Saturday

16th Feb 2019

Opinion

Moria refugee camp is no place for people

  • Amal, a 47-year old Syrian, is now living on the Greek island of Lesbos where she arrived after passing through Turkey (Photo: Oxfam)

Spring warms our hearts and our bodies. Moria, the refugee camp on Lesbos where I lived when I arrived in Europe, however, is cold and prison-like. The tents did not provide cover from the harsh winter wind or the freezing rain.

Lesbos is a beautiful Greek island, but the camp is hell. I invite all European politicians to visit us, to witness our hardship and our hunger; to see what it feels like when your fate is in the hands of others.

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But you will also see that this situation can change: more humane migration policies can help us, they can give people here the protection and support they need and deserve.

My story is similar to those of millions of other refugees from Syria and other countries. Conflict and persecution has torn our families apart, we had to leave our belongings behind, and our beautiful cities are no longer recognisable. We fled to survive and when we reached safety we were stopped and told to wait in inhumane conditions.

That waiting has become living.

I have been in Lesbos for seven months now, and there is only one thing I can be certain of: I will be stuck here for a long time. I have requested asylum in Europe, but the next hearing for my case is 18 months away.

Inhospitable

And again, I am not the exception – there are 13,000 refugees stuck on Greek islands. We are unable to restart our lives, or even truly live them. We sleep in tents and other shelters that are too cold in winter and too hot in summer. We wait in long lines to receive food. We shower in clogged, overflooded bathrooms that are not safe for women and girls.

While asylum seekers like me are waiting for their cases to be heard, our future is slipping away.

Every day I dream of going back home. But the place I call home is in ruins. When I think of home I think of my daily routine of working in a hospital in the morning and teaching English to my students in the afternoon. I think of picnics in the park with my family over the weekends. Or just walking around Damascus with friends. I was born and raised there; it used to be such a beautiful place. These are just memories now.

Being a refugee is not a choice. I am stuck in Lesbos because Syria is not safe. Years of relentless fighting have left me with no other choice but to stay here so I can stay alive.

If you are trapped on the Greek islands, you are lost.

Just look at Moria: it's an overcrowded place with more than 5,000 people, and there is no information on how we can move on with our lives. Nobody tells you anything. You need a doctor, a lawyer, or simply a translator? Good luck!

Even simple things, like finding out the opening hours of an office to get your documents is difficult. To receive the support you need, or information about your rights, you have to rely on hearsay or wait until you have a moment with a busy overworked official who knows as much as I do.

Nobody is sure what is true and what is not.

All of this led me to decide that I want to make a difference by helping those around me. I followed a training with an NGO on how to assist people in the same situation as I am and provide them with the information they desperately need on their rights and options.

Many people do not know that they have the right to consult a lawyer to navigate the complex asylum process – so I help them connect to people that can help. Or if someone needs a doctor and there is nobody to translate, I accompany them.

I will keep volunteering in the Moria camp as long as people are trapped here. Helping the people here – my neighbours – gives me strength. This work helps me in these difficult times.

But I am – we all are – trapped on Lesbos following the EU's deal with Turkey, which was struck exactly two years ago.

Open invitation

Since the deal entered into effect, Greece forces asylum seekers to stay on the island instead of being able to request asylum on the mainland or elsewhere in Europe.

This policy has one main goal: to stop people from seeking asylum in Europe. But European leaders seem to have forgotten that we are people.

They overlook the fact that a handful of bathrooms cannot be shared by the thousands who live in these overcrowded camps. That women and children face a real risk of sexual violence, abuse and harassment when they are forced to live in tents.

European leaders dismiss the fact that they could manage migration fairly and compassionately, if they wanted to.

I have witnessed so much suffering since I arrived in Europe. The EU policies seem to focus only on sending people back to where they come from.

If politicians came to visit Moria, I would ask them why they believe in policies that lead to overcrowded camps and insecurity for women and children. If European leaders came to visit Moria, I would ask them if they really think Moria is a place for people like me, like them.

Amal, 47, is from Damascus. She is currently living on the Greek island of Lesbos where she arrived after passing through Turkey, and she had requested asylum in Greece. She attended an Oxfam training for community support. Oxfam helped her in writing this article.

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