First Person

My time at a refugee camp in Malakasa

It was easy for me to get to Greece. But Europe's system of borderless travel only applies to some.

Pulling into a dusty dirt lot an hour north of Athens, all I could see was metal fencing and squat yellow army buildings. As other volunteers greeted each other in Greek, we showed our IDs to the army guards and walked past them along one of the fences.

The refugee camp was on the site of an old army facility. A few steps beyond the barracks, I saw row upon row of white tents, fences strung with drying laundry, concrete-block warehouses, and everywhere dust and more dust. People walked slowly in the heat: women carrying plastic tubs of laundry, men lounging against railings, children moving in small clusters amid the trees at the edge of the camp. In front of the medical clinic a small line of people had formed, waiting in the beating sun to see the Greek army doctors.

This was my first morning in the refugee camp outside the small Greek town of Malakasa, a camp populated almost entirely by people who had fled Afghanistan. I had traveled to Greece after watching the refugee crisis unfold for months from the vantage point of my apartment in the southern Netherlands. I followed news of it obsessively, and finally decided I had to do what little I could to help the refugees arriving on Greece’s shores.