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For the past five years, supporters and refugees in both camps in Lavrio, Greece, have done colossal amounts of work in solidarity with one another…
The oldest of these two camps consists of structures with a historical past dating back to 1945, in which several Kurdish leaders were sheltered, notably Öcalan. Approximately one kilometer away from it, there is a more recent camp consisting of bungalows. They are self-managed. The camp’s inhabitants’ refusal to give up this self-management has often served as an excuse for the Greek State’s disengagement.
Three groups have been working alongside one another for years on the projects elaborated within the camps. The Kurds in the camps, the Greeks participating in solidarity initiatives and internationals such as “Solidarity Convoy, Anthropia, Children in Solidarity, International cooperation, With the Greeks 56, Power 5, Caravana solidale per Lavrio”…
I chatted with Jacque Leleu, a French trade unionist who has been working for the Lavrio camps for several years. He has accumulated countless round stips, long sojourns on location, contributions to the projects on the sites… Also, five documentary films (in French) you can see here. A sixth film at the planning stage will deal with “Lavrio and self-management”.
To this day, the “solidarity convoys” have made 55 deliveries of food and supplies. A new convoy is currently being organized. It is scheduled for early December. This time, it will consist of an international convoy. Students from Turino currently touring with documentaries about the Lavrio camps, will participate. Others participating from associations, trade unions, and charities will certainly join up with this next convoy.
A major delivery of food was stopped with the implementation of the quarantine relative to the pandemic. A 95 cubic meter truck loaded with 10 tons of food was blocked on the very day of its departure…Since then, its contents have been transported in small shipments.
“But food isn’t everything…” Jacques says. Everyone easily understand right away that food and shelter are fundamental needs for survival, but they are not enough to remain alive, keep up your morale and your courage in a camp where all of daily life plays out on the rhythm of waiting, uncertainty, anguish. How to preserve one’s self from despair and psychological consequences that can prove serious. The best cure is to remain active…
“For example, a sewing workshop was set up. With 10 sewing machines at first and the contribution of 10 women whose numbers have increased since. This workshop produces masks, bags, clothing and bracelets. This project is truly beneficial because it keeps the refugees busy. The sale of the products is also an economic advantage. As far as the masks are concerned – now an essential good with the pandemic – a delivery was made to the public hospital in December 2019 when it ran out of supplies. We’ve been delivering for eight months, and regularly also include medical supplies”, Jacques says. “Kurds, abandoned by everyone, have provided a value of 15 thousand euros-worth of protective medical supplies to a public hospital at a time when it had not even received its annually allocated budget”, he adds. “A new delivery was made in September; and with schools opening again, public schools are requesting masks because the Greek government was not able to provide masks for the school staff.”
Speaking about the children, Jacques announces: “Thanks to Zozan, an activist in Strasburg, we were able to deliver 340 school books in Kurdish recently. This is almost the totality of school books in Kurdish in existence! Setting up a library in each of the camps is extraordinarily important for the children.”
I ask where things stand for the new project of building a “Children’s Home”, the construction of which had been announced for September. Jacques explains that with the rise of Covid, “we had to take new measures. The project initially expected to begin in September is progressing slowly.” This construction project rests on three main features:
Fighting against boredom. In the camps, the refugees’ lives are marked by waiting, inactivity, uncertainty about the future and boredom. Instead of speaking of a rhythm we should say rather that it consists of a great void with important psychological consequences. Being subjected to such a life in a space of “non landing”, a place of transit with no perspective and no way out, can paralyze the most rugged wills and destroy social relationships. This common mobilization allows for “healing/thinking about the place and, thus taking ownership of it.
Cooperating on a collective project. Several different groups (Kurds, Greeks, internationals) work alongside one another in the camps. Speaking different languages, coming from different cultures on a daily level. What is at stake is the creation of conditions so that these groups cooperate in a collective project, which allows for meetings and establishing links through a common experience.
Creating for the long term. Life conditions but also the fact that the refugees are in transit (always on their way to somewhere else) means that few of the actions undertaken take the long term into account. Everything is ephemeral. As a consequence there is rarely the experience of a relay. This is why the notion of creating a “Children’s home” will allow them to play and to pass on this “common toy”. In the past five years of our intervention in the camps we have spent important amounts of money on the purchase of toys that did not survive the first weeks of their use.
Great importance is placed on the participation of all the players on location, in the different phases and areas relating to this project. It is also open to any group who wishes to act in concrete terms.
At first, a pedagogical workshop was planned for September with three groups of children and mothers. Drawings would be done on the idea: “Imagine your dream home”. This would be followed by an exhibition of these drawings throughout the camps. Then, a plan of the building would be arrived at collectively. The next phase being the determination of a budget. A group of refugees will take charge of sollicitations directed at shopowners. Expenses will be covered by solidarity groups or individuals from France, Switzerland and Italy. With the aim of reducing costs, refugees and solidarity participants will locate materials than can be recycled, such as pallets which will provide wood once deconstructed and oil cans to be recycled in the building of the house’s roof. The final phase, construction itself, will be done by the refugees, and solidarity groups and individuals from Greece, France, Switzerland and Italy.
As the next arrival of the solidarity convoy is expected in early December, its team will also be involved in this project.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of building materials required for the project: wood (lengths of wood, flooring), roof covering, carpeting, rubber sheeting for the ground… screws, nails, metal brackets… building tools: drill, saw, nail gun, hammers, large-size wheels (the house will be mobile). As a reminder, the teams will acquire all these materials locally and the budget will be established by the work group. But money must be collected for these purchases and, of course, donations in money are precious (with the possible defiscalization of your donations).
And hence, an appeal to our readers: you can contribute to this project. Do not hesitate in contacting Jacques at jacques.leleu0449[a]orange.fr or on Facebook.
Photos: Jacques Leleu