How was 2021 in Nea Kavala refugee camp?

When asked to reflect on life in Nea Kavala camp in 2021, camp residents Hussain and Mohammad Jan highlighted four topics: the construction of a concrete wall, the upgrading of the camp’s facilities, the delay in the payment of allowances, and the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic.

Photo: Open Cultural Center

Firstly, the construction of this concrete wall took place during the summer following a series of improvements to the camp. For the Greek Government, the creation of this fence is part of the strategy to modernise the camp and aims to increase the sense of security of both the residents of the camp and the local communities. Hussain agrees that the camp is safer now. He mentions that there are security guards at the entrance of the camp 24 hours a day, who monitor who is entering. Furthermore, there is a security car that patrols the camp’s interior. Even so, he regrets that the solution to the security problems was to lock them up in a cage. This massive cement wall cuts off the sound and blocks the view, transforming the camp into a kind of open-air prison.

Unfortunately, this wall has contributed to increasing the isolation of the people living in Nea Kavala. This isolation was already a major problem of the camp, as public transport does not go there. Often, to attend meetings with their lawyers or appointments with the authorities, or simply to go to the supermarket, the only solution is to walk about 5 km to the nearest town (Polykastro).

About the conditions of the camp Hussain highlights that in 2021 there were many changes that made the camp better, for example, the tents were replaced by containers with private kitchens and bathrooms. ‘We now have air conditioning, and the electricity works much better’. He further adds that there are a lot more people cleaning the camp. But despite these improvements, Mohammad Jan still regrets that the space is so small, as a minimum of six people must live in each container.

Photo: Open Cultural Center

Moving on to the financial allowances and the new food access protocols, it should be noted that since 2017 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was responsible for providing cash assistance to asylum seekers in Greece. However, on the 1st of October last year, this responsibility was handed over to the Greek government. Sadly, this change clogged up the Greek administrative machinery. Mohammad Jan describes how the distribution of these allowances was hugely delayed and how a system of food distribution was set up to compensate for the non-payment.

However, under the new protocols, people who have been granted refugee status or those whose asylum appeals have been rejected are no longer eligible to receive financial help or to access the food distribution points. He also recalls when, on October 13, the population of Nea Kavala gathered at the gates of the camp to protest against these measures. You can read more of this concerning situation here.

Photo: Open Cultural Center

Lastly, regarding the restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hussain states that the restrictions were not too drastic as there was not a high number of people infected. Some measures imposed included wearing a mask in all places, even outdoors, a six-person limit on classrooms, and the relocation of infected people to an isolated container. Nevertheless, Mohammad Jan recalls that for a month the camp was under lockdown, and people were only allowed to go out to the supermarket for one hour.