SONIA SHAH is the author of Pandemic: Tracking New Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond. Reporting for this article was funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
The Elliniko camp, a few miles outside of Athens, sprawls across a complex of old airport buildings and derelict stadiums built for the 2004 Olympic Games. The venues that once hosted baseball and hockey matches now teem with over 3,000 migrants from Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere , who are languishing in squalid and violent conditions. In June, one of the camp’s medical volunteers, Aaminah Verity, described the conditions there as “post-apocalyptic.”
Unmarked roads and fenced-off roadways surround the camp, the sole signpost a white sheet strung on a wire fence and spray-painted “Hockey-Baseball-Refugees.” The office of the Greek officials who are the camp’s nominal managers is a small room behind the bleachers in one of the old stadiums. At 4:30 PM on a Thursday in mid-June, there were no officials there nor any signs of their presence: no computers, desks, papers, printers, telephones, or posters on the walls. Instead, there were some haphazardly positioned folding tables and a group of migrant children drawing pictures with donated art supplies .
Outside, in the 90-degree heat, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had set up white tents for shelter in neat rows on the old hockey and baseball fields within the stadiums. But few people were using them. The tents offer little protection from the sun and are nearly a 30-minute walk, through empty parking lots and unmarked ramps, from the main road. Many have opted to colonize the concrete walkways around stadium bleachers and old offices instead, turning the facilities into a sprawling shantytown.
“I can’t name one person here who isn’t losing their mind.”
In these makeshift shelters, made of blankets and sheets, infections spread easily. About three of every four residents in Elliniko suffer gastrointestinal infections, according to Leo Vandenbossche, a doctor with the nongovernmental organization Médecins du Monde (MdM). Scabies—a contagious disease caused by a microscopic mite that burrows under the skin—is also spreading. And as a sense of abandonment settles atop memories of terror and