Imagine throwing a dinner party for 5000 people. Actually, just thinking about it is sending me into free fall, as I have trouble cooking for anything more than 2 – or 3 at a push!
Somewhere along the Greek / Macedonian border there is a house.
The people in ‘the house’ are incredible. Mostly young, it has to be said, with brightly coloured clothes and ‘alternative’ hair styles – they are a force to be reckoned with!
Originally just a small group from Germany, this group has grown into an international team of about 50 volunteers.
And they know how to cook – BIG TIME!
These independent volunteers – Aid Delivery Mission – have rented a large house, which provides accommodation for some, while the rest sleep in a converted bus, or tents. And from here they run an impressive catering operation, from what is fundamentally someone’s back garden.
They call it ‘the kitchen’ and it operates every single day. Their mission is to provide a ‘flexible’ approach towards feeding large numbers of refugees. With a background in cooking for large festivals, they have extensive experience in the mass catering business, and as an independent voluntary organization they are free to ‘reflect on what is needed, where and when.’ In other words, they fill the gaps that are left when politics come into play.
The political situation here is in constant flux and protocol changes with the weather. For example, a few weeks ago there were thousands of refugees making the journey up to Macedonia. The buses would stop at a gas station about 5 km from the border, and a temporary camp was set up by UNHCR. ‘The kitchen’ stepped in to provide food for thousands at a time, while they waited for the queues to the border to subside.’
But the owner of the gas station complains that if people can get free food, they won’t buy his sandwiches – and so now ‘the kitchen’ is only permitted to operate at the gas station when there are extreme numbers.
There is an underground community living in the forest on the border between Macedonia and Greece.
They are known as the illegals.
Illegal because they are not ‘the chosen ones’, they are not from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan (SIAs).
Illegal, because they were born on the wrong side of some fence.
In Greece, after registration, all non-SIAs have just 30 days to leave the country. But for many of these refugees, returning to their homeland isn’t a viable option – It’s not just SIAs that are fleeing war and persecution. So large numbers of refugees become isolated and alienated. Trapped outside the system, prevented from crossing the borders into Macedonia, Bulgaria, or Albania, but unable to return home.
The volunteers at ‘the kitchen’ provide hot food every day, twice a day to the people living in the forest.
We met Moroccans, Iranians, Pakistanis and even people from Sudan, all coming out of the woods to collect food from the volunteers van. And they told us that they would try to find a way to cross the border. Some of them had already succeeded, on more than one occasion, but each time they had been caught and returned to Athens. Here, despite the brutal treatment they had experienced from the Macedonian and Bulgarian police, many of them would simply start walking again, back up to the border – a journey that takes five and a half hours in a car.
But what really caught us off guard, what we really weren’t prepared for…
Were the children.
Living in the forest.
The father of these three young children told us that they had come from Pakistan. He said that in Pakistan he had been a policeman, and that in the course of his work he had killed two terrorists. As a result he had received death threats both to himself, and to his family. He told us that he had had no choice but to leave, he feared for his family’s safety in Pakistan.
They, like many others on this journey – that begins and ends in different kinds of hell – had travelled across Iran and Turkey, over the Agean sea in a dinghy to the Greek Islands, caught a ferry to Athens, followed by a bus journey up to the Macedonian border.
And all for what? To end up living in a forest, where your shelter is an abandoned derelict building, and your survival depends on food delivered by strangers.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that refugees aren’t given reliable information. The smugglers will tell them anything in order to take money off them. The buses to Athens aren’t run by a official organizations that could inform them about the border regulations.
The buses to Athens are run by sharks.
And I looked into the eyes of this father, this policeman from Pakistan. And I could see the hopelessness beginning to take root, the energy and the fight within him, fading fast.
The people from ‘the house’ deliver food twice a day, each day. And provide basic clothes and toiletries too.
Beyond that, there is little they can do to help.
To donate – http://aiddeliverymission.org/donate/