Moria is the name of a traditional village, 5km north of Mytilini town – capital of the island of Lesvos. Here you can visit the best-preserved Roman Aqueduct in Greece, built with local gray marble.

  Next to the village of Moria, the EU built during 2013-14 a structure planned to be a “closed” camp (therefore it looked like a high security prison) for newcomers.

  In 2015, still brand-new, “Moria” became the registration center during the months when the Balkan route was open. Since March 2016 (when the EU deal with Turkey was concluded), Moria became an “open” camp, with the capacity to shelter 2500 people. In reality the camp has been hosting 5000 or even more in bad conditions. While the main gate was controlled, the surrounding fence had already several holes, opened by migrants, providing uncontrolled access to people but also to drug dealers or criminals.

  While indeed the situation was horrible, for years photos of the walls and the fence of Moria camp made people and the media compare Moria with “Guantanamo” despite freedom of entry and exit.

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How did  “Moria” become a synonym to the horrible management of the refugee crisis in Europe?

How did dozens of thousands of refugees fit in a camp of 2500 people capacity?

 

Next to the official camp, some, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have rented the surrounding olive groves and have offered shelter and facilities to thousands of migrants. Until early 2016 the so-called “Afghani hill” was a good solution for people staying for a short time, just for registration purposes. But then, after the EU deal with Turkey was concluded, migrants ware obliged to stay on the island for more than 2 years. The hills became a permanent, overloaded, unofficial camp.

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Why don’t they build a bigger camp?

Same as all over the world, there are many ways to see a refugee: From pure racism to open-borders. Same on Lesvos. Not surprisingly, both sides agree on one point: there is no reason to keep migrants on the island; either because of xenophobia or because of humanitarian philo-xenia. As a result, all local governors have been elected by promising “no refugees at all”.

  This was the reason why, last February, locals rejected the plan of the Greek Government to build a new camp of 5000 people far from Mytilini town. Special Police Forces, sent from Athens, have been “defeated” by the “brave” locals. As a side effect of this “battle” and in total contrast to Lesvos the welcoming island of 2015, in February 2020, members of extreme far-right organisations (including a few imported German AfD members) created large tensions also destroying cars belonging to volunteering organisations.

What do migrants think about Moria?

We all know, but we often forget, that the feeling of good living-standards as well as the feeling of freedom is not the same for all citizens around the globe.

  Every time a journalist asks a migrant the answer is the same: “Moria is a prison”. But the feeling of prison is not because of the look of the buildings or the bad conditions. It is because migrants are not allowed to go further in Europe. This answer will not change by staying in a new “luxury camp”, still for two years or even more.

  Zaki is an Afghani migrant working at the Votsala hotel. On a summer evening, we were driving in front of the camp. Hundreds of young men were playing football on the street. One football field after the other. Goals marked with stones. Wonderful atmosphere! Daphne asked Zaki: “Do you also play football on the streets in Afghanistan?”

  - “No, in my country it is not safe to play on the streets. We live inside our houses and house yards. Here we have freedom and we able to play on the street!”

 

Note also that it was not uncommon for refugees given asylum to prefer to stay in Moria or come back after tough experiences migrants face in Athens. If migrants had no family or friends to join, Moria hills felt more familiar than a square in Grecee’s capital.

How are things after the fire at Moria camp in August 2020?

 

The situation in Moria camp was terrible and often reported as a bomb ready to explode (see our previous post).  The occasion to burn it came when several refugees have been tested positive for coronavirus and refused to stay in quarantine. It is true that it was the beginning of the second wave in Greece and infected migrants took this isolation as a “personal” punishment, while fearing that the local authorities want to put them in prison or deport them back to their countries.  It also seems that the authorities tried to organize this in a “military” way without many explanations and psychological support.

  After the fire, 10.000 people were living on the street and the nearby hills. Nobody wanted to host them, as they have been considered as potential positive Covid-19 cases. Without being tested, this was now an additional reason for them being unable to leave the island.

