In recent years, I have heard and read too many opinions and comments from people around the world, opinions full of hatred and disgust for fellow humans that they don’t know, for humans who are suffering, for humans who didn’t choose to leave their country and go to Europe. This article is a reminder of humanity and a moment to ask: if people can hate for no reason, why can’t they love for no reason?
Only a few things can make me angry and one of them is people who hate other people. That hate might be due to the colour of their skin or the way they are dressed or their sexual orientation or their big or small nose or their country of origin or the way they drink their coffee. In recent years, I heard and read too many opinions and comments from people around the world, opinions full of hatred and disgust for fellow humans that they don’t know, for humans who are suffering, for humans who didn’t choose to leave their country and go to Europe because they wanted to visit Amsterdam’s red light district and ‘steal’ the ‘natives’ jobs, or pollute them with their Muslim religion – and we all know how loving and open-minded the Christian religion is.
The world is full of refugees, just like you and just like me*
And yes, the refugees have mobile phones, not because they are rich – because I heard that many times, too – but because they had a life before the war. A normal life, a life like yours and mine. And trust me, the first thing you would grab, if you were running for your life, is your mobile phone to communicate with your family and get informed about the next steps.
Before we go through the whole story behind the refugee camp of Moria, let me remind you that, no mother on earth would ever put her children in a rotten boat if she didn’t believe that the sea was safer than the land.
What happened at Moria?
The fire at dawn on 9 September 2020 destroyed Greece’s largest refugee camp of Moria on the island of Lesbos. It resulted in a scene of disaster and chaos, with 12,500 people left on the street and a state of emergency was declared following the fire at the camp.
The village of Moria is located just 7.5 km from the island of Lesbos’ capital, Mytilene. The island’s Refugee Reception and Identification Centre, which was established there, started operating in September 2013. While initially, the infrastructure was intended to accommodate 2330 people, in 2018 the former camp housed more than 8,300 refugees and migrants, while on the night that the fire broke out, 12.500 people were hosted there.
In the autumn of 2015, depending on the flow of people, 15,000 to 25,000 refugees and immigrants were in Lesbos for days waiting for the moment when they would be transported to mainland Greece to continue their journey. Most of them were in the Moria camp, which set a record for overpopulation. In July of that year, the containers of the fenced area were enough for 700 people, while two wings of the First Reception Centre (with a capacity of 240 people) had not yet opened as their staff was pending. Another camp for another 700 people had been set up outside the gates. The camp has become synonymous with modern refugees and has been featured several times in the international press on the living conditions of refugees and migrants. Reports of riots, incidents between migrant groups, clashes and stabbings have been frequent. According to InfoMigrants, 70% of those living in the camp were from Afghanistan, but a total of 12,500 asylum seekers come from 70 different countries.
In November 2015, the Greek government’s business plan for immigration provided for Lesvos that the existing structure in Moria would be gradually closed, with the aim of creating a new closed structure, which was expected to be used as a Pre-Departure Centre and Reception and Identification Centre, with a capacity of 5000+ people. Moria’s camp has often welcomed famous activists and powerful personalities who expressed their support and awareness of the drama of refugees and immigrants. One of them was Angelina Jolie in March 2016. However, the living conditions did not improve. The camp and its inhabitants continued to live their own drama.
Continued clashes at the camp
In September 2016, the hot spot of Moria was engulfed in flames. The previous day, clashes were raging inside and outside the hot spot. People from various ethnic groups of refugees and immigrants who did not know for months what to do, as they remained trapped on the island, clashed and burned each other’s tents with all their belongings. At one point, fires spread outside the camp, burning dozens of acres of olive groves. The fires spread, burning hundreds of small and large tents, along with them and the belongings of the people who lived in them. The first record of damage said that about 60% of the facilities were destroyed. Those of the refugees and immigrants who re-entered the hot spot found only the burnt remains of tents in a sea of mud, created by the water used by the fire brigade to douse the flames.
