13 October 2017
LESVOS REFLECTION: Moria is Like a Prison; asylum seekers face unjust and inhuman conditions in the government run camp.
By: Michael Himlie
“Moria is like a prison” stated a Kurdish refugee at a demonstration outside the camp. This is a phrase that nearly every refugee I meet and talk with on Lesvos says. “Moria is like a prison” I hear again as I walk alongside the four meter tall fence lined with razor wire, riot police on my other side. As I walk with a resident, or rather a prisoner of Moria, he explains to me the human rights violations and ill treatment of refugees by Greece and the wider European Union. He sleeps in a small room with nine others, receives one meal a day, has limited amounts of water and electricity, and considers a lucky day to be one where there is enough water available to take a quick shower.
I have been on Christian Peacemaker Team Lesvos project for one week now and been to Moria twice. Moria lies inland of the coast on the island, where the soil cracks from little moisture and the sun’s heat makes it feel far more like a desert than the Mediterranean. As beads of sweat role down my back, the smell of human waste assaults my nostrils from lack of adequate sewage installation in the camp. Technically, Moria camp is a hospitality center for refugees to spend 25 days to be processed and begin the asylum procedures. However, Lesvos is a small island. Refugees carry with them nothing but a few personal possessions and the fear of death or the memory of torture from their homeland, and in many cases they end up stuck for months in Moria with no end in sight.
Laws and regulations for asylum processes are different for each nationality. They change often and without notice, confusing, altering and prolonging the resettlement process. Such changes on paper result in thousands of refugees being forced to endure the nearly uninhabitable conditions of Moria as they wait in limbo for the Greek authorities to process their cases. Often the outcome is that the police force will deport the refugee back to Turkey, or what is worse, their homeland — both of which are extremely unsafe for them. “People have no future here,” states a Moria prisoner, who has spent 15 months there and is still awaiting the result of his asylum claim.
Greek and European Union authorities commonly utilize intimidation tactics. Two months ago Moria prisoners organized a peaceful protest. In the night following the protest authorities raided the part of the camp where the Northwest African refugees were housed and arrested 35 black refugees. None of the refugees had committed crimes and some were not even present at the protest. Nonetheless these 35 refugees await their hearing and face years-long prison sentence unjustly. Court cases are still pending, but the arrests have depleted the number of peaceful actions, causing refugees to fear unjust arrest and deportation for speaking the truth about their lives.
Despite the harsh realities of suffering, people and organizations do amazing work here on Lesvos. Apart from the humanitarian aid work, accompaniment and monitoring, legal aid for refugees, also refugees themselves mobilize and take action. They are demanding that the governing bodies, that have the responsibility and resources to help, simply follow laws which are already in place. There is much disparity on Lesvos, but also much hope and beauty. May their voices and our voices unite to add to this hope.
Learn more about CPT's presence on Lesvos.