Kim Returns to Lesvos – Life at Moria
This blog focuses on Life at Moria.
Today was the third and final day H4H would be open to families this week. A container from Care UK was due on Friday and there is a big clean up operation plus preparation needed ahead of its arrival. Lesvos was starting to feel like home and I was getting confident with my driving on the crazy Greek roads. I even offered to pick up a couple of volunteers up as we drove past Moria. We started the morning off buying cleaning equipment, Lucy had bravely offered to give them a thorough clean. We also picked up some kitchen tools for our resident chef, including chopping boards and knives.
Let me tell you about Khatab…
Khatab was a chef back in his home country of Syria. He doesn’t get to cook very often now he’s living in Moria. We asked him what the kitchen needed in order for him to get it back up and running. The clean up had already happened, the fridge and freezer had been switched on over night. So our job was to fill it with fresh food and let Khatab loose to create a master piece.
Over the course of 3 days Khatab treated us all to some of the most amazing food. Very simple ingredients but oh my the flavours were exquisite. Watching Khatab at work was such a pleasure from the smile on his face, to him dancing around the kitchen, watching him plate up with care and even decorate his dishes.
When you think about the humanity side of H4H this is what it is all about. Khatab is doing something normal, in fact if i’m honest far from normal something truly amazing as he’s incredibly talented. Khatab would like to get his papers to leave Greece and make his way to Holland. I really hope he makes it because if his dream of opening a restaurant comes true I will be first in the queue when it opens.
After the success of the bananas and fruit yesterday we decided that we would offer everyone a fresh piece of fruit again today. Whilst we collected the ingredients for dinner we picked up extras for our visitors. We also dropped Amir off as he was keen to see how Moria had changed.
Life at Moria
In 2015 a lot of Moria was open to us volunteers. The Olive grove and the iso boxes up and down the hills were accessible to us. We would spend many nights poking our heads in to see which ones were full or empty and could become shelter for new arrivals. Moria has capacity for 1500 – 2000 people. Better Days for Moria were doing a superb job of winter proofing the temporary camp.
Current figures are around 7000 with new arrivals every day. Approx 1800 children call this place home. Whilst there are iso boxes (think porta-cabin) and caravans and people living in the prison building. The over spill live in tents. There are sections for vulnerable families, single women etc. and allocation is by nationality but it is a hot bed of cultural differences, languages and expectations. It is hell on earth for most and we should not accept this on our European soil or for fellow humans.
Fast forward to 2018 and Moria is not open to the public. Certain NGOs are able to get in. And many times when we passed we’d see litter picker volunteers and sooooo many cars, so people are working there in different roles. Some in an official capacity some as long term volunteers. The limited access is for the refugees safety too. I’m glad people like me can’t just wander around and take photos. It isn’t a tourist attraction. BUT not being able to see the conditions means that often you and I aren’t privy to what an absolute shit hole it is. And how the conditions aren’t great. There is no excuse. There is money being sent from across the EU. Big NGOs have funds so they could improve the conditions AND THEY SHOULD.
There are dedicated NGOs who are working on some amazing projects to improve conditions too, for example there are projects to increase the solar power capability to heat water for showers. But it is slow progress and with some residents living there for 18 months to 2 years. It is a very depressing reality.
And the alternative is not much better. When your time comes you HAVE to leave. You might get a days notice and you have to pack up your stuff and with an armed escort take the bus to the ferry and off you go to Athens. Some refugees are facing a life on the street in Athens as there isn’t somewhere for them to go. Or they end up in another refugee camp but less well known than Moria so the infrastructure and facilities are even worse.
And the worse part of the entire situation is the mental torture that people are facing. They have fled unimaginable situations from war to persecution. They’ve traveled miles often on foot and often through trying conditions. I’ve heard stories of families walking over mountains and having guns pointed at their children for crying by the smugglers.
Arriving in Turkey and having no where to stay and not being welcome, arranging to put yours and your families life in perilous danger through the hands of unscrupulous smugglers. Smugglers who see you as $$$ not as human. Being told you HAVE to buy a life vest that in all honesty will drag you under rather than save your life if god forbid your boat gets into difficulty because that is the racket, feed the economy of ripping off refugees. Wait in hiding in the dead of the night with your only possessions and your precious family – who are all terrified, knowing that Greece is in sight but you have to make a crossing that many many people haven’t survived. Being loaded onto a boat that is overflowing but you can’t back out now as the smuggler has a gun and your life means nothing to them.
EVEN after all that and you make it to safety the real mental torture starts. As a refugee you have little rights, you have little control. From how long your papers take to be processed, to if you’re even in the system being processed. You’re allocated a place to sleep, it might be full of strangers. You’re the new kid on the block. For your first few weeks you have no proper papers and you don’t have your ID card which is what helps you with funding and access to much needed resources (like clothing distribution or help with your application) you ask every day how long will I be here, no one can answer.