In January 2017, within one week, three people died during the freezing winter nights as they tried to warm up in the tents with heaters. Other deaths occurred during the following months. A woman was charred in September 2019 when the container where she was staying burned down. A 9-month-old baby died in November. In two autopsy reports, from 6 and 7 July 2018, employees of the Public Health Directorate of Lesbos had recorded the serious problems of the reception centre, while among other things they had found uncontrolled leakage of sewage from broken toilet pipes. (Links here and here)
Worst refugee camp on Earth
In August 2018, a BBC report citing Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) employees described Moria as ‘the worst refugee camp on Earth’. The BBC correspondents on the scene recorded the miserable living conditions, highlighting the facts that the refugees would wait in line for more than 3 hours to get food and there was only one toilet available for 70 people. As they noted in their report, the camp in Moria is a place where young children, up to 10 years old, have been known to attempt to commit suicide, while they were also often subjected to horrible violence. (Link)
Almost a month later, in September 2018, MSF sent an urgent appeal for the transfer of all vulnerable people from the Moria Hospital to a safe haven in the mainland and/or within the European Union (EU). As they claimed in their announcement, ‘the camp in Moria of Lesvos is in an unprecedented state of emergency in terms of physical and mental health of thousands of men, women and children living in miserable conditions’. The policy of over-concentration of immigrants and refugees in the Greek islands has more than 9000 people (one third of which are children) indefinitely trapped in the Moria camp, which has a maximum capacity of 3000 people. Of course, the Greek government is at fault, but let’s remember that this is an EU problem and EU refused to accept refugees or give a strong helping hand to Greece. (Link)
Each week, MSF workers were seeing cases of teenagers attempting suicide or injuring themselves. The lack of access to emergency medical care shows the significant gaps in the protection of children and other vulnerable groups. From February to June 2018, as part of a mental health activity for children (6 to 18 years old), MSF teams found that almost a quarter of the children they spoke to (18 out of 74) had self-injured or attempted or had suicidal thoughts. A woman from Iraq said that her daughter was so scared in the camp that she was armed with a knife and kept it under her pillow. She became more and more aggressive with her mother and her sisters and was constantly crying. The girl can hardly speak anymore. Other juveniles were having selective mutism, panic attacks, anxiety, outbursts of aggression and constant nightmares, many cases of recurrent diarrhoea and skin infections in children of all ages. With such over-concentration and lack of hygiene, the risk of epidemics is very high, they said at the time. (Links here and here)
The misery continues
After the latest disastrous fire, the dawn of 10 September 2020 saw 12,500 people on the street. Men, women, small children, even babies, spent the night lying on the asphalt covered with blankets – their tents destroyed and with no other place to stay. Moria was burned to the ground. It is the ‘explosive’ end of a refugee management cycle, even if nothing foretells a change of direction in terms of the key constants we know to date.
The easy and painless recourse to the view that ‘Moria was burned by the ungrateful refugees’ hides the perception that refugees are not human beings, have no limits of endurance, are not ‘capable’ of rebellion and are only passive recipients and victims of endless pain, humiliation and misery. Αnd yet, they are normal people. Their cruel fate endowed them with great endurance in the face of hardships, but this endurance has no metaphysical and fatalistic character. It is inspired by the hope that this terrible journey and the untold sacrifices will have some kind of positive outcome. If hope dies, then there is neither endurance nor patience nor tolerance.
And now what?
A new camp was set up but now, weeks after the Moria fire, there is still no running water or washing facilities. ‘This camp is worse than Moria,’ said Aliyah to , a 13-year-old girl from Afghanistan said to Deutsche Welle in an article published on 26 September (see here). ‘I think that because the new camp is near the sea, it will be dangerous for children,’ said Firuzeh, who moved in a week ago. ‘In Moria we had more facilities that we don’t have here. For example, we don’t have baths or clean toilets,’ Firuzeh said. ‘The environment of the camp is so dirty. Coronavirus is here,’ she continued, referring to the 240 positive cases inside the camp. ‘We must be clean, but we don’t even have water to wash with, how can we avoid this sickness?’ she said, clearly frustrated.
So, I have a rhetorical question for you: if people can hate for no reason, why can’t they love for no reason?
If hope dies, then there is neither endurance nor patience nor tolerance
Discover more about this humanitarian crisis at the website of UN Refugee Agency here
*The title is taken from the lyrics of the Manic Street Preachers’ song “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next”