Updated: Jun 21
Fereshte, Mom of two, hangs the wash up in front of her small tent in Camp Moria, one of the most notorious refugee camps on the island of Lesbos in Greece. With her bright and open look, she has a striking appearance. She looks so powerful despite the difficult circumstances.
Fereshteh’s course of life has been greatly impacted by evil powers, who have driven her from one place to another. "I am originally from Afghanistan, but my family and I fled to Iran when I was three. We went back to Afghanistan because we hoped it would be safer now, but that wasn’t the case." They saw no other option than to find a safe haven in Europe.
After a barren, multi-day journey, Fereshteh and her husband, 16-year-old daughter, and one-and-a-half-year-old son, reached the coast of Lesbos. It was raining that night and they were sleeping on the ground outside. They were very relieved despite the circumstances. After a night’s sleep in this resting place, the family was taken to Camp Moria, also known as ‘the jungle’. Lebos' Moria Camp, hosts about 19,000 refugees, more than six times its capacity. The camp is overflowing, and many refugees live in tents and self-made structures.
"When we saw the tents… that first day in Moria, all we could do was cry. Each family receives 4 pallets at first and a tent to pitch over them. You can only fit maximum two or three people inside, so my husband slept outside the tent on the ground at night. Later, we added a few pallets and when another family left for Athens, we used the materials from their tent to expand ours so we would all fit inside." Fereshteh explains.
The ‘tents’ are made mostly out of blankets, plastic and some kind of improvised door. "At night, it’s especially difficult," explains Fereshteh. "Sometimes it’s very rainy and windy here and then everything (from our tent) moves and makes a lot of noise. My husband sometimes has to hold the door shut to make sure it doesn’t blow away. I hold my young son close to my chest and my heart beats heavily." It’s even uncertain if their expanded tent will be allowed to remain as it is. "We saw with others that the organization took the extra material and pallets away, there just is not enough room here."
The lack of space is avenging on all fronts. "I have gone to the doctor here a few times. There were many mothers and children with burns. The tents are too small to cook in and there is also no space outdoors for fire and cooking, so people get boiling water or piping hot oil burns often." Fereshteh explains. There is also insufficient healthy food for children, let alone adequate education. "The food is mediocre. A Dutch organization sometimes brings fruit or fresh juice. And there are some Afghan people who teach English and German. Our daughter goes to German lessons." She continues.
Safety in the camps is also a concern for families like Fereshteh’s. "At night the camp is virtually a lawless area and is very dangerous. There is a lot of drinking and then fights break out. Early in the evening we go all together to the toilets, but after that no more until morning. When our (16-year-old) daughter, needs to go somewhere we go with her. People do terrible things to each other here." Fereshteh says.
Fereshteh tells her story in a calm and controlled manner. Her husband watches and doesn’t say much. Only his eyes speak, displayed a great sadness that we will never truly be able to understand.
Fereshteh and her family have since been declared ‘vulnerable’. This mean that they do not need to wait for further procedures in Moria, but can go to the mainland (in Greece). "We are waiting for our tickets to go to Athens. They have told us that it may take another year for the next step of the (asylum) procedure to be completed. But we have heard that the conditions in Athens are a bit better."
"We’ve been through so many hardships, we decided we had to cope with the situation in order to find a place for a peaceful existence." Fereshteh says. Her husband who was so quiet during the discussion, added "And a brighter future for our children."
Greece has been dealing with a critical overcrowding situation in its Aegen Islands' refugee camps, which led to poor sanitary conditions and episodes of violence. While the camps have around 6,200 places in total, almost 37,000 refugees are being hosted.
The country announced in February the construction of new camps to accommodate 20,000 asylum seekers, who will be limited to a three-month stay. In the first quarter of 2020, about 10,000 migrants left the islands for the mainland, according to Greece's Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi. The coronavirus crisis has halted all transport of refugees from the overcrowded Moria camp since the start of confinement imposed by the Greek government on March 23, 2020.
On May 3, 2020 the first transfer from Lesbos to the mainland since March 20th took place with 392 people aboard on their way to Athens. 2000 others are set to be gradually transferred to mainland Greece in the coming weeks.
The UNHCR reported that by end of 2019, approximately 79,5 million people worldwide have been driven from their homes and forced to escape the violence in their home country. Thats 1 out of every 97 people globally, or nearly 1% of the total global population, which is the highest number of refugees in history.
How can you help the refugees in Greece?
Most countries (in Europe) have local organisations who are working to support the people who live in camps like Moria. Check your local listings online or consider to donate to one of the following organisations:
The content of this story was taken from the following sources:
Data on Camp Moria and the current situation refugee camps in Greece: https://www.euronews.com/2020/05/03/greece-transfers-almost-400-migrants-from-lesbos-island-to-mainland