Sunday

23rd Sep 2018

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

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.

EU seeks another €3bn Turkey migrant deal

Money should flow despite concerns about the Turkish regime, the Commission said. EU should "pressure" African states to take back unwanted migrants, it added.

EU billions had 'limited' effect in Turkey, audit finds

The EU got "limited" effect for the €9bn it spent trying to modernise Turkey in recent years, auditors have said. Turkey has been "backsliding" on reforms since 2013 due to "lack of political will", the European Court of Auditors found.

EU-Turkey migrant deal redundant, rights chief says

Nils Muiznieks, human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe watchdog, said people would no longer cross into Greece from Turkey due to difficulties getting further - regardless of the EU migrant deal with Ankara.

Analysis

EU praises Turkey on migrant deal despite Greek misery

The EU-Turkey deal was agreed two years ago in Brussels. Focus has largely been on reducing migrant flows across the Mediterranean and helping Syrian refugees in Turkey, while the plight of those on the Greek islands are ignored.

Integration of Syrian refugees in Europe needs scrutiny

Most refugee-related services are outsourced to the private sector and NGOs, which are not adequately monitored and evaluated. When governments and EU institutions provide funding for refugee projects, they should scrutinise the NGOs and private players they work with.

Will the centre-right stand up for EU values?

Time for Christian Democrats in the EP to show where they stand on Hungary and on the EU's founding principles, say Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in a joint text.

Europe needs more modern leadership

If Europe wants to be a global leader, our political leadership has to change dramatically. Power needs a new face in Europe, and it needs to get legitimacy from the people, argues liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  2. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia
  3. Sound of discord at 'Sound of Music' Salzburg summit
  4. Salzburg summit presses for bigger Frontex mandate
  5. UK's post-Brexit plan 'will not work', EU says
  6. Airbnb agrees to clarify pricing for EU
  7. Libya keeps coast guards rejected by the EU
  8. EU divisions on menu at Salzburg dinner

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us