In northern Greece, not far from the Greek-Macedonian border, the Nea Kavala migrant camp houses 1,200 people. It is one of the largest in the region. Isolated, not served by public transport, and now surrounded by a huge concrete wall, the camp is an "open-air prison" for its occupants.
The silence is what strikes you first. On the paved road leading to the camp of Nea Kavala, an hour's drive from Thessaloniki, not far from the Greek-Macedonian border, there is no sound from inside the Greek camp. However, more than a thousand people, a third of whom are children, are currently living there. If you go near the camp, you expect to hear the cries and laughter of young children. But you can't hear anything.
Possibly it's the giant new concrete wall, built all around the camp, that prevents the sounds from resounding in the distance. Since this summer, a three-meter-high barrier surrounds Nea Kavala. "It's stressful, isn't it?" says Marie, an asylum seeker from the DR Congo, behind one of the wire mesh doors of the compound. "This huge wall cuts off the sound and blocks the view."
In Nea Kavala, the 1,200 occupants of the camp, who already felt isolated, are having an even harder time since the erection of this concrete fence. "It looks like an open-air prison", says Edoza, also from DR Congo. "I don't know why. It seems that [the Greek authorities] do not want us to live together [...] Everywhere we look, we see this wall. It bothers us."
For the Greek Ministry of Migration, these changes are part of a strategy to "modernize" the camps. When asked by the Greek investigative media Solomon, a ministry spokesperson said that the purpose of building the walls was "to enhance the sense of security for all concerned, both the local communities and the camp residents."
'Get out to go where?'
Despite the erection of the wall, residents are allowed to freely come and go at Nea Kavala. The main entrance still remains open. "But for how long," worries Abou Abbas, an Iraqi who has lived there for one year and six months. "I'm afraid it will become like on the islands," he explains. "I'm afraid we'll be given an electronic card and we'll have schedules to go out."
But getting out to go where? Surrounded by fields and hills whose vegetation has turned yellow with the blistering summer heat, Nea Kavala is far from shops, from social places. And it is especially far from the administration offices.
Asylum seekers are regularly required to leave the camp to follow up on their cases, meet with their lawyer or attend an appointment with the authorities. "You have to walk all the time! It takes me an hour to get to Polykastro [the nearest town] and when I have to go with my seven-year-old son, it becomes complicated," Marie says.
There are no buses here. The lucky ones order taxis -- about €15 each way to Polykastro.
'I want to learn German, not Greek'
To pass the time, the camp's occupants go to Lidl, the nearest supermarket, which is about 30 minutes by foot. In the distance, the sign can be seen. "It's too far... really too far," sighs Edoza, the Congolese. "But when you have a little money, you can go shopping."
The children are clearly bored too. Many abandon the language courses offered in the camp. They prefer to stay in the play areas -- which can be seen through the metal fences -- or hang around the camp. "I don't go to school here, I don't want to learn Greek, I want to learn German," laughs a 12-year-old Afghan boy, who plays at throwing pieces of bread to the stray dogs in front of the camp. "We want to go to Germany with my family."
In Nea Kavala, the majority of the occupants have been transferred from the overcrowded hotspots on the Greek islands. Edoza has come from Samos, Marie from Lesbos, and Abou Abbas has been in the Kos camp.
Compared to the previous camps, Nea Kavala offers some advantages, Edoza, who just got his refugee status -- but stays there because of lack of money and housing -- is keen to set the record straight. "We won't lie, it's better here than in Moria or Vathy [the Lesbos and Samos hotspots]. We breathe better and there are fewer people."
But isolation remains a major concern. Apart from the Drop in the Ocean collective, which provides support to asylum seekers, no association travels to the Nea Kavala camp. The NGO Omnes, based in Kilkis, 25 minutes away, offers its help to all those who come to its premises. But it does not travel to the camps for political reasons. "We are against this system of confinement.
The lack of doctors is a major worry for mothers at the camp. "There are no doctors here," several Afghan women repeat in English through the metal doors. The IOM, in charge of the camp, says that a medical presence is provided. "But you have to make an appointment, the doctors are not here every day," explains Abou Abbas. He has an appointment with a doctor in November for severe stomach pains. "What do I do until then?"
Greece has six hotspots, "closed" camps, called RICs (Reception and identification centers) which are responsible for registering new arrivals. The country also has 28 other "open" camps, such as Nea Kavala, where migrants are housed during the asylum process.
Charlotte Boitiaux, special correspondent in Greece