Our co-founder, the actress Juliet Stevenson, travelled in May to Athens with Safe Passage and Help Refugees, two of the charities supported by HighgateHasHeart. She visited two refugee camps offering shelter for unaccompanied children, and various charity projects in and around the city. The first camp is situated in the disused Hellinikon Olympic stadium, where 3,000 refugees attempt to survive in a mixture of UNHCR tents and flimsy home-made shelters. Based on the outskirts of Athens, they have little access to the city or facilities.
There Juliet met with refugees from Afghanistan and Syria, some of whom have been stuck there as long as 18 months. She described the conditions: “There are no facilities for children, no schooling, no shops, no access to services. Everywhere amongst the crumbling building and weed-strewn building of these civic structures, an air of quiet desperation prevails.”
Another camp she visited is Skaramagas, built by the Greek Ministry for Migration Policy. “Here people live in small metal container shelters. In the summer the conditions are dry and swelteringly hot. Various projects are run by a number of different charities and NGOs that offer language learning and skills training.”
Juliet was especially impressed by A Drop in the Ocean, a small effective charity funded by Help Refugees, offering language classes, learning skills and social activities in an atmosphere of colour, light and welcome.
Juliet also travelled to 4 different shelters within the city of Athens where unaccompanied children are offered bed, board and differing levels of support. She was struck by the desperate plight of young refugees. “As soon as they turn 18 they are turfed back onto the streets. The number of places available in these shelters is painfully insufficient for the numbers of children needing them. Talking to the inspirational staff at the shelters, it is clear that one of the main issues is children’s mental health. The traumas these children experience fleeing their countries have often led to severe anxiety and depression, compounded by home sickness, isolation, and the uncertainty that characterises their young lives.“
Juliet described how she was blown away by the care and dedication of the staff and volunteers working at the shelters and by the commitment of all those working for refugees on the ground in Athens. “The whole visit served to strengthen our great desire to raise funds for these projects and to do all we can to help those who work with such commitment to help and support refugees across Europe.“
To make a donation to these urgent causes please visit https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/highgatehasheart