Inside a Syrian Refugee Camp: Kara Tepe / by Zoe Paskett

Bodies line the road leading up to the entrance of Kara Tepe refugee camp. People crowd into any piece of shade they can find, legs splayed over the pavement, arms over their faces, hot and exhausted. Most cars drive by without a second glance at the hundreds of people making their way to the camp. The locals are used to it now.

Volunteers say that illness and infection among children is spreading fast due to lack of sanitation in the camp. The refugees sleep in tents pitched in an old car park, and have no privacy from one another.

When I visited, there were around 2000 refugees in Kara Tepe, but thousands more are still dotted around the island. Last week 17,500 refugees and migrants were registered, having made their way in dinghies from Turkey, travelling through the night and praying they don’t get sent back by the patrols. 

The refugees use taps on the ground to wash their clothes. They charge their phones by siphoning electricity from the mains. Up until a couple of weeks ago, there were no walls around the showers, meaning everyone had to wash in plain view. The coverings were provided by a Dutch charity.

Volunteers from Doctors Without Borders pick their way through the debris. With no overarching management, there is no one to make sure the camp stays clean and sanitary. As a result, illness spreads more rapidly in the heat.

Kara Tepe refugee camp has been open for only a few months but it is overflowing. In the summer heat, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find shade or privacy in such crowded conditions. Many refugees resort to lying in any shady patches they can find on the side of the road.

Omar and Khaled are both 15 years old. Omar (left) has travelled alone and Khaled (right) arrived with his father and 11 year old cousin, Soleen. In Syria, Omar used to work for an organisation that aimed to get children out of warzones. Now he is one of them. 

“It’s weird. I used to be doing your job,” he says.

Food is provided for the residents of Kara Tepe by volunteers. They receive donations from locals and are frustrated at the lack of input from organisations in the camp.

Soleen is 11 years old. Her father is in Germany and her mother is in Dubai. Soleen has heard about life in London and wants to go there, but has no idea where she will end up.

Frustration grows among volunteers as a lack of organisation and funding makes their jobs difficult. There is no camp management and no training for those who do want to help. 

“It took a long time to make it clear to everyone that we have a humanitarian crisis here.”

  • Originally written for the Scribbler in August 2015