It’s cold on Lesvos. Around 4 or 5 degrees Celsius or even less during the night. The military run Moria camp is on a hill and the wind makes it even feel colder. Images in my head. The same images that I saw many times before on the Balkan route. Despair in peoples eyes, hunger, broken shoes, improvised tents and wet clothes. Welcome to Europe!
I arrived at Lesvos on December 17 and every time I think I have seen it all, the European Union (EU) and it’s member states proof me wrong. When I went into the Moria camp for the first time I saw stockpiles of trash, people living in summer tents and people waiting in front of the registration office. Moria is totally overcrowded, the EU/Turkey deal turned the Greek islands into open prisons. Apart from some so-called “vulnerable” people nobody is allowed to leave the islands. But the criteria of who is considered to be vulnerable and who is not are a joke.
About 15.000 people are now trapped on the Greek islands. Some for more then 18 months now. After more and more media reports about the inhuman conditions people are forced to live in and the ongoing #OpenTheIslands campaign the Greek government finally started to bring more people to the Greek main land. But at some days the numbers of new people that are arriving on the Greek islands are higher then the number of people that are transferred to the mainland of the Greek territory.
And the EU? The architects of this deliberately created inhuman conditions granted €7.000.000 for emergency aid on the Greek islands. Of course they immediately released a statement about their refugee aid efforts. It’s sickening that the EU doesn’t cancel the EU/Turkey deal but instead release a statement about some cosmetic aid programs. The policy of the EU and it’s member states is clear: “Don’t come to Europe. You are not welcome!” That’s what deals with countries like Turkey and Libya are about. Instead of opening the borders and the right for the freedom of movement, the EU member states imprisoned thousands of people on the Greek islands. Imprisoned in open air prisons, because when people are not allowed to leave the islands it means nothing else than that they are trapped and imprisoned.
It’s not like the EU member states would offer some kind of human gesture or relief when they would open the borders. EU member states like France, Germany and Great Britain are among the biggest arm sellers in the world. Apart from states like the USA and China these (and some other) EU states are exporting arms to every continent. The EU is also pushing trade deals that destroy peoples lives in many countries. In other words; the EU is one of the actors that caused and are still causing the reasons why people flee from their villages and cities.
After I arrived on Lesvos with the Cars of Hope Wuppertal team, we first had a few meetings with different people who are working on the island. The last time I was here was in September, but the situation on the Balkan route is always changing and it’s changing fast. After the meetings some of the Cars of Hope team went to the Moria camp to speak with some people that live in the camp. I went to the local Syriza headquarters, which was occupied at that time. I spoke about the negotiation process between the refugees and Syriza rpresentatives, but it was to early to tell how things would develop at that moment.
The next day two of our team worked in the No Border Kitchen. A non-hierarchical group that continuously works with refugees on Lesvos and is doing a great job (You can support the work of No Borders Kitchen by joining their crowdfunding campaign; here). Others went to different camps and the life-vest-jacket graveyard. I joined the last group. I recorded some video material (Video below) and saw the same images that I saw so many times on the Balkan route.
The last spot we went to was the wild camp outside of the Moria camp. The wild camp was about three times as big as it was during my last stay in September. The smell of burned plastic… Like in Idomeni, or the last winter when I was in Belgrade, people are burning everything they can get to stay warm. There are many children in the wild camp. Many of them have broken shoes or they are walking with slippers in the cold. Like in the Moria camp, there is a lack of about everything in the wild camp. Some of us went inside the Moria camp and talked with many people who live in the Moria camp. We also spoke with many people in the wild camp. One of our group speaks Arabic so we were able to speak with a part of the refugees in their native language. We also started to make lists to be able to distribute nappies and baby food in the coming days and started to create a system to distribute it. In the evening we brought some stuff to the occupied Syriza building.
Some of the summer tents refugees are living in, were provided by NGO’s, the bigger tents were build by people themselves in- and outside Moria. A lot of the material for these self-made tents and huts was bought on the Black market. They often have a roof made out of parts of UNHCR tents, which cost about €100 on the black market (video below).
After long negotiations the occupation of the local Syriza office in Mytlini, the capital of Lesvos, ended. The refugees are now allowed to stay in the building and the Syriza employees are allowed to get into the building again to work there. Syriza agreed to search for a house for 10 people and provide lawyers for people who’s asylum cases were rejected. The others are allowed to travel to the the Greek main land in the coming days and weeks. Not everybody was satisfied with the negotiated deal, but after two months of protest on Sappho square and the Syriza office many of the occupiers were tired. Some of them are trapped on Lesvos for 18 months now.
On Thursday I went into the Moria camp myself. Conditions there are even worse than in the wild camp outside of Moria. I actually planned to write this piece on Thursday but I wasn’t able to do it. The situation inside Moria made me angry and sad at the same time. I have no words for it. I can’t even describe it. Thursday night we started to make plans for the Christmas days and at some point I said; “I am sorry I am not able to concentrate, I have all these images in my head and I am really angry and sad.”
We more or less postponed the discussion that night and discussed the Christmas days the next morning. After that we went to the Moria camp again to speak about the distribution system and to continue to work on it with people who are trapped on Lesvos. We also bought nappies and baby food and distributed it to families with little children and baby’s.
On Saturday we bought loads of nappies and baby food again and distributed it. Inside Moria there are nappies available, but like everything else it’s just not enough. Many of the people who live outside Moria don’t get anything at all. The distribution system for the nappies worked pretty well, although we have to improve some things. As I experienced before on the Balkan route it’s never enough and people started to get nervous when they saw the amount of nappies and baby food was getting less and less during the distribution. Here it paid off that we prepared the distribution with several native speakers and it was their presence and work that calmed down the people at our distribution point. People are desperate and in need of so many things that’s it’s not like you can go somewhere and can start distributing things. Chaos will break out immediately.
Another big issue is the way people are being divided and how hate is being spurred. A scene inside the Moria camp; A mother is standing in line for baby milk. After she waited for a long time, it’s finally her turn, but she is being told “This milk is only for Syrian children.” She doesn’t get any milk and walks back to her children. Desperate because she need the milk for the children and angry and frustrated because the only reason she didn’t get any milk for her children in need is her nationality. This is only one example of how people are being divided inside the Moria camp, but there are many more on different levels. It’s a policy that leads to hate and sometimes even violence.
Apart from the work many people do here on Lesvos, it’s about time that we increase the pressure on EU member states against the border closures in Europe. Many people are also trapped in countries like Serbia and France. Be creative and organize! The inhumane treatment of people who are seeking refuge has to stop and it has to stop now. We need to start organizing more resistance against this kind of policies across Europe.
Source: Enough is Enough >>>