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Human Rights and Migration Justice and Peace Europe

Categories: Articles:Asylum & Refugees | Published: 13/06/2016 | Views: 1099

Grace Buckley J&P Scotland's European Representative, recently took part in a Working Party on Human Rights and Migration, in Athens. This was two days of work and discussion and a day of visits to Caritas Greece/Athens refugee projects. Here Grace tells of one aspect of the visit

Extending the Meaning of ‘Working Group’

Justice & Peace Greece extended the meaning of ‘working’ in the description ‘Working Group’ this week for the Justice & Peace Europe group which was meeting in Athens to discuss European refugee policies and recent developments.  They invited the group (comprising representatives from the Commissions in Malta, Netherlands, Sweden, Austria and Scotland) to come along to the Refugee Project being run at the Caritas offices in central Athens, to see what was happening.

When we turned into the street where Caritas Athens and Caritas Greece are based just after 9am, it was already crowded with people – women, men and children – waiting to access the Project’s services: clothing, advice and medical help, showers, and a hot meal etc.

After an information session with Nicos Voutsinos (a member of both the Greek Commission and Caritas Athens) and his colleagues, we were invited with a challenging smile to help out in the distribution of the lunch, kitted out with red tabards, badges and plastic gloves, and taken down to meet the volunteers in the kitchen.  They came from a variety of nationalities – Georgian, Italian, Spanish, Scottish as well as Greek.

Already people were queuing patiently on the stairs to hand over their entitlement vouchers.  They were of all ages from grandparents to young children.  I saw one woman holding her arm wrapped in her shawl and thought for a moment she had injured it. Then I realised that she was cradling a tiny baby no more than a few weeks old. There were Syrians, Iraqis, Afghanis, Africans and many others. 

The cook provided a filling meal of pasta or rice and tuna stew in a wonderfully tasty sauce, with bread, biscuits and sweets for the children, as well as fresh cold water. The kitchen had a well planned ‘production line’ for getting the food plated and set out on trays to be handed out.  As fast as we filled and handed out the plates, filled the water jugs, collected the used dishes and washed them, they were back in circulation.  The kitchen echoed with cries of ‘Where are the spoons, more bread, more trays!’

The people didn’t linger, realising that there were many more on the stairs waiting their turn to get fed.  They occasionally asked for seconds, particularly the children, making me think of Oliver Twist as they went up to the counter clutching their bowls and looking hopeful.  You could also see parents carefully putting the biscuits away for later and filling their water bottles from the jugs.  The children, thankfully, seemed bright and quite cheerful and were trying out their few words of Greek or English on the volunteers, accompanied by big smiles.

Despite the best estimates and efforts of the cook, we began to run out of food because there were so many to feed, and Nicos told us later that 20 people had to be turned away but all the children were fed.  The count at the end was 700 portions of food for over 400 adults and around 150 children.  By 2 o’clock when the lunch time ended, we were all hot and tired, and we could understand why the management team insist that volunteers only work one day a week so that they don’t burn out. 

We were rather embarrassed, I think, to be thanked for helping out.  It turned out that there were fewer volunteers than normal as this was the beginning of Holy Week in Greece and many had already left to be with their families for the holiday period.  One of the volunteers told us that Divine Providence has a way of helping the project when it is in need, and this day the answer had come in the shape of some Justice & Peace Europa members.  The Lord helps in strange ways!
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