Every meal requires you to line up, sometimes in the rain, sometimes in the blazing heat. The showers are cleaned twice a week so you time your shower around when they might be clean but by the time you get your turn there is no hot water, so a cold shower again for you!
You have children who are not being occupied by school, in fact the only thing to occupy them is playing in the dirt or with make shift toys, each other. Maybe you’re so terrified of the people who were fighting when you arrive you don’t let your family leave the tent you’ve been allocated. There is fighting, a lot of fighting because people are frustrated, angry, living in fear.
People suffering from PTSD aren’t getting the treatment they need. Someone in a tent near yours dies because they didn’t get the medical help they needed. You hear someone committed suicide because they just couldn’t take living in the camp any longer. You check to see if there is any news on your application, you’re told come back tomorrow. The cold turns to hot and you realise you have no sun cream, mosquito spray and hats for your children.
Your 250 euros isn’t going to stretch to these essential items so you make a make shift hat for the kids out of cardboard for your daily walk out of the camp and you all just suffer the bites. Scabbies is spreading through the camp because the washing facilities are primitive, you didn’t used to live like this in Syria/Iraq/Afghanistan you had a washing machine. Your kids ask you daily when are we going to leave here? When can we go home? You put on a brave face and think it is only 3 more days until you are visiting Humans4Humanity where you know you can get some much needed food and clean clothes for the kids…
I’ve only scratched the surface with all the and then this…because what I know probably isn’t half of the bad stuff that actually happens. But know that from the comfort of your normal and easy life your donations make a huge difference in easing this suffering. And lets not forget that when you are imprisoned you have a sentence and end date for refugees there is no end date and one sentence in Moria may become another sentence somewhere else. Imagine how you’d cope?
Back to H4H
Today was full of highs and lows, it gave me so much joy to see Khatab in his kitchen. But down in the shop we just didn’t have enough stuff to send people home with bags bursting at the seams. On day 3 we had family after family with teenage girls, young boys and expectant mothers or newborns. I spent a few hours down in the shop but i’m ashamed to say I did leave when I realised that I wasn’t being very helpful and I was simply tired of saying “i’m sorry we not have”
Maybe I was a coward or maybe I didn’t look hard enough but I decided that my time would be better spent elsewhere. I headed upstairs and whilst one member of the family is able to visit the shop to spend their points the rest of the families wait in the H4H garden. Our freezer was stocked full so Lucy gave out ice lollies to the children and we handed out bunches of bananas to the families.
I had packed a variety of books, puzzles and games in my suitcase they had lasted until day 3. One of the girls from a big family had started to build the puzzle, she was probably about 9/10. I tried to explain i’d keep it whilst she was downstairs in the shop. I had a sense of dread because I knew there was little down there for her. Partly because there just isn’t a lot of donations for girls of a certain age and because girls of this age dress modestly. When she returned she got stuck into the puzzle, her siblings gathered round they all argued over which way to build the puzzle it felt so normal. Then they got the signal from their dad, time to go they packed up the puzzle and she held onto it for dear life. One of the Arabic speaking volunteers explained she couldn’t take it. I looked at her eyes and I decided I wasn’t going to be that person who took the puzzle off her. I think she thought i’d given it to her…I explained to the volunteer to tell her she could have it. In fact we decided to give out all the stuff we had…the books, Guess Who, the puzzle, some pencils, paper and random crafts things.
And that is the wonderful thing about H4H, you’re creating an experience for people, something positive in the doom and gloom of their day to day life. so anything goes, when it comes from a place of love. From that welcoming smile to trying to solve the problems one at a time.
So the girls might not have gone home with a new wardrobe but they went home with something for themselves, something to own and call their own. Something that might ease the boredom for just a few minutes or hours…I’m glad we were able to make that happen.
A big part of what makes the House of Humanity work is the committed and hard working volunteers. They work tirelessly throughout the house. Khatab had cooked up a storm and we pulled the tables together to sit and eat a well earned meal together.
What can you do?
Spread the word far and wide. There are people living in a camp on an island called Lesvos, they deserve dignity, a right to a life that doesn’t involve timing your shower for when it has been cleaned (twice a week) or sharing a tent with 11 strangers. Cooking all your meals on a gas light, only having 340 euros to feed and clothe your family including mobile data to call home. Waiting in line for 2hrs for water or a meal that is in edible. Hoping you’ll be lucky enough to visit a charity for supplies to find they’ve run out or there is nothing in your size. Knowing that there is no end in sight as no one can tell you when you will get out, or where you will go next. The only certainty is that your life has become an existence and the whole world has turned its back on you.
WELL I HAVEN’T and if you’re reading this neither have you or all the wonderful people who’ve donated. Every single penny we’ve spent has made such a big difference to lives here and you can still donate and make a difference.