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What happened to all the people living on the streets? 

The police immediately blocked the roads and isolated the district between Moria and Mytilini town.  The central government asked the local municipalities (West & East Lesbos) to indicate places on the island in order to temporarily shelter the 10 thousands of migrants living under the olive trees.   But locals, same as migrants, saw the fire as an opportunity to escape the island. They have rejected all suggestions.     

  In the middle of that isolated district there is a big property belonging to the Ministry of Defense. Using helicopters, the central government started to bring army-tents and install them in this property. Why helicopters? Because the locals wouldn’t allow such transport by land!     

  Surprisingly, the central government managed to relocate all migrants from the olive groves to this new camp. The convincing argument was that “nobody will leave the island without being tested for covid-19“. Policewomen from Athens dressed as nurses made the tests and talked to the people in a nice way about the benefits of entering into the camp. Although the situation seemed explosive, relocation in the new camp was relatively successful.

What about the new camp after Moria, called “Kara-Tepe 2” ?

The “temporary” camp was constructed in 5 days. It is located closer to Mytilini town than Moria and looks like a army camp. Same as the moon, the new “temporary” camp has two sides: Here is the dark side!     The place is very exposed to the wind, and after every hard rain several tents are floating on muddy waters.     

  There is still no real electricity support and no heating system.     

  Bathrooms are still not complete. Until the end of November men were washing themselves at the beach using seawater. For ladies, sanitation was a challenge!

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Here is the “bright” side:

    

It is not a “closed” camp: people are free to go out (they get a numbered card at exit and need to be back at a certain evening time) and the new camp is located near Mytilini town and very close to the big supermarkets.     

  Refugees hope to go away from Lesvos and indeed 2500 have already left in a legitimate way.     

  Many NGOs have been assisting inside the “temporary” camp improving migrants’ living and health conditions. Doctors and nurses from all over the world have settled clinics inside the “temporary” camp and have been testing the migrants also for other diseases like Hepatitis etc. 8.000 Covid-19  rapid tests took place during the first days upon “entering” the camp, resulting in 280 Covid-19 cases. Afterwards, regular testing has been taking place inside the camp and the situation remains under control.     

  The refugees look like they are living slightly better than in Moria, maybe because everything is more controlled.  Less “mafia” and drugs, hopefully a bit safer for the ladies who are less afraid of violence by young men, something very common in Moria. Of course there is no lack of exceptions like the abuse of a 3 year-old Afghan girl, still undetected.  

What about the other camps on Lesvos? “Kara Tepe 2” until when?

The Greek government & EU needed a compromise with the local politicians in order to convince them build a new permanent camp. Given that local governors have been elected by promising to close all camps, the ministry in Athens decided to shut down both other camps on the island, as an “exchange” to a new permanent camp that will substitute the current “temporary” one.   

  Last October, the police (in a harsh way) evacuated the PIKPA camp. Pikpa was an independent small (80-100 people) structure hosting vulnerable cases. Pikpa was run by volunteers and was an exemplary camp, offering dignity. Too good to be compared with Moria run by the State!  Unfortunately, it was also located next to a wealthy neighborhood and the town Mayors always promised to their voters that they would shut it down. The organisation running PIKPA, "Lesvos Solidarity”, is now orientated towards helping their "support centre Mosaik”, the Asklipios medical centre, as well as towards adding services as a “Day-centre” or renting houses in the town for vulnerable families.     

  The government has also promised to gradually shut down the “Kara-Tepe 1” camp, a camp very close to the new “temporary” one. “Kara-Tepe 1” is a very well-organized camp run by UNHCR, hosting around 1000 people, mostly families. It is organised in neighborhoods according to nations/religion. While several tents are “floating” in the “Kara-Tepe 2” camp, 400 empty beds are available in “Kara-tepe 1”. Oh yes, it’s better to have tents floating than putting people in houses, to satisfy local politicians in their fight to “shut down” all camps (and accept a new permanent one in the middle of the island).

