In early 2017, a rare cold spell hit Southern Europe bringing subzero temperatures and dumping snow across Greece, including more than a foot of snow on the islands most know as summer resorts. Though predicted by meteorologists, the storms caught the authorities unprepared, leaving thousands of refugees stranded in adequate tents exposed to the freezing conditions.
In a panic to move refugees from deadly conditions, the Greek Authorities turned to empty hotels and vacant apartments. Refugees who had been living in tents for up to a year were suddenly transported into the surreal surroundings of hotel rooms, the likes of which, many had never seen in their lives.
With continued confusion within the European refugee management program, asylum seekers remain in these hotels, waiting. Waiting, with no certainly of departure, no transparency into the process, indefinitely, in small rooms, warm, but idle.
The result is a demoralized and disappointed group. The feelings of being forgotten and let down are brewing into feelings of betrayal and distrust. The anger that is building flows logically from the loss of agency, a feeling of abandonment. The sense of being thankful for the support is being overwhelmed by a new feeling that they are just pawns, that their personal situation does not matter. It looks to many like they could be so easily helped, making them wonder why it is that they live in uncertainty.
What’s even worse, this poor result is being achieved at great cost.
The Greek refugee response, on a per person basis, is the most expensive humanitarian response in history. It is dogged by large overheads, expensive operating environment, and a plethora of agencies, local, European and International who at times compete for the same budgets. Add to this an irregular flow of volunteers, oscillating from too many to too few, and almost all staying for too little time. Finally, layer on all of this the usual levels of Greek bureaucratic and endemic corruption that locals complain accompany everything in Greece.
Three times a day, meal are delivered by a contractor, pre-heated and wrapped in foil containers. And with no say in the menu, no role in preparing it, and the difficulty of adapting meals for different ethnic tastes, the food is a constant complaint. Once again an expensive solution is getting a poor outcome. The daily per refugee cost for food is more than the weekly food budget for refugees living in developing world camps.
These images were taken in Ioannina, Greece over a series of days in February 2017.