Ali is a soft-spoken, thoughtful artist I met while in Moria refugee camp earlier this year. Originally from Afghanistan, he claimed asylum in Greece, but his application was refused; he was arrested and put in the prison inside the camp to await deportation. Usually involved in creative projects, Ali found prison conditions difficult to endure. An appeal was put together, but it’s unclear how this will progress, after the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) in the camp was completely destroyed in the recent fire.
‘I’ve never been so scared in all my life,’ Ali told me this week. ‘I thought I was going to burn to death.’ The guards refused to open the doors until the last minute, despite the screams of those trapped inside. A similar thing happened in the protected ‘Safe Zone’ for minors. ‘The police beat us when we tried to run out,’ one unaccompanied minor said. ‘I saw my life before me. I thought, they are leaving us to burn here.’
Irish nurse, Elena Lydon who has been working with children on Lesvos for the past year said she heard similar accounts.
‘They’ve told me they weren’t allowed out while the fire was approaching,’ she said. ‘They were absolutely terrified.’
Over 400 of the unaccompanied children were evacuated to mainland Greece soon after, where they are anxiously waiting for news of relocation to another country. But many more had been given adult papers, and are now in the new camp – built on an old army firing range, vulnerable to flooding, with no showers or sanitation and heavily restricted media access. To all effects, a closed camp – sleeping on the bare ground.
Lydon estimates that hundreds of children received adult papers and documents on arrival to Moria camp. ‘Now these minors have to try and prove they are under 18 years old and are children. Should a child have to do this? By holding these adult papers they can not access any children services or child based healthcare. They’re forced to queue in the adult food lines, with no safe zone to sleep in, and no protection. This is so wrong.’
Despite massive protests by former Moria camp residents, and calls to relocate everyone off the island, this seems unlikely to happen now. Police tear gassed peaceful protests, and with no relocation by the EU or UN, thousands of people had no option but to go into the new camp, dubbed ‘Moria 2’. There is nothing to suggest that this camp will be any better than the one which burned down in early September. And a lot to indicate it could be worse. Journalists were only allowed within 150 metres of the camp this week – allowed to take photos, but not to speak to any of the people inside the wire.
‘New camp, same indignity,’ said Sonia Nandzik from ReFocus Media Labs (a refugee and volunteer media collective). ‘The first of now 10,000 asylum seekers have been living in this new camp since Sept 12th. Still only portable toilets and not a single shower with running water. Winter is coming, and no one should live here.’
Lydon is also worried for the thousands of men, women and children stuck on Lesvos.
‘It’s time that Ireland stepped up,’ she urges. ‘This has gone on long enough…people have suffered for too long here. We need to act now and relocate people. Otherwise, I can’t even think about what the winter will be like here for everyone.’
Bairbre’s project, ‘Against The Wire’ was broadcast on Newstalk 106-108fm on Sunday 2nd August & Saturday 8th August at 9pm. Listen to the Podcast here.
Photo by Moria Corona Awareness Team.