Refugees in Lavrion still housed in cramped and unhygienic facilities

When a 9-year-old child says in a disappointed voice, «Every day’s the same. Nothing changes. It’s as if we’re waiting to die,» it’s obvious that their living conditions are far from ideal. The Refugee Reception Center in Lavrion has been in operation since the 1950s. The oldest of its kind in Greece, the facility lies in the center of town. Theoretically it can house 300 people, though many more than that actually live there waiting to be granted political asylum; most of them Kurds, but also Afghans, Iranians and Iraqis. It is a three-story building with 50 rooms. Around 10 refugees are crammed into each room in unhygienic conditions – damp, with poor lighting and leaky drains. «Some people stay here two to three months but some refugees have stayed three to four years. Some are waiting to get visas for America and others for different places in Europe. It’s a ghetto situation,» Lavrion Mayor Dimitris Loukas told Kathimerini. Residents do seasonal work for low wages (on building sites, in the port or on farms) and without social insurance. In the past, inmates were not even allowed outside the reception center. There is opposition from the local community. «It’s hard to overcome racist attitudes. Some locals claim that the presence of refugees gives rise to problems such as disease, lower teaching standards and higher unemployment. Almost 25 percent of pupils at Lavrion schools are the children of refugees,» commented Giorgos Iakovidis, headmaster of the second junior high school. The consolation is that school lessons are no longer given in the reception center itself, as children have gradually been integrated into regular schoolrooms. The residents and Lavrion Municipality want the center relocated to the outskirts of town to a larger space where prefabricated buildings could be set up so that each family could have its own apartment. «The demand for relocation does not derive from racism. It is purely a practical and functional issue,» said the mayor. The reception center operates under the aegis of the Health Ministry and is managed by the Red Cross, which provides meals. Some residents ask for their own kitchen to prepare their own national dishes.