Lesbos: an island called hell
„Hell”, that’s how the residents call the refugee camp in Moria on the island of Lesbos: the camp is loud, screams are to be heard everywhere – residents are fighting. Rats run back and forth between the tents. In the hot summer, the tent does not protect from sunlight, and in winter it can either sink in from the heavy rain or fly away with the storms.
According to the statistics of organisations working on the island, almost 7,000 people of different nationalities have arrived on Lesbos this summer. The number of people living in the camp Moria has more than doubled in one year. Organisations on the ground estimate that over 13,000 people are currently living here, although the camp is only built for 3,000 people.
For this reason, the refugees were relocated for almost two years to olive fields which are located exactly at the opposite side of the Moria camp. There are tents, and nothing else.
In the past, Greece had been the beginning of the run through Europe for many refugees. However, after the border to Macedonia was closed, they had to stay in Greece. In the last two months, the catastrophic humanitarian situation of the refugees has exploded here, especially with the escalation of the refugee train from Turkey to the Greek islands
Due to the large number of refugees in Moria, there is no chance at all to start a normal life, it is all about waiting. If you want to take a shower, you have to wait for a few hours because you share it with 200 other people. It's hard to believe that the refugees have to wait at least four or five hours before each meal is distributed, in order to get food and water. "The food is really disgusting," Abdul says. "Many times, we have been served mouldy or uncooked food." There is a croissant for breakfast and three litres of water provided for the whole day – too little for many, especially when the sun beats down on the camp all day.
Both the container houses and the tents have the lowest safety standards: last week, seven container houses burned down because of an electrical short circuit, resulting in the death of an Afghan woman and her young child. "It was the worst fire I’ve seen in my life" says Tarek. Witnesses confirmed that such cases occur almost every year. Despite this, the shelter administration is not working to improve safety standards in the camp.
The biggest problems in Greece are not only the conditions in the refugee camps, but also the asylum procedures. Most refugees have to stay in Greek camps for months or even years, as in the case of Samer. Samer doesn’t want to be called here by his real name. He is a young Syrian who came to Lesbos two years ago and has been living in Moria camp ever since. "I don't understand why we are treated so inhumanely," he says. "Animals have more rights than the people who live here." Samer has to wait until 2021 for a hearing with the Greek authorities – until then he has to stay in this hell, as he calls Moria. "I had high hopes of coming to Europe, but this island turned all my hopes into great pain. I lost the desire to live" he said. Samer is not the only one – thousands of people want a safer place, which is exactly why they escaped from their homes.
One of the biggest problems concerns children and young people. 42 percent of the camp residents are under 18 years old. Most of them cannot go to school because of the low capacity. Also, many suffer from mental illness.
There is one silver lining on the island of Lesbos that alleviates the suffering of the refugees: the community center "One Happy Family". Adults are playing football, basketball, volleyball or smoking shisha in a café. Children are painting with watercolours. The faces here are smiling and people can feel at ease for a short time. The children can go to school here, and simply be children. "I am very happy that I can continue to go to school here and meet new friends," says nine-year-old Ismail.
The organisation was founded by a Swiss initiative and six volunteers on the Greek island of Lesbos in early 2017. Ricky, a German citizen who volunteered for a year and a half in this organisation as a coordinator and is now on the board, says: "We don't want to help refugees, we want to work with them. Our projects are initiated by the residents themselves." Around 1,000 people come to the Community Centre every day. It is mainly financed by private donations from Europe. Ricky wishes there was more solidarity from Europe with the refugees in Greece: "We can't manage the situation any other way".
It seems like there is no solution for the refugees’ situation on the Greek islands. The suffering of the residents is even to become worse as winter is coming. Will someone be coming for help or has helping out lost its meaning by now?