Written by Sarah Görlitz and Sara Ferrigno.
“Imagine living in a container with small windows and no air-conditioning in 40 degrees heat.” These are the words of Mohammad, currently living in Nea Kavala camp in Greece, a country that experienced its hottest July in 50 years, with temperatures rising even above 40 degrees. Last time Greece had been through such an extreme heatwave was 1987, when scorching temperatures exceeding 39 degrees Celsius lasted for 11 days. This year, the heatwave was the longest ever experienced by Greece, lasting more than two weeks.
The record-breaking heatwave has caused massive fire outbreaks in the southern area of Greece, with island evacuations and with houses, businesses and nature being destroyed by the unstoppable fire. Many people suffered heat strokes and some died due to cardio-respiratory failure after exposure to high temperatures and to the flames.
The Greek Ministry for Migration and Asylum recommended residents of refugee camps to stay indoors with air-conditioning and to drink plenty of water. However, as Europe Must Act reports, many camps are not equipped for such extreme weather conditions as they have limited supply of basic resources such as electricity and drinking water. The makeshift tents used to house people in many refugee camps are often made of materials such as nylon, which intensify the reflected heat, thus leaving inhabitants of the camps particularly vulnerable to heat-related illnesses.
“Without the air-conditioning, it’s not
a container, it’s more like a cooker”
Some of the residents of Nea Kavala camp, to whom OCC Greece offers its services, told us that they are able to handle the situation well, since they have air-conditioning in their containers. Unfortunately, others told us that their air-conditioning is broken and camp management haven’t shown any intention to fix them. “Without the air-conditioning, it’s not a container, it’s more like a cooker” says Hassan, currently living in Nea Kavala. Moreover, since the camp is 4,5 km away from the nearest town, Polykastro, refugees have to walk or cycle under the scorching sun, risking heat strokes, to get to their classes and to access essential facilities such as pharmacies.
In times like these, OCC Greece’s work is more important than ever. Our classrooms and cafeteria are air-conditioned and offer Nea Kavala residents with broken ACs temporary relief from the heat and unlimited drinking water. Additionally, our bus service gives residents the chance to travel from the camp to Polykastro to do their shopping and run errands in an air-conditioned bus instead of having to walk in the heat without any shade for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Although organisations such as OCC provide valuable support, they cannot be the only solution to dealing with extreme heat in displacement camps: deeper structural problems need to be addressed. A recent investigation undertaken by the Greek newspaper Solomon revealed that even the new “model” camps funded by the European Union, which promised “improved” living conditions for displaced people, have serious infrastructural problems, including a lack of running water. With climate change, episodes of extreme heat in Greece and in the wider Mediterranean region are only set to become more intense and frequent in the years to come. Therefore, more needs to be done to support displaced people in coping with heat waves, namely through improvements in basic services and infrastructure.