What was the contribution of Odysseas to Lesvos in 2020 

In 2020, Odysseas started with the usual support to Mosaik support centre in Mytilini town, by providing Greek language classes. During the summer we have additionally supported the PIKPA camp especially because they hosted 30 extra minors, coming from the overloaded Moria camp. Education programmes, sometimes in person and sometimes digital, have been supported by Odysseas at Mosaik centre as well. Then came the fire at Moria!  During the first week we have tried to help people living in the olive groves. We have bought and distributed food, diapers, water and whatever could be helpful. We have also helped Pikpa distributing meals for them.     

  After a while all migrants entered the new “temporary” camp. One month later Pikpa was closed (look lower at our previous posts). At the same time, the second lockdown made our education programmes impossible. In a way, Odysseas was for a while without clear purpose. We have continued to support LeSol (ex Pikpa camp & Mosaik support centre), because they are also operating a small medical centre called “Asklipios” in the town of Mytilini.   

  In the meantime, several volunteering organisations have entered and worked inside the new “temporary” camp. We have chosen two of them, “StandByMe” and “Cadus”, and have donated €5.000 to each of them. Members of Cadus with their mission on Lesvos have worked for several weeks as a medical team. Standbyme, among other missing, has repaired the rough electrical installations inside the new camp before winter really arrives.

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Short term 2021 plans for Odyseas 

After tough negotiations, the fact that the new “temporary” camp is closer to the town than Moria, together with promises of financial benefits, the Mytilini Municipality compromised and accepted to build a new permanent camp (the Municipality of West Lesvos still opposes it). Although the objective of the EU remains “not to facilitate the migrants”, everybody agrees that a human camp abiding by European standards has to replace horrible Moria after the fire.     

  This new camp with a capacity of 5.000 people is planned somewhere on the hills, in the centre of the island, far away from the capital (25km) and relatively far from any other village of Lesvos. If everything goes as planned, this will be ready at the end of 2021. The idea is to move everybody there before another winter starts! For the time being, 5000 to 7000 people live in the “temporary” camp.  

  Given the rapidly evolving situation, it is difficult to make any concrete project for Odysseas. For the time being, we continue to help and strive for worthwhile objectives, for which we have received donations from our friends. You can always donate to Odysseas, while having in mind that our small organisation has always been flexible. We will continue in 2021 to act every time a real need demands our support.     

  If organisatons, like Cadus for example, continue operating on Lesvos we will support them. If LeSol has a good project, as they say now, like the social Day-Centre for newborn children and mothers, or something similar, we will also support them.   

  If classes start again… we will support them. If StandByMe starts again education or recycling programmes inside or outside the camp, we will support them too. In 2020 we had very few new arrivals compared to the past. It is not clear if this is because of Covid-19, or because the borders are controlled “better” (potentially including push-backs that Greece and Frontex are refusing), but in any case, this is what the numbers say. If this continues, we will have fewer than 5000 migrants entering the new EU-camp at the end of 2021. Still, Odysseas will be there to support programmes along the lines we have previously done, in crisis and non-crisis periods aiming at education and living with dignity.

  The situation in Moria camp was terrible and often reported as a bomb ready to explode (see our previous post).  The occasion to burn it came when several refugees have been tested positive for coronavirus and refused to stay in quarantine. It is true that it was the beginning of the second wave in Greece and infected migrants took this isolation as a “personal” punishment, while fearing that the local authorities want to put them in prison or deport them back to their countries.  It also seems that the authorities tried to organize this in a “military” way without many explanations and psychological support.

  After the fire, 10.000 people were living on the street and the nearby hills. Nobody wanted to host them, as they have been considered as potential positive Covid-19 cases. Without being tested, this was now an additional reason for them being unable to leave the island.