SOCIETY

Lavrio refugee center sends out SOS

Meat has been off the menu for months and bread for about a fortnight. Sanitation products have not been delivered in over a month-and-a-half and recently medicine deliveries were also stopped.

Over the past few months, one supplier after another has stopped doing business with the refugee processing center in Lavrio, southeast of Athens. Only a local grocer continues to send goods, even though he is unpaid as well, and his fruit and vegetables are practically the only sustenance currently available to the 230 Afghan and Kurdish (mostly Syrian Kurd) refugees living there, including 75 children.

The Lavrio Refugee Center was founded in 1949 and is managed by the Hellenic Red Cross. It is not a reception center, but a facility that houses people applying for political asylum, refugees who have already submitted their paperwork to the Greek state requesting protection from war and persecution back home. Their applications normally take a minimum of two years to process, during which they can, if they choose, live at the Lavrio center. Most of the residents there are unemployed or do seasonal work, while the children are educated at local schools.

The center’s financial problems started three years ago and today the situation is basically at a dead end. Meanwhile, the staff have not been paid in 10 months. And even though the financial agreement between the Labor Ministry and the Hellenic Red Cross, pending since last year, was finally signed a few days ago, the money going to the center could not be cashed because the HRC is currently without a board of directors. The board was forced to resign in September after the government was pressured by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies over overdue payments and other operational issues.

On October 25 a temporary administration for the Hellenic Red Cross was put together, headed by Pavlos, the metropolitan bishop of Glyfada, in what was a controversial process as just 10 members of the organization were present rather than the 22 required by law. However, the Health Ministry – which has joint jurisdiction over funding to the Lavrio Refugee Center – deemed the interim board “unreliable,” and the workers are still in the dark as to when they will get paid. Currently 150 members of staff at the Lavrio center are on strike, while the rest have agreed to work on a voluntary basis. This situation means that the Hellenic Red Cross will not be holding its annual winter fundraising campaign this year.

And the biggest toll from this mess is being felt in Lavrio, where the center is relying solely on donations. The most pressing need right now is for meat, especially chicken and beef. People willing to make a donation can write to or visit 1 Danoukara Street, Lavrio, 19500. The telephone number for inquiries is 22920.22414.