A different Olympic storyA baseball stadium built for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens has been given a new, unexpected life as a temporary home for over 400 refugees. With temperatures dropping, the refugees and asylum seekers living in tents on the field are anxious about the winter to kick in. DRC Greece is, with funding from the European Commission, preparing the site’s infrastructure for the winter and distributing winter clothes to those living in the three Elliniko refugee sites.
In its heyday, the monumental blue-arched stadium in the Athens suburb of Elliniko was packed with spectators watching world-class athletes swinging bats and scoring runs. Now, behind a secured fence, the Olympic Baseball Stadium represents a temporary home for over 400 refugees and asylum seekers. The 8,000 spectators have been replaced by Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian families and the colorful team banners by laundry hanging to dry under the Athenian autumn sun. The occasional game of football between kids in the site is the first sporting activity that has been undertaken there for more than twelve years.
”Is a baseball stadium an appropriate refugee accommodation? No, it most certainly is not,” Architect and Shelter Officer at DRC Greece, Stefania Gyftopoulou, says, “But we are here trying to make it better.”
DRC Greece, Architect and Shelter Officer, Stefania Gyftopoulou
Standing at the pitcher’s end of the stadium, we are looking out to the sea of tents. The red dust on the field ground - a distant memory of the stadium’s old, much more glorious days - offers little or no barrier to a possible flooding of the tents. “After a summer of blistering sun and torrid heat, the first autumn rains turned the site into a giant mud puddle, making the already poor living conditions of residents here even worse,” Stefania Gyftopoulou explains as we walk across the passages between the tents, which now are covered with pebble stones. It is only one in a series of improvements made by the DRC Greece team with funding from the European Commission.
Elevated tent floors
As the shelters provide little or no barrier between the families and the soil below - making them susceptible to parasitic infections, waterborne diseases, and hypothermia - it was of essential importance for DRC to find a solution in order to have the 103 family sized tents of the Baseball Stadium upgraded for the upcoming winter. Stefania Gyftopoulou explains: ”We have decided to build elevated tent floors, made from wooden shipping pallets used for relief materials and covered with a modular flooring material. Additionally, polystyrene pieces were put on the sides of the tents to prevent tent-palette friction causing tent canvases to tear and leak on rainy days.”
The project was finished in just seven days. An important aspect of the success is the site-wide participation of the community. ”The weight and the dimensions of the initial design made it easy for the floor parts to be distributed as a kit. The floor could be assembled and constructed with each family’s active participation,” Stefania Gyftopoulou explains and continues: ”The different parts were placed in front of each tent. People assembled their own tent’s floor with the support of an illustrated instruction leaflet and in a close collaboration with DRC staff and assigned contractors.”
Not only did the people living in Elliniko site embrace the opportunity to participate in the process, they were also eager to help the vulnerable groups of people who would otherwise not manage to construct it on their own. “Projects like this help the people we assist, to re-establish their sense of self-determination; the feeling of being in charge of their own lives,” Stefania Gyftopoulou concludes as we walk the stairs leading to the DRC office at the top of the Stadium.
Distribution of winter clothes
Alongside the insulation of tents and anti-flooding ground works, DRC Greece’s plan for the winter preparation of the Elliniko sites includes the placement of electrical heaters in all of the tents at the Baseball Stadium, installation of hot water boilers in the community bathrooms, outdoor floodlighting and heating at neighboring old airport site. Furthermore, a mass distribution of winter clothes is going to take place for over 2,000 women, men, kids and babies, staying at the three Elliniko refugee sites.
DRC Greece will, by December 14th, complete a nation-wide distribution of winter items to the 14,100 beneficiaries staying in the more than 10 sites across Greece, in addition to improving the sites’ infrastructure where needed.