Life in Skaramagas Refugee Camp

Skaramagas, once an old port town 11 km west of Athens, is now home to around 2,500 refugees. Skaramagas sits right on the blue water looking out into the Gulf of Elefsina, which empties into the Mediterranean Sea, a body of water very familiar to many individuals residing in this camp. While sitting by the water seems to be a favorite pastime among Skaramagas residents, it is also a constant reminder of the journey that was, and a beacon of hope for the journey that still continues. Athens city center is between 45-60 minutes from Skaramagas. Around the camp are a busy highway and high hills, and there is little to no interaction with Greek people.  The old port is lined with a sea of containers, or as the refugees call them, “caravans,” where individuals, couples, and families reside. These containers are Isoboxes that have two rooms with a bathroom in between. Each Isobox in Skaramagas comes with a portable cooktop, a fridge, heating and air conditioning units. In the camp, there is an exercise facility for men and women, a garden for children to plant different types of flowers, a soccer field, a music auditorium for special events and weddings. Also, there are several classrooms where NGOs offer classes, restaurants, cafes, barbershops, and salons.

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Skaramagas is home to a diverse group of people including Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans, and Egyptians. Within these nationalities are various ethnic and religious groups such as Kurds,, Yazidis, Hazaras, Pashtuns, Sunnis, Shias, and the list continues. When these individuals first came to the camp, many fights broke out among them. Several people described the first few months living in the camp as a zoo; individuals from different ethnic and religious backgrounds had no experience living with those who are different from them. Groups would join forces against other groups and conflict occurred not only based on sectarian or ethnic differences but largely due to changing gender dynamics. A man would fight with another man if there was an inkling he took even a glimpse of his wife, sister, daughter, aunt or niece. These problems, although typical for any group of individuals learning to live together for the first time, changed dramatically over a period of several months. The diverse groups of people residing within the camp determined to break down barriers and stereotypes prevalent in their countries and live peacefully with one another. Individuals across different cultural, religious and ethnic lines are learning to respect one another within the camp, and fights are no longer a daily occurrence. Those living in the camp have learned to coexist with one another and have realized the common ground that unites them all. Although the major conflict within the camp has simmered to a low, racist and stereotypical phrases about other groups still surface during some individual conversations with refugees. These differences have been ingrained in the discourse and dialogue of these people for centuries, and learning to live in such close quarters with another was never a task many of them faced back in their countries. Yet even though on an individual level there needs to be a deeper understanding of equality among different groups, as a whole, they are learning to live and interact with one another.

 

 

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Hassan, a refugee from Homs, Syria walks towards his container (in the back). He built the bench, the fence, and the small enclosure around his container. Hassan, his wife, Khadija,  and two children were accepted for relocation to Ireland.

 

 

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Four Afghans set up a comfortable spot in the camp to play chess, a favorite pastime back in Afghanistan. Many of these individuals are from different parts of Afghanistan. They would have never crossed paths back home, but here are good friends.

 

 

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Fishing is a popular pastime in Skaramagas. The camp sits right on the water. Individuals buy fishing rods, minnow traps and bait and spend hours by the water fishing. Collectively, they all work together to catch large quantities of fish and separate them into small bags to distribute to families around the camp. Women practice different recipes with new types of fish and share with one another, which recipe works best. Catching bait has yet to become a for-profit activity.

 

 

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This Isobox was painted by individuals in the camp. It is a women space that is used as a salon.

 

Written by Sara Abdel-Rahim
Photography: Ryan Lucas- Henderson

 

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