (4.3 million documented, which means probably much higher) or internally displaced (7.5+ million). This is a trend that is not on the wane. Chios will continue to see its fair share of refugees until a new registration center is opened (in February, Greek sense of time permitting), which is in the process of being built in an old aluminum factor on a nearby island.

Today was a bit crazy to start for a few reasons. UNHCR and Samaritan’s Purse pulled out of Tabakika, like Frontex, because of the alleged asbestos in the ceiling. They tested the air today and we’ll have the results in a few days. That leaves just NRC (Norwegian Refugee Council) to deal with almost the entire running of the center. Because of the holiday time, this means that there is only three staff on duty during the main hours of the day. Luckily, things are quite calm right now, even with new arrivals, so it wasn’t quite out of control. But, volunteers were asked to fill in a few spots.

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For some reason, I was put on the Snake (pictured). This is where each registration group sits before they enter the fenced area you see towards the back where Greek police (due to the absence of Frontex) is registering each refugee. When I took the picture there was nobody there, but normally this is quite an active area. This is another task I probably should not have been doing, as it involves managing people going from the pen on the right to the Snake on the left, ensuring they have the right bracelet color and number, keeping people from crossing all over the place between all the fenced areas, letting in 5 people at a time to the Greek police at the entrance who check paperwork*, handing out registration forms and even calling out the group number via megaphone in (very poor) Arabic to the delight of many seated in the area. Not that any of this is particularly difficult, and I did fine, but it’s normally 2 people there who are trained staff. I just enjoyed the constant pace and juggling several things and getting to interact a bit with people waiting in line. They were so happy to get through that gate after sometimes waiting multiple days in that ghastly building.

(*Interesting note: Often these refugees do not have passports, because of any number of reasons. Sometimes this is on purpose because non-Syrian, Iraqi or Afghani nationalities are not automatically allowed in to Europe. A Moroccan was witnessed burning his passport last week. They then claim to be of a different nationality (of those above) to gain access to Europe. So, the Greek police first ask if they know the national anthem of the country they claim to be from (if they do not have a passport). Then what the license plates look like and other such questions which only a national would know. I saw a man fail today. In theory, they are deported.)

Right as I was relieved of my duties and was walking away, because NRC (wisely) realized this wasn’t a good idea, a fight broke out in the line. Two guys threw water and then went after each other. I ran back to see one of the NRC female staff get pushed hard by one of the guys and then another one of the Greek staff members and I got in between them. I would not want to mess with my Greek colleague… Thirty seconds later, the Greek police from the registration area were there and things calmed down, although it took some time. The most successful person to defray the tensions was the main protagonist’s mother, who was begging him to calm down.

Two notes on this: First, I’ve been surprised since I first arrived that there is not more security in the area. The Greek police are there, in the registration area, but a very light presence. It doesn’t behoove anyone to commit violence at the registration center, and it seems no one has to date, but this still has been a mild surprise. Second, the guy who started the fight (apparently the second time he’s instigated something), you could see the seething anger in his eyes that is dangerous. This raised a red flag with me. I’ve met many refugees now, but this was the first time I’d seen that kind of hate. A bit worrisome as to his future in Europe or beyond.

The rest of the day was not as exciting as the above for sure… I took a few more pictures of Tabakika, but I’m truly having a hard time capturing the place, especially the smell (maybe what an old asbestos-ridden tobacco factory would smell like?).


Welcome sign off main road


Tabakika main building approach.  Complete with Greek junkyard dog (on the right).


Get a little closer, don’t be shy.


Main entrance


Bathrooms in the back.  The flowers don’t change the smell.  The containers we use the most are in the area behind the grey fence in the background.


Souda is the camp where they go to after registration. Port is to take the ferry to Athens (next stop in their migration)

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  • Thank you for this blog. So many people wondering how to help, and you doing something g practical and informative. GillianSheehan sent the link to your blog from her FB page.

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